I was in Mali for three weeks, and it is still not easy.
I have been in the country for more than a year, visiting my brother, his wife and three children.
It was my first time there and, like most foreigners, I was anxious to get to know the people.
My goal was to get an inside look at life and culture and, perhaps, discover the country’s hidden treasures.
What I discovered was a country that is not known for its hospitality, a country where people feel a strong sense of identity and pride.
The first day of my stay, I met a man in a trench coat who told me his name was Abdul.
“The last time I saw him, he had his head shaved,” he said.
His brother was a carpenter, he said, who was a member of the Muslim community.
I had heard of him and asked if he was a Muslim.
Abdul shook his head.
He had not been to the mosque and was not a Muslim himself.
But he was from the town of Arad, a town of around 300 people that lies on the edge of the Sahara desert.
A few days later, my friend and I headed for the village of Toussaoui, where Abdul lived.
We stopped off at a coffee shop to grab a quick coffee, and then we headed to a church for a service.
Before we entered, I asked Abdul if he knew the pastor of the church.
It turned out that the pastor had been killed during the 2011 insurrection in Arad.
During that time, Abdul was not only a community leader but also a regular at the church and he was the only one who could make the weekly rounds to distribute food.
There are around 600 churches in the area, with each one affiliated with the community.
“I think it’s a great tradition to give food to the people,” Abdul said.
“You have to understand that the main purpose of a church is to distribute the food,” he continued.
For those who cannot afford to travel to Arad to receive food, Abdul said, they go to the village and pray for food.
“When I pray, I want the food to be given to the poor people who live there,” he added.
My trip to Mali was the first time I had visited the country since the 2011 uprising.
At first, I found the country a bit daunting, especially when I had never been to a Muslim country before.
After visiting the mosques, I discovered a lot of hidden treasures in the town.
They are called pita, which means “bread” in Arabic.
When the mosque is empty, people pray with their hands, while some of the women of the community do it with their bare feet.
In some places, you can even see people with moustaches and long hair.
This was one of the things I found most surprising, Abdul told me.
Even though there were no mosques in the village, there were still mosques that were filled with worshippers, he continued, as if there was some kind of worship.
As the day wore on, I came to the conclusion that the people of Aradda had not only faith in God, but also in God’s power.
People pray together in a prayer hall, they make a big circle, and they pray together during Ramadan.
These practices seem to be a way of life, Abdul explained.
Despite the lack of mosques, there are several temples and mosques that are very close to each other.
Some of the houses are also used as homes for Muslims.
On my second day, we went to a mosque that I had not seen in the past.
Although there was a large courtyard, I had to take a long walk through the mosque, which was in a poor state.
Once we reached the mosque’s front gate, we entered the prayer hall.
Inside, there was one person in front of the large prayer hall with his back to the wall.
“We have come to ask God for mercy,” the man said, as the prayer began.
Then he began to speak in Arabic, with some of his words being in French.
Later that day, I went to another mosque and, with a smile, I spoke to a woman who was sitting on a stool behind me.
I asked her if she was Muslim.
“Yes,” she said.
I was very impressed.
While there were Muslims who worship at the mosque every day, many of the other mosques had no worshipers at all.
If I asked anyone in Araddo, they would reply that they do not have any Muslims at all and there is no worship there.
Now, it was time for me to go to another area.
To the east, we found another