When you think of the country of Mali, you probably think about terrorist groups, ISIS leaders, and bloody Christian massacres. As for me, I think of the Dogon tribe. The Dogon are an ancient ethnic group who reside in the central plateau region of Mali. They dwell along the cliffsides, well off the beaten path. They live a relatively simple life and have no desire to join the rest of the world in its global war against humanity. I had the pleasure of visiting them in my early twenties on a backpacking trip through Africa.
I was transported to the center of their village, where I learned about the people’s religious beliefs, witnessed their famous masked dance, and was educated on their ancient astrological findings.
The Dogon people have a very advanced understanding of astronomy and the stars Sirius A and Siruis B. They knew of the existence of these stars before our modern technology could locate them in 1950. The Dogon people’s entire way of being is based off of ancient teachings, claiming that their ancestors came from these stars.
Many things surprised me about my trip to this ancient civilization, including their access to cell phones and decision to use mud huts for bank institutions. I began to realize that “off the beaten path” was not so far from home, and that technical advances of civilization had accomplished its reach in every corner of the world. I also began to realize that the Dogon Tribe lived a simple and disconnected life, not because they had to, but because they chose to.
In the middle of a desert- in the middle of nowhere, I had the pleasure of co-existing with the oldest in-tact tribal people of the world. They welcomed me, fed me, and housed me with open hearts and open arms. I was treated very well. The only concern that these Mali natives had with my nationality was one of sheer curiosity. They wanted to know what it was like to be a privileged American. I was judged only by the content of my character. I was not treated with hostility or aggression. I was an honored guest. I was respected, valued, and loved.
One night I had a conversation under the starts with a member of the tribe who expressed to me his deep desire to come to the United States. He said that obtaining a visa in his country was virtually impossible. He continued to explain to me his admiration for the American people and contemplated what life must be like to live in a nation where you can become anything you want to be.
I was in the presence of the Dogon people on the day that the United Sates government assassinated Osama Bin Laden.
Yup- that’s right. I was in the middle of a terrorist ridden country on the day the US Government killed its political leader.
The Dogon people did not make me feel afraid or treat me with hostility in any way. They were unconcerned with the political war happening in the United States and were more concerned with my comfort and emotional wellbeing. I was assured that no harm would come to me and that I could trust them with my safety. I was taken somewhere much further off the beaten path and was advised to lie if anyone should ask about my nationality.
I was instructed to say that I was from Canada.
This is an experience I will never forget, and I hope to return to Mali one day. My brief, life changing trip to this country taught me about compassion and diversity. This trip satisfied my thirst for knowledge and adventure. It also opened my heart. It opened my mind.
It reminded me that we are all one people.