Monday, July 18, 2016

Boring Stuff

My little friend above is  the best way by far to express my present circumstances. There is nothing to do but either cry, laugh  or shrug one's heavily loaded shoulders. If I step outside myself I can find it all rather amusing and that is more fun than feeling sorry for myself...
Well, its like this:
As I believe I have expressed many times before, I had dreaded Djenné without Keita. But I had not quite understood the scale of the misery that awaited me. Yes, of course I know it is all co-incidences that really do not have anything to do with Keita's demise but nevertheless...
The day before yesterday I was finally starting to attack the vast backlog of book-keeping that had been mounting up in these  last months- year(!) of misfortune for the hotel, the library and MaliMali.  I had been told there was some problem with the EDM (Electricité du Mali) which had made them arrive here in May to take away one of our electricity meters. I was not too concerned because I have prided myself on paying the electricity bills within one week maximum of arrival even in the last five years of trouble and insecurity. I therefore decided confidently to go and see the head of the EDM with Ace  who has been in charge of the payments of the electricity bills ever since the beginning of the hotel. And once we arrived at the EDM office I was presented with a bill of 1 300 000 FCFA! That is around £2000, and it comes as something of a shock to someone who thinks they are up to date with payments.
I obviously decide to check all my records and it seems that I miss seven receipts since 2011. I can trace the other 65. Now the missing ones are exactly the ones that EDM claim have not been paid so it would seem they have a point!  Ace is the person whom I have entrusted with my electricity and water bills. I always give him the money and the bill once it arrives at the hotel and he goes and pays. Then, 65 out of approximately 72times he has come back and returned  the receipt. The remaining seven times he has not  and I have been too busy to notice.

 Keita's best friend Cissé the Djenné tax inspector and the treasurer of MaliMali has been my valiant champion in this untimely trial. We went to the EDM together this afternoon  through the rain and the muddy streets of Djenné. The Director of the EDM must be feeling sorry for me because he has come up with a way to pay the bill off slowly. The thing is, I either pay or I close the hotel... but  hell! I know I have already paid these bills! After reflection I cannot think of any other conclusion then that it must be Ace who has taken the money- I will have to get rid of him. But he has been here since the very beginning! He is someone I am very fond of. Oh, what to do?

My mind full of these thoughts I continued this afternoon to plow through the vast mountain of accountancy which has to be entered into the appropriate ledgers when Maman  knocked on the door and explained that there was a group of people from Mopti waiting for me at the hotel and they  wanted to speak to me. I followed him, heavy with unpleasant premonitions which proved wholly justified. It was a delegation from the Mopti INPS (the department of social security) who had come to give me a bill for 3 500 000 FCFA (more than four thousand pounds) for missing contributions for my work force!

Now, when the hotel was up and running with some people in it we did of course do the social security contributions. But for the last four years we are the only hotel in Djenné that has managed to pay their staff at all, although we have had to drop the INPS and the staff had been paid sometimes through the hotel and sometimes through MaliMali, depending on which one had some money handy. I explained to the delegation  that there was unfortunately no way I was ever going to be able to pay them and if they insisted on this money I would have to close the hotel down forthwith. To give them  credit they were very understanding and they too, like the EDM  came up with a plan to save me. I said I sympathized with them totally and that I realized that they had a job to do and that I pitied them for having to come to Djenné to try and get something out of the hoteliers here because this town, with Bandiagara, the portal to the Dogan country must surely be the two towns in Mali which have been the worst served by this Malian crisis. The hoteliers and restaurateurs in Bamako are growing rich on the UN staff and there are plenty of those in Mopti/Sevaré too. Even Timbuktu and Gao are full of crisis administrators who want to eat and drink and sleep. But there are absolutely none here and none in Bandiagara... we just have to contend with all the journalists of the world bleating on endlessly about the insecurity of the central region of Mali and the threat of the Front de Libération de Macina.
So what will happen? I don't know if I will last through this- there seems at the moment precious little to put in the side of the scales which represents staying here....

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Back again...

