M’Ag’s Dilemma and Thanks For Helping

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Thank you thank you thank you to all who have helped. Your money is making a real difference to people”s lives in difficult times. Here is a story about how your money is working.


I have a Tuareg friend, we’ll call him M’Ag.

M’Ag is young, gently spoken, generally quiet and, on first meeting, shy.

I met M’Ag deep in the desert – he helped out his uncle and cousin as they took me round the Adrar Des Iforas on my first visit to Aguelhoc.  When we broke down in the middle of nowhere it was M’Ag who sorted us out.

His abiding qualities are self possession and honesty.

He cannot read or write, but his personal qualities will get him far.

Over the years M’Ag has been so dependable for me that he now drives my vehicle, surplantng his cousin, who was less so.

When M’Ag came to meet me in Bamako before my 2010 trips in Mali it was his first time to his capital city. He could not speak the national langage, Bambara, and his only way of commnicating with his southern compatriots also working for me was through French. On getting to know him, as many of my tourists and employees have now, he warms up, loses his shyness and fools about like any 20 something. Everyone likes M’Ag.

Last year he asked me to look after his pay until the end of the job so he could buy himsef a motorbike, whch he did.

This year, before I arrived and unbeknown to me, he sold his motorbike to buy a very special sheepskin Tuareg tent.  He is not married and so has no need of this expensive tent the price of a motorbike.

En route out of the desert to meet me for the beginning of this year’s trips the vehicle he was held up by armed bandits and everyone was robbed. This was the first sign that things were not good – even the Tuareg themselves were being attacked. Luckily for M’Ag he had no money, just a phone, his clothes and the tent. They left him with the tent.

But why give up the bike for a tent? I asked when he got to Timbuktu.

“I haven’t” he replied. “I will buy another. With the money you give me for the tent.”

Given  that he knew I had one tent in England and another in Aguelhoc this was a brave and quite frustrating assumption.

When he brought the tent out, I saw his reasoning. It was beautiful, and being a sucker for all things Tuareg and beautiful, I bought it.

I last saw him 4 months ago.

On January the 17th He left me and my other Malian workers to return to his home in Aguelhoc. He got as far as Gao when  the rebellion started. He couldn’t get home.

He spotted a vehicle for sale and felt he could make some money on it. With the money from the tent plus a loan of 500 euros  from me and  borrowing off all and sundry, he bought the vehicle. But then the coup took place, his buyer pulled out, he had an  asset but no use for it.

M’Ag manged to get back to Aguelhoc, but was too fearful to take his vehicle. Things were bad there  and everyone was expecting an attack from malian military so he returned to Gao. He was  there when the MNLA took over the city following the vacuum left by the coup.

Up until this point M’Ag had always been a pro-Malian Tuareg, as so many were before all this, not out of personal belief, but because that is how his faction or his clan are positioned. Now he didn’t know what he wanted. The MNLA had achieved something so out of the blue that people were caught out, what would this mean for them? 

The initial euphoria proved as it seemed – too good to be true. AQIM and Ansar Dine’s foreign bandits swept into Gao and Timbuktu behind the MNLA, as ever parasites living off the Tuareg story. Suddenly young men are forced to choose – Islamists and money or MNLA and the honour of your people.

M’Ag chose his people. He returned to Aguelhoc with the MNLA, but his clan were furious. He could not fight with the MNLA, his brothers were still in the Malian military, his faction loyal to the army. He could not fight his brothers.

He had no choice but to flee. He got transport back 500kms across the desert to Gao, and from here made his way to Burkina Faso.

He called me from Ouagadougou. He had no money at all, he knew no one – he was looking for fellow tuareg who he could stay with – and didnt even know how he was goingg to eat. He couldn’t go to Bamako as Tuareg are being targetted there, he couldn’t go home. An unwitting exile.

Then he hatched a plan. If i could give him 200 euros more he could send for his vehicle to be brought to the border and he could get it to Ouagadougou. And there he could double his money.

I sent him 200 euros of the money donated to my Malian Displaced Families fund.

He now has a vehicle in his hands that he can either use to earn money, or he is confident he can sell for 6000 euros. He will have over doubled his money, and after paying back the fund and his other creditors, he will have 1500 euros in his pocket. That will give him the means to establish something small for himself iin Ouaga, to buy something else to sell on, and continue on the journey of an African life. 

Under normall circumstancces he would pay this  money back so the moeny can be useed byy someonee else to lift themslvees out of a hole. This year, because of the seriousness of the situation, I am not expecting pay back.

Other people you have helped recently

Djeneba, my wonderful cook who gave up the chance of a job to work on a trip I had going in March, only for the trip to be cancelled because of the coup, has been sent €400 to buy goods in Bamako which she can bring back to Mopti to sell for profit.

Mamayti, my Tuareg guide in Timbuktu has been sent €300 on top of an earlier €250 euros. His worst time was before the coup when Tuareg families near Timbuktu weree fearing for their lives in reprisal attacks from the Malian military. He evacuted his large extended family out to the desert. Things are better for him now in terms of personal secuirty, but Timbuktu is very unsettled.

Last week I heard from my great friend Bilal. Bilal was a policeman in Kayes, a Tuareg living in the south of Mali for work, as integrated a family  as you could find, his five children all at school with Bambara, Mande and  Fulani children. After the coup as one of the few Tuareg families in Mali’s western city, they felt vulnerable. So he evacuated all his family north to Mauritania. They are safe, staying with another Tuareg family there, but Bilal has no work and so no money coming in. 

Bilal will be the next to be helped.

Then there is Sory – my amazing guide who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Malian culture and history and every year gives his very best to my clients. He is OK in Djenne, but there’s no work so wants to get to Sweden, he has a contact there and some work for a couple of months. He has a visa, and now needs €120 for insurance.


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