Sight of Grace
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Culture Clash

          When I researched the history of Mali, I looked for information about what the country was like in 1985 when the picture was taken and found lots facts that did not really mean anything in relation to the photograph.  I think that the this picture says so much more about how the country was at the time, and that all of Salgado's pictures mean more than any data that you can find in an encyclopedia.   

          Mali is a unique country in West Africa that is shaped somewhat like a butterfly, and is surrounded by seven other countries.  It cannot compete with other countries that hold tourist safari attractions,  but country is the location of some of the continent's most fascinating cultural sites.   Although in today's society Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, it has an extensive past as a fundamental part of great African Empires.  Today it is separated into eight administrative regions and a capital district of Bamako, with the larger towns having elected mayors and council members, as shown in the map to the right.  One thing that separates the United States from Mali is that recently there has been a tonsillitis epidemic with a little less then half the country infected.  In the US, tonsillitis is not a lethal disease, and can be easily cured by the antibiotic penicillin.  Because of the poverty, only a small amount of the residents can afford to purchase this drug, making tonsillitis possibly lethal.

           In Mali 1985, when the picture was taken  there were brutal economic troubles due to devastating droughts that subsequently caused widespread famine in Mali.  The place where the little boy is standing looks like a desert, but in reality is used to be a river.  It was most likely part of the Niger River,  the most important geographic feature of the area.  The economy depends almost entirely on agriculture, and the crops depend entirely on the irrigation or flooding from the Niger River.  The picture to the left is an example of what the area would have looked like before this time and how it looks today.  During this drought, livestock died, wells dried up, villages disappeared beneath the sand, swarms of locusts and rats ate what little food remained, trees were uprooted for fire wood, and as a final slap in the face, when it did rain, it rained so fiercely that cattle, topsoil, and vegetation were washed away.  As you can see from the Salgado's photo, many levels of starvation also resulted from the drought.  Even today Mali has not fully recovered from these devastations, but the recent discovery of gold deposits is going to create the necessary money to help the country rise up from its troubles, and presently Mali appears to be moving toward a stable, democratic government.    

         In Mali, the role of women is  also under contemplation and has been for the past twenty years.  Because of the history of the country, and the Muslim influence, women are seen as property, and are sold by their fathers to potential husbands.  Even health issues are controlled by the male dominated society.  Only 49 percent of the Malian children of primary school age attended school in 1997, and only 48 percent of men, and 33 percent of women in Mali are literate.

          Of all the pictures in the book, I think that this one accurately shows the devastation these people have endured,  and the devotion they still have each day.  Though this boy looks to be unhealthily thin,  I do not think that he has given up on his life.  The people that live in the countries seen in the book An Uncertain Grace  have had experiences that we will probably never go through and I think they should be admired.

Follow the link below to hear the Mali National Anthem, and other music from Mali.


Works Cited: 

"An Introduction to Mali"  Geographia.  1996.  20 May 2001.  <>

"Destination: Mali"    Lonely Planet.   2000.   20 May 2001.  <>