It took years, but Kodiak resident Heather Preece finally saved enough airline miles to bring an old friend from Mali, west Africa, to Kodiak.
On Sept. 11, Mahim Toure and Preece reunited for the first time in 20 years. Toure will stay in Kodiak for one month to share his culture and learn about Kodiak.
“I hadn’t seen him for 20 years, but when we saw each other at the airport it was only as if 20 minutes had gone by,” Preece said.
Preece traveled to Mali in 1992, when she spent almost a year volunteering on a child nutrition surveillance program with Save the Children Canada. Toure was working on the same project.
“This experience had a huge impact on my life, and I’ve always wanted to be able to invite one of the life-long friends I gained through that experience to come visit where I live,” Preece said. “We’re completing the cross-cultural friendship.”
Preece had been accumulating Delta Airlines miles in an account for years and finally saved enough to have Toure visit. Last November she booked the ticket.
Everything was going to plan until March, when there was a military coup in Mali.
“In the northern part of the country the rebels wanted to separate from the country,” Toure said in French while Preece translated. “The military overtook the government and threw the president out of office. Then rebels and Islamic extremists overtook three regions of the northern part of the country and declared themselves independent. They took advantage of the lack of government. We still haven’t had elections since the coup.”
At the time, Toure was working for the United Nations Development Program on a project in central Mali as a communications specialist. He has a master’s degree in communications and speaks five African languages and French. Toure’s job was to use his communications skills to bring social change in the country. He often works with programs dealing with health issues.
“I worked 20 years for the Malian government and now the United Nations,” Toure said. “People trust me as a person of their culture.”
Toure’s program was suspended after the coup, and he went unpaid for five months. While his program was on hold, he volunteered for a locally managed refugee relief program, aiding injured and displaced people from the northern region of the country.
After the coup, it was questionable whether Toure would make it to Kodiak.
“When the coup happened, the embassy closed for six weeks,” Preece said. “I was sweating bullets trying to figure out if he was going to come.”
Before Toure could come to the United States he had to go through an interview at the embassy, but he couldn’t get one until two days after his scheduled flight. Miraculously, Preece was able to tell her story to Delta Airlines staff who helped her change the flight.
This is Toure’s first time traveling outside Africa.
“If you leave a culture you’re familiar with and travel to different areas, you gain so much,” Toure said. “To actually experience it personally, you can’t put a price on it. I enjoy human connection and friendship.”
His initial experiences in Kodiak were different than he expected.
“I never thought I’d find a community like this in the U.S.,” Toure said. “I thought Europeans and Americans live in their separate houses and don’t interact with each other. I was very surprised to find this community has a feeling of warmth.”
Toure will give presentations about his humanitarian work to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, where Preece works as a pediatric dietitian, Kodiak Rotary and the Kodiak community.
“To be able to host him here for a month, to share his knowledge and culture with the community of Kodiak, and raise awareness of things beyond our borders will be an amazing experience for him and Kodiak,” Preece said.
Toure will also take English classes during his time in Kodiak.
If you go:
A Glimpse of West Africa community presentation
Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.