Monday, February 22, 2010

needle in a haystack

This isn't a particularly interesting story, but for some reason I feel like sharing it. I had my flashdrive with me at the Peace Corps office in Bamako working on getting some funding for a project. I'd finished my work, slipped the device in my bag, and took a 10 minute walk to a restaurant. On arrival, I discovered I'd lost my thumb drive... the pocket of my Malian sewn purse had a hole in it. The loss of the bit of work I had on it didn’t cause me too much distress. There were a few reflections on my experience in Madagascar (where I only had access to a computer every month or so). The bulk of the material was just a window for venting during my ‘deaf mute’ months in Mali (where I’ve had much more access to computers). Nonetheless, the loss of 50 pages or more of personal journaling from this whole Peace Corps experience was devastating.

I retraced my steps, covering the 1km dirt and paved road route with no result. In shock, I sat down and I explained my situation to a guy selling phone chargers. He immediately grabbed his ‘moto’ (scooter) and started searching for it. Meanwhile, a taxi driver walked the route with me again. The guy with the moto stopped at every group of people along the way asking if they had seen it. I even enlisted a group of garibou (Muslim beggar chlidren) to look for it, promising a monetary award. They usually belong to a madrasa, but spend most of the day going around reciting or singing Koranic verses and accepting change dropped into an old tomato paste can strung around their arms.

After another hour, I resigned myself officially of the fruitless search. I had really given up the moment I’d discovered it lost…thinking ‘needle in a haystack.’ But, I thought I should at least put an honest effort towards a search because of what the contents meant to me. I gave my number to the guy with the moto and left to mope in privacy.

The following day, less than 24 hours later, I receive a phone call from the guy telling me he knows somebody that found something, and it might be my thumbdrive. I met him an hour later, he called the guy, who turns up on moto with the so-desired item. I was ecstatic and slipped the guy some money as a thank you. He looked at me blankly and then asked for my number. But, the original phone charger guy who really did the leg work would not accept anything from me. He simply said to me, ‘no, no, no, you see…you greet and chat with the people and they will help you with anything.’ And this is why I love Mali. Because absolute strangers will go to great lengths to help you out for nothing in return, and they’ll have the patience for you, they’ll give you the time of day, even when you’re stumbling along in a nearly incomprehensible jumble of French and Bambara.

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