Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gunnar is a Norwegian cycling enthusiast who seems to have criss-crossed every continent several times on his bike. He met Pia and Andrew in St.Louis Senegal, and they told him about Hotel Djenné Djenno so he got on his bike and here he is a few weeks later.
Talking of intrepid Norwegians, I am reading Thor Heyerdahl's Fatu-Hiva, his description about his first Polynesian adventure when he went to a South-Sea island with his young bride to see if they could return to the garden of Eden and survive on nuts and wild fruits etc. Not sure if I like the idea of either of these Norwegian adventures, but nevertheless approve of their spirit. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dr. Krisana Kraisintu, industrial phamacist, and Miss Saowalak Pornwilassiri, first secretary to the Royal Thai Embassy in Dakar were staying at Hotel Djenné Djenno a couple of days ago. These two are involved in a really good scheme: they are attempting to start the manufacture of cheap anti-malarial drugs in Mali.
The greatest cause of death is still malaria here, by a large measure, and that is due to the scandalous prices of the treatment available. A course of treatment with the European or American commercially produced drugs available here costs in the region of 6000 FCFA. As a comparison a domestic maid in an African home earns about 5-6000 FCFA a month.
The indomitable Dr. Kraisintu is about to change that with the help of the Thai government. She has already started an initiative in Kenya, where her highly effective drug is already produced at a fraction of the cost of the imported drugs. Now she is cranking up some venerable old Chinese pharmaceutical machines in Bamako, relics from 46 years ago and President Modibo Keita's flirtation with China at the beginning of independence.
The drug will be called Thamasunate here. Good luck to this formidable lady and her initiative. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sunday afternoon at Hotel Djenné Djenno.
Today we are having an uncharacteristically peaceful Sunday-hardly any reservations, but I am not at all complaining , on the contrary I am enjoying the stillness, pottering around looking at the plants in the garden which are growing so fast that it is nearly visible to the eye day by day... Keita is in the kitchen with Papa the chef, teaching him the yummy beef recipe which is eaten with plaintains and boiled potatoes (the latter being a concession to European taste which I will add). We will call it Boeuf Keita and try it out tomorrow. Keita is a very good cook and produces deliciously rich and very fattening food.
I am planning the garden which will grow on the new land beyond the generator house. We will put in the cornerstones for the land in the coming week, then dig a well in the middle of the land and start planting. There will be a citrus grove, certainly, and many other things. It is amazing how uncomplicated life can be when one grows things! Weltschmerz and ennui and such concepts know their place and dissolve when faced with a healthy looking beetroot seedling.
I am thinking that perhaps the flocks of little hungry mendiants which are gathering around the hotel gates could help watering the new land in the morning in return for something to eat.. Hmm lets see... Posted by Picasa
A lorry arrives in Djenné on Sunday afternoon with merchandise for the Monday market: a large load of calebashes, the natural African cooking utensil made from gourds. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My entire staff went and bought themselves mobile phones with their first salary. (From the left Fatou the sou-chef, Baba the waiter, Beigna the barman, Papa the chef and Ali the 'chambermaid'.) Mobiles are the essential status symbol here. People spend hours fidgeting with their mobile phones and having long conversations about them, such as when recently one of the two Malian mobile networks Ikatel was bought up by Orange. This was a national event, and people actually talked about it. I nearly died of boredom, and when asked what I thought about it, I said that I could not contribute in any useful way to the debate.
I gave certain members of the staff credit on their phones so that they would be able to phone me in case of need. So Beigna took to phoning me in the morning, asking me if I had slept well, about quarter of an hour before he was due to turn up at the hotel anyway! Posted by Picasa
The only one among the staff who is not interested in mobile phones is Seku, the general cleaner and sweeper. He is very religious and spends time with Ibrahim the gardener reciting the Koran. Tristan the painter and I gave him the nickname Igor, he has the same characteristics of devotedness and seriousness as the servant in the Dracula films, at the same time as he is what Tristan called 'un rustre', but with a heart of gold. Posted by Picasa