Going back to Djenné brings  a series of events with dependable regularity- some of these I remember and take in my stride: they are just part of my homecoming, such as the pedicure of my horse. Petit Bandit has not been ridden for some time and his hooves need looking after. Old Malik is called and he ambles over  with his tool bag and gets it done- but this year I noticed he needs supervision because he seems to be  going blind...
Other events I tend to strike from my memory every time because they are so very irritating: one such is the lack of dill. Now, I did give Boubakar the gardener a bag of best English Dill seeds when I left and told him that if there was one thing only he did while I was away this would be the thing to concentrate on.  But alas no dill just as usual...

It is hard here now. I knew it would be. The underlying problem is of course  that Keita will never come back and that fact makes everything else less bearable...the slow degradation of my environment here and the encroachment of the neighbourhood with its sights and noises is  affecting me more than usual:  a blacksmith seems to have moved in next door but one and he bangs and files away as blacksmiths do. He also  starts and stops a very noisy generator at every moment I sit down to try and enjoy the peace of my breakfast under the flambuoyant tree or the peaceful view at sunset of the mosque in the distance with the football playing youths in front of it, nursing my Djenné Djenno Cocktail. This very view has been  severely damaged lately by the fact that our neighbour on the other side, the Ecole Franco Arabe has decided to build a great big ugly cement school there, right in  my field of vision in front of the Mosque. Now, I do not object to schools, but there was no need to put this school here especially since it is impossible to reach it  during two months or more  after the rainy season when the plain is inundated! The lack of municipal building control and any kind of town planning is quite scary.

Talking of such matters UNESCO had a meeting yesterday in Istanbul I believe where they discussed the World Heritage sites and the decision was made to put “the Towns of Djenné “ on the list of those World Heritage sites which are considered to be in peril. They identified  the “peril” to be the the growing insecurity in the region and a Jihadist threat.  I do agree that the town is in peril but for other reasons. The UNESCO rules for the town states that cement is not to be used in construction but the ancient methods of mud architecture for which Djenné is famous should be upheld.
Now, the threat to the town is certainly very real but not so much because of the perceived insecurity as from the lack of interest in the locals AND the authorities to maintain the ancient building traditions.
Cement is encroaching everywhere, replacing mud, even in the center of Djenné. It is not the first time I mention, as the most prominent example, the enormous new 'Maison des Artisans' which was built recently totally in cement which was then covered with a thin layer of mud like the icing on a cake with funding from Denmark and the cooperation of the Malian government.   

This serious breach against UNESCO's rules for the town has unleashed a whole series of cement buildings in Djenné: why should the locals have to build in mud goes the argument, when even the government and foreign investors like the Danes do not? In the wake of this gigantic  cement edifice in the heart of Djenne a whole plethora of new ‘pretend’ mud structures have sprung up since it is now a free for all here and no one in authority is willing to stop the river of cement pouring in to Djenné. 
This building below  is a new abattoir bang in the middle of town financed by the European Union through the ‘Conseil Regionale de Mopti’, a local government body . There is flagrant hypocrisy here and Djenné will be destroyed not by any Jihadists or 'insecurity' but by the lack of commitment in those who are in charge and should know better.

Monday, July 04, 2016

To Mali

The day before departure to Bamako ...
I am in London, (Portobello Road above) which is  a place reeling as if it has been hit with some natural disaster like an earthquake or a flood. People are dazed and nothing will seemingly ever be the same. A dear friend of mine had dinner with me the other night. She said that on the night of the referendum she had an old friend staying with her- this person told her casually that she had voted ‘out’!  She left early in the morning and they never met and spoke about the result. But my friend- a level-headed pragmatic Englishwoman- tells me she never ever wants to see her friend again and she will not be welcome in her house!  The ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ have opened up gaping and irreconcilable rifts straight through families and no one could have predicted how devastatingly  this vote would slice through the nation and the very union of the Kingdom.

But on to other trials... It is the first time that I will have to  endure one of those nocturnal arrivals back at Senou Airport, Bamako,  without having the joy and comfort of knowing that on the other side of the hassle; the waiting for the luggage; the running the gauntlet between cut -throat ‘guides’ and money changers  there will be Keita awaiting  me patiently with our old Mercedes ready to take me to either the Swedish Embassy Residence or “our” Hotel the Colibris like he has for the last ten years... This will be an unbearable void. There will be Cheik Omar; Keita’s nephew if  all goes to plan, and he will be with the old Merc, ready to take me to Eva’s, but it is not quite the same... especially as Eva leaves for her holiday today and I will be  all alone in the vast  residence which has been the stage for so much- both joy and pain- as the drama of last year unfolded. 

