Monique Dembele represents the most aspiring rural Malian woman, resilience to local adversity, and the very essence of human character as described by Kris Holloway that is often missing or disconnected from foreign policy and aid considerations – or lack thereof. She stands for the girl who refused to be cut, the woman seeking to overcome patriarchal dominance, the African seeking education, and a health system in dire need of assistance.
What is it that makes the entire community’s help necessary in repairing the clinic or in building a one-room mud-brick house? In the simplest sense, it seems the answer is in the question – village life in Mali is predicated on the importance of community, or maybe the necessity of community. There are few opportunities for specialization in Malian village life and, thus, communal participation is both expected and required for function. Option B in most cases does not seem to exist. At such a low level of specialization, and in such a small village, one does not buy supplies from a store or labor from a contractor, as most villagers do not receive what would be called a salary anyway, but one relies on those they know to help do what may only require one person in the U.S. something that requires 20 people in Mali. Mass production and economies of scale do not exist or are not readily available for most products. The immensity of the effort required to build a well cover or 90ft2 home is dependent on the resources available, means with which to gather and appropriate them, village size, and labor availability.
Monique and Francois’ relationship carries much weight in the book and largely determines Monique’s predicaments. It does not seem that Francois’ treatment of his wife is the status quo in Nampossela as the dugutigi and others express sympathy for her situation. However, any challenge to the authority of the paterfamilias is certainly considered taboo –
the status quo, and never questioned. The ethic of the man’s decision is irrelevant in Malian village life, aside how mutual friendships may be affected. This creates the opportunity for abuse that is unfortunately tolerated. How much ‘progress’ or cultural change is required to prevent this abuse?
What is it in ‘Western’ society that devoids it of the sense of community developed in village life despite ‘Western progress’? The Malian village life is in great contrast to the sense of community in the industrialized world. Maybe we are all backwards in our own way.
The reaction to death, while still grievous, is predominantly celebratory and much more liberating for those affected by the death than a modern funeral in the States. Even before death, the same people that call themselves advanced push the elderly into a sort of limbo, neither here nor there. In Nampossela, the connection with the dead is quite the opposite. Speaking with the body, holding the body, and dancing with it are all expected in celebration of the life passed.
Monique provides as deep an insight into the sense of community structure and personality in Malian village life as can be absorbed without going there. The sense of humor and personal connection in the novel only exemplify the reality of a world that many persist in.