Friday, February 03, 2012

Beset by the mob...

So I went back and forth about whether I should do this post. The goal of this blog has always been to present the silly funny and ironic ways that people across the world share a common humanity. In other words, good press to counteract the endless stories of horror that we usually see from the media. But I finally decided that it would be patronizing to whitewash the story. Bad things do happen here too. Good people are the victims of bad circumstances.

Which brings me to my day yesterday. I had heard that morning that there would be protests in downtown Bamako that day and "traffic and commercial disruptions" were possible. But I didn't think anything of it. There were a few burning tires around town as I went to my afternoon meeting and I heard marching and chanting in the street but again, nothing that unusual. Around 3 pm my colleague and I set off back to the hotel to work on the Internet. I asked our Malian colleagues if the protests were over. They told us, yes, the people have gone. We left the agricultural ministry, stopped at a boutique to buy water and snacks. All was quiet, though there were still a fairly large number of riot police and a few smoldering tires in the streets.

I should maybe pause here to explain a bit about what the original protests were about. Mali has had ongoing security issues in the north of the country for a number of years. The Touareg people has been waging a battle for a somewhat elusive goal - ranging between more development assistance to full independence. The story gets more complicated there as the desert is currently home to smugglers, thieves, al-Qaeda groups, recently unemployed Libyan mercenaries... What all of these groups have in common is that they are better trained and more heavily armed than the Malian soldiers sent up there to defend against them. There have been numerous attacks on soldiers in recent days - with many being killed - and the protesters wanted the government to do something more to protect the soldiers and civilians in the North.

At least that is where it started. Unbeknownst to us, by late afternoon the legitimate protesters had ceded the streets to the mobs. Most of the city was fine, but as we got closer to the hotel, it became apparent that this area had been hit quite hard. Every panel of glass that could have been broken was. People were on the streets but more cautiously.

Then we came around the corner next to the hotel and ran into the mob. Maybe 50 or so young men armed with bats and bricks. And here is where the true bad luck started. The taxi driver panicked. He recognized that having foreigner cargo was really bad. He stopped and started telling us to get out. To save his own ass and his taxi I guess. I was screaming at him Allez! Allez! Allez! GO! By then it was too late. Had he gunned the engine, or made a U-turn or anything but what he did- we would have probably been fine. As it stands though, the mob swarmed the taxi - first smashing out the back window and raining glass on my colleague in the back seat. Men then pulled open the doors and dragged us into the street. They separated us and began hitting us and trying to take our computer bags. A glancing blow to the head with a brick was enough to decide that the World Bank would give me another lap top. I let go but they continued to drag me along the sidewalk. I could hear my colleague screaming behind me but couldn't do anything. Then I heard two sharp cracks. The crowd holding on to me loosened its grip and started to run down the street. Tear gas canisters landed one after another around us. Generally three trucks loaded of amped up African riot police would not be my cup of tea - but at the time I was quite happy to see these particular amped up riot police. They loaded us into their vehicles and drove us to the commissariat - clearing the street in front of us with tear gas.

As it turns out- we were both mainly okay. My colleague had managed to keep her computer but she took a bit more of a beating because of it. I have just cuts and scraps from being dragged, and the general aches and pains resulting from mob violence. After being pretty rattled yesterday, I am back today to worrying mainly about what I am going to do in the next two weeks without a computer!

14 comments:

Kim Dionne said...

Gosh. What a terrible experience. But thank you for sharing it with us.

Phil said...

Very sorry to hear this. Where was it? I ended up getting hit by a rock near Patrice Lumumba Square. Also several tire fires there and not a good scene. No police, either. Most of Bamako was incredibly calm, but the area around centre-ville definitely wasn't.

Justin Sandefur said...

Jesus Kristen. Hope you're genuinely ok. This sounds absolutely terrifying.

Can I suggest you get the hell out of Bamako?

Anonymous said...

Reading this with shaking hands. How terrifying. So relieved to hear that things have calmed a bit. Hoping it stays so. Thank you for sharing this. One I love is there now & news of yesterday's riots has been hard to come by from news sources here. Be well.

Anonymous said...

I fell on your post through Twitter. Hope this frightful experience will not be the only thing you will remember of Mali. Try not to leave your hôtel only if necessary!

Unknown said...

Kristen, I am leaving this note with tears in my eyes - thanking God you are relatively ok. Time to move on to another country - the USA sounds pretty good to me right now.

FJA said...

Was around the same time passing down town coming down from Hamdallaye. Saw the mobs from a distance and being on a motorcycle allowed for easier mobility in case of a necessary retreat. The situation seems to have calmed down a bit. Hope stability comes again to remain soon again. Stay safe.

Jennifer said...

Wow - I found your site via Peter Tinti who posted it on facebook. Thank you for sharing and for your insight.

Anonymous said...

Ravi de savoir que vous n'avez pas été profondement blessée. De plus, do you see any connections between the "battle for a somewhat elusive goal" and the cows you have been counting?
Courage!
K'a i ni here be.
Peace be with you.

Anonymous said...

My dear Kristen, I am so happy you got away alright. Please be careful - the world is upset & dangerous right now. I do not want to lose you- too precious. love, Dottie

Tara said...

Oh, Kristen--I'm so, so sorry you had to go through this. I'm also so glad that you and your colleague were not more badly hurt, though being hit in the head with a brick sounds like more than just cuts and scrapes to me. You do so much good in the world with your work; this is poor repayment for your efforts. Hugs, Tara

Anonymous said...

Kristen - your Mom called this afternoon and told me what happened. I am so sorry that you had to experience that horror. I hope that your wrist and shoulder feel better soon. Lucky you were not hit with a brick/stone/stick on your head.
Come back home.
Love, Georgia

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I am really sorry to hear about your recent experience in Mali. It is unfortunate and I hope you recover soon.

If you are in Mali next (I hope this wont be for a long time!) please let me know. My father's company has an office there and they can help you!

Nagraj

Anonymous said...

Wow - what an incredible story and I am so happy that you made it out relatively unhurt.
Christine Maloney