Director's Experience in Mali
michael — 19 weeks ago
This is my fifth day in Mali. I’m here with my producer Lalita Krishna on a scouting mission. We start shooting in 3 days and we want to make sure that all the details are in place when the crew finally arrives to film. You can only check over so many things from back home – it’s important to see stuff up close and personal. We’ve only got one shot at this and so we want to make sure that everything’s all right.
As well as double-checking our accommodations and transportation for the 10-day shoot, we also need to make sure that our interviewees –subjects for the film – are ready to share their stories.
Most of the world’s cacao is grown across the border in Côte D’Ivoire but – as far as the workforce goes – they mostly come from here in Mali or from neighbouring Burkina Faso. These are the people I want to talk to – people with a very different perspective on chocolate.
Since early this morning, we’ve been traveling through the hot and dusty Malian countryside, going from village to village and meeting the various subjects that have been lined up for us by Save the Children, our host guides during this trip.
A couple of hours ago, we pulled into the village of Nianfingolodougou (say that 3 times real fast) to meet Mr. Souleymane Berthé. His village is quite remote and – to get there – we had to pull off of a dirt road and drive roughly half an hour across endless fields of blood-red soil. This part of Africa is really like another planet. There are no reference points here for anything I know – everything from the trees to the houses to the bugs are completely different.
On arriving in Nianfingolodougou, we followed local protocol and sat down with the village Chief and elders. We drank really sweet tea. We politely declined any food that was offered – you can get diarrhea here in a heartbeat.
Soon after that, Mr. Berthé joined us and quickly told us (he was bragging) that he was the father of 10 kids -- and that he had 3 wives. Even by local standards, 3 wives is a lot.
But, I wasn’t here to discuss Mr. Berthé’s love life; I was here to talk to him about one of his sons and two of his brothers – all of whom went to work in the cacao farms over in Côte D’Ivoire. The problem is that they’ve disappeared and he hasn’t seen them for more than 3 years. Mr. Berthé thinks that maybe they’re dead – and that the chocolate industry may be behind it. Chocolate? How could that possibly be?
Thirty minutes ago, I heard another dark story from a local fisherman, a 16-year-old by the name of Mamoutou Traoré. He actually worked in the cacao fields for nearly 2 years. He told me that he was ripped off -- and hinted at much more. He said something about executions. That seems a little over the top to me. I can understand someone getting injured while working on a farm – but executed? Maybe it’s a translation thing but he told me that he could tell me more about it later.
There’s something incredible about Mamoutou, Mr. Berthé and all those I’ve met so far today. They’re all so welcoming. They also love to laugh and tell a joke. This is all in spite of the fact that they have so little: no electricity and no plumbing. Sense of humour is actually a pretty consistent trait that I’ve noticed in all my visits so far today. I realize that all those images of African children with flies in their face that we see all the time in those commercials back home really do the people of Mali a great disservice. The people I met certainly didn’t see themselves as victims. They simply see themselves as people who do what they can with what they have. They don’t dwell on the negative. So, when someone like Mamoutou or Mr. Berthé tell you there’s a real problem in the cacao industry, you better listen.
We’ve just finished lunch and are just entering Zégoua, which sits right on the border with Côte D’Ivoire. This is the closest we’ll get to the war zone in that country. I heard on the local news last night that Côte D’Ivoire’s incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, is holding his country’s supply of cacao hostage – hoping to sway international opinions in his favour.
As bus after bus races across the border and into Mali – each filled to bursting with people fleeing the war – I’m re-reading my notes regarding my next visit. An ex-bus driver by the name of Brauma Diarra wants to talk to me about an incident that happened just a few months ago – a story about his 13-year-old daughter and her best friend going to work in Côte D’Ivoire. I’m not sure yet if they made it back.
Who knew that chocolate could be so politically charged and – in the case of some here in Mali – so deadly.