Friday, August 25, 2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I am about to go for a trip on the river for a few days so will leave him to it. Keita is coming too, we are going CAMPING. Keita is behaving as if he is about to be led to slaughter. Africans want satellite TVs, refrigerators, air conditioning and night clubs when they go on holiday.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Mohammed relaxes from his stressful work situation by reading Barbara Cartland novels. This one is called 'Honeymoon in Rajastan' (Miel de Lune à Rajastan).
Friday, August 18, 2006
The plastic chair above, so ubiquitous around the world, is the 'ne plus ultra' of Malian restaurant design. I am told by Keita and anyone who is anyone here that I simply have to have these chairs. I have dug my heels in, trying to explain tactfully that it won't do. The problem is that a lot of people here have become personally involved in my hotel, and since they are all Muslim men they believe they know better... I explain that I have found a perfectly good metal chair , made locally in some quantity and used for chair hire for events such as weddings etc. It is simple, sturdy and will be comfortable too, once I have given it a little cushion to sit on. When I have painted it and decorated it it will be very good, and have a local charm about it. My African friends are horrified: clearly I have NO IDEA.
To try and finish the matter I explain, rather haughtily, and quite ridiculously that I am a graduate of the Royal College of Art ACTUALLY, and that my interiors have been featured in a great number of interior design magazines around the world. This totally fails even to register. Last night Keita and I didn't speak. We have now come to something of a truce, and the last thing Keita said on the matter, to cheer me up, was that he would show me a hotel in Segou where the plastic chairs were really pretty...
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006
So here is Dolly with his lovely new cart, ready to start bringing the mud to the site.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Shopping is one of the supposed London delights I will not miss. Here shopping just seems to happen to one, and that’s the sort of shopping I can deal with. Take just now, for instance. I am sitting under a baobab tree on the banks of the river Niger, reading the diaries of the amazing Mungo Park (about whom more later), waiting for my architect Boucoum to turn up for our meeting at the Ministry of Tourism. (He is late, ahem…)
Three little boys just passed by trying to sell me sweets- they also had one pair of the distinctive brightly coloured flip-flops the Fulani now wear; a high tech addition to their otherwise impeccably traditional outfits. These flip flops have been vacuum formed somewhere in enormous quantities in the Far East and have found their way mysteriously onto the feet of the most humble Fulani shepherd. I have been vaguely thinking about buying a pair, so I gave them 1000 FCFA (1pound stirling), clearly far too much since they skipped off in a sort of delirious dance, laughing and squeeling happily and clasping each others shoulders. Meanwile I removed my old flip-flops, bearing the faded Jamaican flag, a relic from Portobello Road celebrating the recent football world cup. I had only just put them down when a young mother with a baby arrived and asks me if she may take the old ones, which I readily agreed to, of course. So we are all are very happy at the end of this exchange.
Shopping in Westbourne Grove? Give me the banks of the Niger any day.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Allah has been kind and sent some much needed rain for the worried cultivators of Mali, and I am pleased and relieved for them. However, for an incipient hotelière of a hotel built in the venerable architecture style’ Soudanais-Sahelien’ the results can be somewhat alarming…
I went to the site this morning to find that parts of my lovely mud hotel had quite simply returned to mud in last night’s heavy rain and large chunks of the walls had slipped and slid to the ground. It was a little like seeing a sand castle disintegrating at the arrival of the tide…
‘Not to worry’, I told myself, availing myself of my finest adopted British upper lip, and taking heart at the thought that my mud architect Boucoum (in pink above) was about to arrive for our 9 am site meeting. He would undoubtedly explain all and all would be well.
Boucoum failed to materialise at nine however. We spoke by mobile at ten and at eleven and at twelve. He assured me he was arriving imminently.
At one pm I called his mobile and it was switched off. I kept calling all afternoon and had no reply apart from his irritating message.