The last stage of my holiday in Sweden  brought another tragic farewell as I was able to pass some precious time with my oldest friend Stella (above trying on MaliMali necklaces) before she  died peacefully last week after years of struggle with cancer. We had youthful, light-hearted  nicknames for each other: they were given at that  teenage moment  when people  consider themselves immortal.  I was called her ‘Dodspolare’ which means in Swedish, literally translated:’ Death Pal.’  To be with her a few days before her death made me fulfil that heavy prophesy. Stella was a beautiful soul and she saw goodness everywhere. Her faith was simple and solid albeit not always doctrinally clear...

She called me to her bedside just before I left and she pointed at the cumulus clouds that passed by on the bright summer’s day: “Look! Do you see the angels coming?” she asked me. I wish now I had said yes. 
She was quite ready to leave and happy to go where she was certain she was destined. And in fact there never was a more deserving candidate for heaven.


Saturday, June 25, 2016


What to say? I watched with developing horror and incomprehension the UK making  BREXIT  a reality the other night from bed, while the heart -breakingly beautiful Swedish summer midnight illuminated my lonely pursuit by the Swedish lake. The Wall Street Journal ; the Guardian as well as the BBC were my online guides  as I saw the drama unfold.
Now, what amazed and shames me the most is the utter segregation of British society and the incomprehension and the great gulf  –still – between the educated and the uneducated classes in Britain.  
I do not personally know a single person in Britain who was for BREXIT. The day before the referendum I phoned Jeremiah, my dear friend and purveyor of never ending fun events (with a connection to the EU since he is the Cultural Attaché to the EU in London ) and told him “Hals und Beinbruch!”  (Break a leg!) He was taking it very coolly and told me he was very confident of a vote to Remain so there was not too much to worry about and that he was intending to have a good night’s sleep. Alas he, as well as everyone I know were very wrong. There was every reason to worry.
How could the ruling,  educated,  liberal, privileged,  cosmopolitan British people  - for that is exactly what it boils down to- have been so in the dark about what the poor, uneducated,  marginalized ones think?  It is most definitely a question of education here- just look at the statistics of who and where and what cities and counties voted in or out!  The problem here is that we cannot undo the rules of democracy. The people have spoken. Now the question is: should the people have spoken? Should this question really have been put to a Referendum?  

An email from a friend  sums this whole disaster up admirably:
"I think it's tragic for the UK -  a complete disaster actually -  and pretty bad for all of Europe and the rest of the world too -  we are all diminished by this. 
Overall, it's sad to see a victory for Nigel Farage,  UKIP, and the social and cultural forces they represent.  It's a huge backward step in all the post-war political progress in Europe, in developing a civic polity, and in moving away from the deep rooted fascism of the past. Obviously the tendency to fascism is still there,  but little by little it has been weakened,  until now.
From my standpoint, a very very sad time."

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Too much sorrow

 Death is so much more present in Mali: too many die young. The latest in this line of sorrow is Djennéba's firstborn, Nasra Keita, her daughter who was married with three small children. Djennéba, above and below, is Keita's older sister. She called me just now in Sweden to say that her daughter lost her fight last night at the Hopital Mere et Enfant in Bamako where she had been treated for two weeks. Djennéba would have spent the entire two weeks by her side which is the Malian custom. When Keita lay dying at the Point G Hospital she was there with many other family members who stay around the clock outside the ward where they sleep on mats and eat the food they have prepared while they  await patiently the conclusion of the drama which is more often than not the body's last journey to the morgue.

It is not really possible to ask what the loved one died of: one is likely to receive an unsatisfactory reply: 'Oh, he had a head ache and then he died', or "she had a stomach ache for some time and then it was over". Even Djennéba, who is a trained mid wife does not indulge in any diagnosis or explanations so it is impossible to know the cause of death. I think it is regarded as impolite to inquire, and in any case I don't any more since I know I will not find anything out.
So Nasra  will be buried today - always the very same or the next day.

