If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you have probably heard me talk about Boukary Konate. I first met him in 2011 after communicating with him online for a number of months. We ate 50 cent brochettes in Bistro Bafing and talked about Bamanankan, the most widely spoken language in Mali.
Boukary is a teacher. He labors tirelessly to promote the languages and cultures of Mali. He authors one of the only blogs written in Bamanankan. Several years ago, he launched a website to chronicle rural life in Mali with images, stories and video: “Quand le Village se Reveille” (When the Village Wakes Up). He has also made important contributions to Global Voices and Afripedia.
Prior to his illness, Boukary would go to work for the Education ministry during the week and then travel to the villages on the weekend, documenting and learning about rarely explored aspects of Malian culture and then sharing them with Malians and the rest of the world. He introduced the internet to certain small rural communities using a rig he put together with a laptop, solar panel, car battery, and a 3g USB key. Needless to say, he is an enormous asset for his country and the world.
Right now, Boukary is not going to work, and he is not visiting the villages. He is seriously ill. After being misdiagnosed for two months with an ulcer, Boukary found out that he has Hepatitis B and that his liver had suffered significant damage. We have now learned that he has liver cancer. We are frantically trying to figure out the best way forward – the path that will help him survive and not traumatize him unnecessarily. In Mali, this is not easy. If the tumor on his liver is operable, it is not an operation that we can do here. The liver specialist at the country’s largest public hospital has said he can go to Tunis.
Now we have to help Boukary make a decision. He is incredibly weak, but he is still lucid, and he doesn’t believe that it’s his time. Many people are trying to help. Friends and family here, and abroad. I started a fundraiser and within a week, over 40 people donated and we have now received almost double the requested amount. Boukary truly has a global family, and it’s clear that he has touched people around the world.
The other day when I went to visit him, he was tired and in no mood to talk. So we sat together for some time. When I got up to leave, I told him “i ji ja,” an expression in Bamanankan that is used to wish someone courage. His eyes widened and he began to speak. He asked me if I knew why that particular expression was used for that reason? I didn’t know. He explained that the literal meaning is “dry your water,” but that the cultural translation refers to something deeper: we are all made of water, and “i ji ja” is a way for us to say “take control of what’s inside you.” We can also think of it as “dry your tears.” And that is how you wish someone courage in Bamanankan.
Boukary is bed-ridden and seriously ill, but he is still a teacher, and we are still learning things from him. Please keep him in your prayers and wish him courage.