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!