I am spending time in Sweden before returning to Mali at the beginning of July with some trepidation: what will it be like now without Keita?

I can see the flowering lilacs here and I notice their scent, I am aware  of the beauty of the early summer meadows; I can feel the gentle Swedish  summer sun warm my limbs in the day and I notice that  the nights are cancelled but these things are destined for the enjoyment  of other people  and I am only walking through it all without absorbing it as if I somehow was wearing a protective isolation garment.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Day of the Swedish Flag

The sixth of June is Swedish National Day, or the’ Day of the Swedish Flag’.  The nation- wide  celebrations have just been shown on  TV with coverage of traditional military bands and an appearance of the Swedish Royal Family who were travelling  in a horse drawn carriage through   Stockholm where the sunny streets were  lined with  flag-waving monarchists.  A large proportion of Swedish homes  have flagpoles in the garden and  innumerable yellow and blue flags were fluttering against a cloud less sky today.   It would be inconceivable to have a “Day of the Union Jack” in the UK. Flag waving and unrepentant nationalism has a bad reputation in Britain.
The Swedes are clearly aware of this danger too: therefore the event has been high jacked  into an opportunity to promote, in their somewhat self- righteous way,   the values of democracy, freedom, cultural diversity etc. through numerous interviews with  immigrants who have recently received Swedish citizenship. This is all well and good but my main concern was the appalling quality of the musical performances that accompanied this  display of  Swedish largesse.  The poor king and his family had to sit through some excruciatingly bad rap, bad rock and even badly performed  Swedish summer hymns.

I am in Sweden. I am also in a terrible mood which may account for my critical attitude.
I  left London yesterday where the estate agent who has been in charge of the letting of my flat has managed to xxxx everything up royally. The flat had been let to an Italian documentary film maker who was supposed to move in last Friday. The contracts had been signed and I had moved out last Thursday. The flat has therefore not been shown to anyone else for two weeks because the deal was supposed to be clinched. The film maker had had to fight over it with another prospective tenant and won it through offering a higher rent. Last Friday – the day he was supposed to move in!-we ran into problems  because the estate agents were annoying him with unreasonable demands on his credit ratings- he offered to show his Italian VAT returns but the agents did not accept this as proof of income- meanwhile I was never informed about anything or given any chance to give my opinion on the problem at hand!  The result was that  finally the film maker pulled out of the deal and I am now left stranded without a tenant and have lost  a large amount of  both time and money!

And the other  thing which has made me very sad again is the parcel I brought back from Mali for  Pelle my cousin and his wife Nanni: it was a present arranged by Keita and it was the very  last decision he ever carried out.  He ordered  them embroidered boubous to thank them for their kindness and their sponsorship for the Djenné cataract operations and also for helping with his expensive drugs.  The boubous were ordered and made in Segou, but when they arrived to Bamako Keita was already unconscious at  Point G Hospital- he never saw the boubous and neither did I  until the parcel was opened yesterday by Pelle.

But finally, on  a lighter note:  The hotel staff have started their holidays in  Djenné but Baba keeps an eye on the hotel and my land so he noticed that Petit Bandit was not eating at all and looking sick: he called the vet who treated him with some medication and now he is OK again according to Baba- now this does brighten my spirits a little: it is good to know that Baba is so observant and that he does care...

Monday, May 30, 2016


I was privileged to be present last night in the Barbican for a five star performance of more or less the best the classical music world can offer in the form of violinists and conductors: Nikolaj Znaider  playing Beethoven's violin concerto which was followed by Elgar's second symphony, both conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano.   I was there in the company of David Nice, music critic; great pal and the most frequent commentator on my meanderings  in this journal. 
I would like to give  his review for the Arts Desk  a five star rating too, reading as it does more like a inspired review of an exciting  thriller than a performance of  what some would describe as two old war horses of the classical repertory:
 "The opening lightness of the Rondo, Elgar’s most progressive and fascinating movement, proved deceptive: woodwind shrieked and the ghost from earlier in the symphony, now all hammering juggernaut, came upon us unawares." 
Today I am not really writing myself but would like to give the stage to him. Please look in on his magisterial and  luminous  tribute to these marvellous performers and this glorious concert: