Bamako, the Malian capital, is swarming with news reporters from all over the world, on their way to Mopti or Ségou nearer to where the action is taking place.
I was fortunate to get security clearance to go to Ségou and spend a few days seeing how the conflict is impacting the lives of women and children and to learn how Plan International is helping them. Particularly to see how Plan is helping get them back to school in a safe environment so they can catch-up on missed classes and get emotional support as their lives have been so disrupted.
As soon as we started to work, taking pictures, visiting the wounded in hospital and schools filled with displaced children, my security officer, who is constantly glued to his communications set, said “we have go ... pack up ... max 30 minutes”.
I am tearful. I feel angry and frustrated. I only arrived last night after a six-hour long drive on a bumpy road which felt like hours of turbulence on a plane. I had high hopes of documenting the humanitarian impact of this war on women and children and sharing it with the world. But now I am running for my life.
I am bitterly disappointed.
I feel I have broken a promise to myself but worst of all to these children, women and men I met in or around Ségou.
My consolation is that the time I spent in Ségou, I met so many people with compelling stories, such as 25-year old Aminata who fled Konnan a few days ago with her three children. She became separated from her husband and is spending sleepless nights, worried and fearing that he has been killed.
Fourteen-year old Issa from Timbuktu remains in a state of shock. He just stares. He struggles to speak.
I am fortunate because I can leave Ségou which has just been designated as a “red zone” by the military and flee to safety. But these people have nowhere to go. I am leaving them all behind.
It’s déjà vu all over for me – just a different country.
The anxiety I feel now is the same that I felt for my loved ones when the big earthquake hit Haiti three years so. For days I didn’t know what happen to them. I scanned the internet looking for clues that will give me hope. I rationally thought about the situation and concluded that it was bad news for some, if not all, the four members of my family in Port-au-Prince. But then the good news came. They all escaped the earthquake unharmed and were quickly transferred to safety in Paris.
I am hoping for the same miracle for those I am leaving behind in Ségou. I am praying they will be fine until I return.