Friday, July 03, 2015

Die Frist ist Um?

Heavy clouds hung over us on the journey back to Djenné, the dark portents of the violent storms of the early rainy season, when it is impossible to see more than a few yards ahead, and when great trees may snap like twigs. And just after passing Segou this is just what happened, so we crawled along in our old Mercedes while the heavens unfurled their pent-up ire on us- 
But there are other, more sinister  storm clouds gathering in the sky over Djenné…
 Although our homecoming was joyful once we had been through the trials of our stormy ride -the staff was all well and seemed happy enough to see us back; the gardens and the animals looked well tended -  I feel a premonition that  stormier rides and far greater trials lie ahead…I fear   what this year may bring. Was my happy holiday in Europe this year a sort of golden moment, a gift to give some respite before what lies ahead?
I sometimes hear snippets of forgotten poetry or lyrics that correspond almost frighteningly with  the situation in which  I find myself : they seem to be dragged involuntarily from my subconscious. Lately I have heard Die Frist ist Um- (The Respite is Over….The Time is up) the words from the Flying Dutchman when he returns with his ghost ship in the seventh year. It is now in the seventh year since Keita fell ill so dramatically- see blogs late December 08 –February 09. 

Keita has  been in partial remission from his incurable disease multiple myeloma (a type of bonemarrow cancer) since our  successful trip to Tunisia where he received  a bone  marrow transplant and also witnessed the beginning of  the Arab Spring. 
He has lived a normal life although he has continued to take the drug Thalidomide*.  But now his blood count of white blood cells or plasma cells  has suddenly shot up to very high levels  which means that the cancer has finally found its way around the thalidomide treatment. We knew it would happen one day of course… His oncologist in Bamako  has put him under a treatment for 45 days after which we are supposed to have a meeting to take stock of the situation. But today he felt so tired and had such vertigo when he went to work in the Djenné hospital that  instead of working he took a blood test- which made it clear that he needed an immediate blood transfusion. He now feels much better, but that is of course temporary only.

Keita’s health is the most disturbing aspect of my homecoming but it is not the only one, alas.  I walk around the garden with Boubakar the gardener mindful of Martin Luther’s dictum: ‘If the world is to end tomorrow I will plant an apple tree today’. We plant new mango trees and a lovely new yellow bougainvillea, we look at the little dill  seedlings, soon ready to be  planted out so that I can offer ‘Capitaine à la Scandinave’ to my hotel guests. But which guests? There are no reservations in the hotel and no one is travelling it appears. Although the peace accord has been signed finally by all the concerned parties, there is anything but peace in Mali: five UN soldiers from Burkina Faso were killed yesterday closed to Timbuktu by Jihadist rebels: the attack has been claimed by AQIM- Al Quaida in the Maghreb. This group made up  part of the Jihadist forces during the twelve month occupation of the north of Mali in  2012. And the threat is creeping closer: even Djenné Carrefour was attacked about a week ago- no casualties, but it is close to home and it puts an end to my theory that the Jihadist attacks only happen on the west side of the Niger…
there is a theory that there has been a slow infiltration by Salafist elements over the whole of Mali, some say because of the presence of certain organizations  based in the Gulf who have been using an insidious technique to gain ground here: they have spread their influence through the ‘gifts’ of cement mosques which are now dotted all over the countryside, slowly replacing the precious, tiny mud mosques that  has adorned all Malian villages in this area. 
So, am I at risk? I should be worried for my safety, but my biggest worry is that there will be no hotel guests and we will therefore be forced to close eventually…

Well those are some my concerns and they are not even all, alas…ALA K’AN KISSI (may God protect us)

*  called Nevrosedyne in Swedish and going under different names in different countries. It is the drug which caused so much suffering for so many in the 1960 's  and 70s by producing severe handicaps in the babies whose mothers had taken the drug to prevent morning sickness. The drug is now used successfully in two diseases: multiple myeloma and leprosy.

Monday, June 29, 2015


This morning at 1.20 the greenhouse air of Mali’s rainy season enveloped me as I stepped onto the wet tarmac at Bamako’ Senou airport after two eventful and happy months in Europe. It is not my favourite time of year here, and it was almost with regret that I left a beautiful sunny London which was finally getting into the swing of summer…But  Keita was waiting for me at the airport and today we have run around doing essential shopping and arranging of things to get ready for tomorrow morning and the journey north to Djenné. We had lunch at ‘our’ restaurant in Bamako which has no name: we just call it ‘La Senegalaise’, because it is run by a Senegalese lady who produces great home coookin’. Every time I go I cannot refrain from straightening  the picture on the wall...

 more soon from Djenné where Hotel Djenné Djenno is opening again on the first of July after the annual closing for staff holidays in June. Always a little apprehensive when I go back: what will I find?

Monday, June 22, 2015


Beigna,beautiful Beigna.
Keita phoned me this morning, just when I had written about how great life was at the moment.
I had somehow felt that of course things could not continue on this great joyful wave for very long...and I was right. Keita called.
Beigna died yesterday, buried in a collapsing mine shaft in the gold fields of southern Mali.
 Beigna was there at the very beginning of our life in Djenne. He was the fun, kind, lovely but impossible barman at Hotel Djenné Djenno who was sacked and reemployed  a hundred times. Finally he knew he could no longer come back and he left to find fortune in the goldfields like so many before him.
We are so sorry. Keita is so sad- Beigna was his 'Petit'...

