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Is this the last white man left in Mali?

China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-01-26 08:22

Retired Spanish banker holds his ground with family

Seventy-seven-year-old Pedro Ros doesn't care that he may be the only white person left in a Malian city after foreigners fled amid escalating threats from Islamists. And he doesn't care that his embassy is urging him to pack his bags and leave.

"Don't insist, I told them, I'm staying," the determined Spaniard said, his white hair and beard on end while enjoying a casual morning coffee in the city of Segou, some 270 km northeast of Mali's capital, Bamako.

Is this the last white man left in Mali?

Pedro Ros with his Malian wife Genevieve and 2-year-old son Kim-Pedro. [Photo/Agencies]

"I'm the only white person among the Africans," the former Spanish banker said. "I'm not afraid, that's just the way it is."

With the exception of Ros, Segou's white population - including voluntary workers and hotel employees - took flight shortly after the French-led offensive against rebels began on Jan 11. Islamists have vowed to launch reprisal attacks all over Mali.

Despite the danger, Ros has been ignoring calls from the Spanish embassy in Diabaly urging him to leave his home of six years. "They sent text messages saying, 'You have to take precautions Mr Pedro,' and then, 'You have to leave!'" he said.

Rebels controlled the central town of Diabaly, just 100 km north of Segou, for several days before French and Malian troops recaptured it along with another key town, Douentza, on Monday.

"I keep up with the news, but to be honest I don't at all understand how the world works," Ros said. "You have to die somewhere."

An avid traveler, Ros crossed most of Africa, including Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Cameroon, before finally settling in Mali. "I told myself: 'Hey, this is a good country, this is where my life is'."

Now, he works for the Mali Red Cross on a project dedicated to female victims of genital mutilation. He is also installing grain mills and helping build a school funded by Spanish aid.

But despite some links with his homeland, he doesn't go back to Spain anymore, since he has no family there. His family is now more African than European. His wife, Geneviere, is a Malian native and together they have a nearly 2-year-old son, Kim Pedro.

The septuagenarian does not seem worried about his health either.

"From time to time, (I go) to the hospital for malaria," he said, flinging the butts of his cigarettes on the ground. When it comes to his bad teeth, he admits the dentists in Segou aren't the best.

After three hours of using his ancient laptop, Ros packs up to join his family for what he calls an "African breakfast".

When he leaves, a young waiter confirms the Spaniard's determination: "Mr. Pedro, he will die in Mali."

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