I paced up and down the melting corridor of my melting hotel while my ten labourers were lolling about in the mud waiting for instructions from the missing architect, enjoying themselves at my expense and grinning at me- or so it presented itself to my by this stage failing patience. In fact they were of course only trying to be encouraging, throwing me their kindly meant but infuriating ‘ça va Madame?’ every two minutes. I only just managed to suppress what I really wanted to scream at them: ‘non, ACTUALLY ça ne bloody va pas! what does it bloody look like! and stop bloody grinning at me!’
About this point I started calculating my losses. If I were to return to England now, how much would I have lost? It is obviously going to be impossible to get anywhere here. How could I possibly even get this place built when Boucoum my architect, thus the key figure, proves so totally unreliable? How dare he keep me hanging around like this, and all his workers too???
Finally I told the workers to leave, went back to Keita’s where the pelotte card game continued in the courtyard regardless of the fact that my world was –literally- disintegrating. And then, NINE HOURS LATE, the wayward architect saunters in to PLAY CARDS!!!! if you please. I try out my most withering and glacial ‘bonsoir Boucoum’. My fine irony was totally lost on him, however and he smiled back happily and returned my greeting just as if nothing had happened!!!!
It appears that his transport had broken down and that he had been outside the mobile network so couldn’t communicate, and had only just arrived. Of course all this is plausible and indeed almost certainly true.
‘Calme-toi, Sophie’ said Boucoum with his quiet and soothing phlegmatism. ‘calme-toi, c’est l’Afrique’.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
Ah! I am sorry that the promised communiqué from Monsieur le Maire de Djenné is postponed as he had to leave on urgent business.
In the meantime, Beigna's hunting efforts of last night will have to suffice for today: he went off into the bush on a little motorcycle with a rifle-carrying accomplice as pillion, and this poor hare came to a sticky end...
Thursday, August 03, 2006
While I am waiting for the water pipes to be installed on my hotel site I am staying with Keita, whose courtyard is always full of people.
I wake up every morning to the sound of the pounding of millet in the large wooden pestle and mortar which is THE universal cooking utensil of Africa. Soon the 'mendiants' arrive to sweep the courtyard and do whatever other menial tasks may be at hand before they receive their reward: the left-overs from last night's dinner. Keita's household has three such little boys who 'belong' to the courtyard and they will defend their territory from the encroachment of other little 'mendiants', who swarm the streets of Djenné.
There is a well defined pecking order here. Although there is only officially two people eating -Keita and I- food is prepared for about twelve because there are so many mouths to feed! When the food first arrive to our table there is an enormous amount on display. We eat what we want and thereafter the food goes to Beigna (see above) and his friends, who always leave some for the 'mendiants'.
Like all people with some standing in Mali, Keita has a 'Petit'.That means that a young man has attached himself to him, and has become his manservant. Beigna is Keita's 'Petit'. He makes the tea, washes his clothes, serves the food and runs errands. Baigna is not paid, but he is looked after and does this service for Keita by choice.
'How did Beigna come to work for you like this?' I asked Keita. 'Oh, one day he just saw me and loved me' said Keita.'Just like that. He just followed me and attached himself to me'.
I find this rather mind-boggling. There is absolutely nothing sexual in their relationship. Beigna serves Keita for the pleasure of being with him. He has no other work, and being here is the most fun option available.
In fact Keita's courtyard is where the fun of this town mainly happens, for about 5pm every day 'le tout Djenné' arrives for the daily 'pelotte' session: a noisy and apparently totally engrossing card game. Beigna makes everyone endless sweet tea, served in little glasses, and in the background the music of Ali Farka Touré or Salif Keita or recently the blues I brought along. As I believe I mentioned some time ago, the Maire of Djenné is often found amongst the card players. Last night he entrusted me to communicate an important message. Watch this space tomorrow...
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
My gardener Ishmael and I went to Sofara, a village about 25k. from Djenné yesterday to buy a donkey and here is the little creature, which remains unnamed as yet. Ishmael walked him back all the way to Djenné while I went on to Mopti for banking business: the view from Bar Bozo as captivating as ever overlooking the busy harbour of Mopti.