(see 'Beigna' in blogsearch above+ see 'The pursuit of Dreams in the Goldfields of Mali' )

Good things only!

I am riding on the  crest of a happy wave at the moment: everything is going my way. The weather reports forecast only rain; but every time  I  need to go out for a walk by the sea in my childhood paradise Torekov -where the scent of the  roses and the sea weed produce heady madeleine  moments - or have a midsummer  garden party with friends or sit in the harbour and eat ice cream the sun has been conveniently streaming down.  

And the sunniest of all the good things is of course that the last rebels (the MNLA among them) have finally signed the peace agreement in Bamako on Friday.the 20th  . This was not done without cost and further concessions on behalf of the Malian government who had to lift the arrest warrants on 15 wanted terrorists, and who also had to persuade the GATIA and the Plate-form to evacuate Menaka, in order to let the UN troops in accompanied by the Malian Army to keep the peace.

But Hurrah! This is a great step forward for peace in Mali.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Holiday mood

Have decided to dive  wholeheartedly into my holiday, since the Malian situation is hardly being helped by my worrying about it. And in any case what is happening is pretty difficult to grasp from this angle: The Platforme still occupies Menaka it seems, although the ultimatum period has long passed. However, in a couple of days, the twentieth, a new deadline looms: this is the date when the CMA are supposed to sign the all –important peace agreement. My guess is that It is unlikely they will sign if the Plateforme still occupies Menaka...
 but, yes, what was I saying? I am enjoying Sweden which is showing its most beautiful summery aspect in light shades of green; with  flower strewn meadows; glittering water and a mild sun which immediately returns me to Swedish default mode: that is to say that I  find myself sunbathing(! )

 I am meeting a cavalcade of dear friends and all my cousins: here with  Pelle and Eva  in my child hood paradise Torekov; 

Lasse and Sissi in Djursholm  

with  Greger   
and my god  daughter Ida with boyfriend Senai Stockholm.  

 Now finally here is Hans Bulthuis, the Swedish/Dutch mud house building expert and entrepreneur who visits Djenné every year: I am visiting him and his wife Jenny on the island of Gotland where he has just launched a new project: he is reviving the local wool industry with a century  old wool washing factory which he has bought and transported from Spain!

Here their beautiful 'Mallas Stenstugu' farm on Gotland.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Menaka Crisis

Pro- Plateforme demonstrations this afternoon in the strategically important town of Menaka in  north western  Mali and below in  Bamako.
The population of Menaka received the Patriotic Plateforme GATIA force as liberators in April when they took the town from the MNLA and  the Malian flag was raised once more in the town.  The Plateforme was given 72 hours to leave the town last Friday. They must be out by tomorrow  night. The population is urging them to stay. Will they leave?

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Is Mali still a sovereign state?

 I am watching with dismay the reports on Malijet:  the Malian government has been stripped of all authority and forced to dance like puppets to the tune of the Algiers mediators whose new ‘Security Arrangements’ have been drawn up on the insistence  of the CMA.  Predictably , these ‘security arrangements ‘ include the withdrawal of the Plate-forme with GATIA from Menaka.  The paper was signed yesterday by  the Malian government via their foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop; the CMA and the mediation. The withdrawal of the troops is to begin within 72 hours of the signing. The problem is that the Plateform is refusing to sign. They are in control of the town and are unwilling to budge.
The security of the town is to be assured by the UN according to this agreement.
This might sound reasonable, but  judging from the storm of comments on Malijet;  the indignant clamour on Facebook as well as everyone I have been in contact with, noone believes for a minute that the MNLA will not be back again once the Plateforme has moved out. The Malian people have but little faith in the UN or in Serval - the French forces- to keep the peace. Malians are sick to their stomachs to see what they believe to be blatant partiality in favour of the armed rebels. And it is not hard to understand why: Malians remember too well what happened in Kidal after the Ouagadougou  Agreement in 2013.  This agreement  was brokered after the Malian army with Gamou's troops (not yet called GATIA then) stood at the gates of Kida1 and  would most probably have taken it from the MNLA had they not been stopped in their progress by the French army. Emergency negotiations followed and the Ouagadougou agreement  was reached which a1lowed for the elections to go ahead. According to this agreement the MNLA were supposed to be disarmed and kept 'in containment' and under supervision by the UN and French forces. Instead they continued to patrol the town freely, adorned by their Kalashnikovs, raising the AZAWAD flag in plain view of the UN as well as the French, while the Malian Army were not allowed in!  
Of course it will be the same thing in Menaka goes the argument.

Will the Plateforme move out of Menaka? Above Harouna Toureh, the spokesman  for the Plateforme in Algiers.  They represent a large slice of Mali’s public opinion, and not only in the North: their GATIA fighters are seen as a beacon of hope for a nation that has seen nothing but deep humiliation for years.  Most Malians now feel that the Plateforme have been betrayed by the government by the signing of this  paper. I think I can guess what the Bamako diplomatic attitude to this would be:  that the only thing possible is the signing of the paper and the removal of GATIA from Menaka.  But for how long and how totally can the voice and the opinion of a nation be ignored? Even a poor people like the Malians must finally be listened to and the feelings of ordinary Malians must be taken into account by those who ca1l themselves peacemakers if the objective of 'peace and reconciliation' is to have any meaning.