While shopping in a Salt Lake mall, Modibo Diarra paused for a moment in front of a display of modern blue jeans and scratched his head.
During a visit to Utah from his African village of Ouelessebougou, one of Salt Lake City's sister cities, he had seen many strange and exciting sights. But this scene puzzled him most: faded brand-name jeans with the knees and back pockets intentionally shredded."Why would Americans pay $80 for a pair of jeans with holes?" he asked his Utah friend, Christin Holbrook. Holbrook could not think of an answer. At least not a very good one.
Modibo has returned to his drought-stricken homeland in Mali, West Africa, and to his people whose daily lives involve fighting the deadly devastation of starvation, dehydration and disease. He was in Salt Lake City to meet with Holbrook and other members of the Ouelessebougou Alliance - establishing friendships with those dedicated to improving the living conditions of his struggling village.
Modibo has taken back with him knowledge and resources that will strengthen the bridge between Salt Lake City and Ouelessebougou - particularly between the women of both parts of the world.
Still, he found it incomprehensible that anyone would intentionally tear clothing. "I don't want to judge your society," he said. "These are just some of my observations."
It's difficult for him to understand why Americans - who have so much - seem to always want more. And he finds it "sad" that Americans have to protect their homes and cars from thieves with locks and security systems.
In Mali, one of every two children dies before age 10 from disease. Resources ranging from medical supplies to water are limited and must be shared. Yet his African people cooperate with each other in a spirit of kinship and generosity, he said. They do not have to "protect themselves from each other."
The contrast between life in Salt Lake City and life in his rural village is "like comparing two different planets," Modibo said.
March 8-18, a group of Salt Lake women will travel to Ouelessebougou. Their mission: To help the people there by providing permanent solutions through an ongoing sister-to-sister relationship, rather than through temporary aid. By learning the culture and traditions of the African people, the group will help the people help themselves in the areas of agriculture, water resources and health care, Holbrook said.
Modibo is meeting with the women of Ouelessebougou to talk about the upcoming visit by Utah women. He is asking the women what they need to help their families "live more healthy lives."
The Mali people want to re-establish their own self sufficiency and independence, Modibo said.
Businesswomen will provide a link for Mali women to market their colorful textiles, pediatricians will teach health care and help obtain medical supplies and agriculture specialists will help the women improve methods of gardening.
"Women are the ones who plant the gardens, gather the crops, haul the firewood, tend the children and make the food.
"If you help the women, then you help all the people be happier," Modibo said.