(I had two lovely people staying with me last night. I hesitate to write anything that will seem like criticism- I do think they are sincere in their beliefs and I liked them very much,as a matter of fact. We all seek the meaning of life and happiness. If we find it, so much the better, but all the same...)
To the left in the cart is Zero, a Swedish lady who has moved to Glastonbury in order to be close to her spiritual leader, a Sufi mystic who gave her her name, a reminder that one has to become nothing before one can become something. ( This seems to me to be a universal truth understood by the mystics of all religions.) Her friend to the left of Ibrahim is an English lady, also a Muslim convert. They were here on a pilgimage to the Great Mosque and went praying at all the appointed hours. At first they had trouble getting in, but after reciting a couple of suras they convinced the guards that they were actually genuine Muslims and were let in.
Having prayed in the Great Mosque they were unhappy about the abundance of neon lights, which they felt had ruined their aesthetic and religious experience. They asked me to whom they might address their complaint. My mind rather boggled and I suggested feebly that the Imam of Djenné might be the most appropriate authority, but at the same time I ventured the opinion that their complaint would fall on deaf ears. Although neon lights are perhaps not aesthetically correct for Toubab Muslim ladies, they are exactly what the populaton of Djenné want.
We went to town with the Dolly Express. Lots of mendiant children accosted the ladies who thought them very cute. I explained that they were students at the local Koran schools , sent by their parents to stay with one of the many Marabouts who run such establishments. ' You mean like a boarding school?' chirped the Muslim ladies. ' Yes, a bit', I said, 'only that in this case the children are given no food, hardly any shelter, no medical care and are left to fend for themselves , roaming the streets like scavengers and begging scraps of food to survive'. 'Ah, I see,' said the Muslim ladies and changed the subject.
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Friday, February 23, 2007

Mud, glorious mud...
Crepissage at Hotel Djenné Djenno. The final layer of mud is applied, in the traditional grey colour of Djenné architecture, which gives greater resistance to the torrential rains of the rainy season. Soon the work on the Great Mosque will start, when the whole of Djenné gets involved, handing baskets of mud which is slapped on by a thousand hands. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 19, 2007

How to ruin one's reputation with the entire Dutch diplomatic corps in West Africa in one fell swoop:
1. Take a reservation with the Dutch ambassador to Mali for himself and his friends in three airconditioned rooms+dinner months in advance. Then write it down on the wrong day.
2. Make sure the hotel is more or less full, so that when they turn up, you only have the ropiest rooms left to offer them, the ones with fans only.
3. When they arrive at about 7.30 pm. be certain that all the other guests are at table, ready to eat, so the staff is 100% occupied elsewhere.
4. As soon as they arrive, and the awful truth has dawned on you, do arrange a powercut, so the hotel is plunged into deepest darkness for at least an hour.
5. Make sure that your barman (the one person who might have been able to cheer them up) is the only person around who understands the generator, therefore will be occupied in the engine room, leaving you in the darkness trying to find the one corkscew available.
6. For full effect, do try to have more than one ambassador arriving at the same time. In that way they will be able to spread the rumour to all the other diplomatic staff in a much more efficient way. In this case I managed the Dutch Ambassador to Mali and the Ambassador to Ghana! These were the ambassadors present, to my knowledge. But no doubt the others held the same post in Benin, Togo and Cote d'Ivoire. I didn't dare ask.
Anyway, they actually smiled this morning (see above.)
But in order to boost my deeply dented self confidence as a hotelière I will publish below some nice things people have said about Djenné Djenno... Posted by Picasa
"Djenné Djenno, c'est un bon endroit pour être malade" (Jutta, young Dutch girl who recuperated for a few days at Djenné Djenno) Posted by Picasa
"La confiture d'orange est meilleure que celle de ma mère, et ce n'est pas peu dire!" Fabienne Olive. Posted by Picasa
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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The view from our new sunset bar cannot really be appreciated from this picture alas. On the horizon is the Great Mosque, and in the distance on the plain that separates us from the city of Djenné all the football teams of Djenné practise every night, kicking up great dust clouds which gives the plain a golden sheen in the setting sun. The numerous players are outlined like the little stick figures in a Laurie painting. A lone Fulani shepherd passes with a herd of cattle, a most elegant figure with his pointed hat and stick slung across his shoulders.
Keita by the way, like all Africans, thinks that sunsets are très toubab. Should you venture this way and hear an African talking to you about the beauty of a sunset, beware. He has learned what tourists like and is trying to impress you, because to him sunsets are invariably a waste of time. Beauty of nature is something we Europeans have only just enjoyed in the last couple of hundred years after all- when Mungo Park went through here in 1795 and wrote in his diaries about 'a most romantic valley', that idea was quite new in Europe too, and when he commented on the beauty of nature to his Malinke companions he got about the same response as I get when I mention it to Keita- ça ne me dit absolument rien. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It is hard to get to Djenné, but like all good things it is worth the effort. One has to wait, sometimes for hours, for enough vehicles to fill up the the ferry. After six pm one has to either sleep at the crossing or pay a lot. If one comes with a motor cycle one can cross by pirogue at any time of day or night.
In the dry season one wades across, like the first time I arrived to stay (see second entry, July). It is all part of the magic of Djenné. I should of course be pleased about the bridge which has been financed and which will be in place within three years: after all it will bring more tourists and more people to the hotel. But I like it like this... Posted by Picasa
The native horses of Mali are a fine breed, rather small and delicate like arab thoroughbreads, which must be their origin.
I brought a saddle and bridle with me in July and a teach-yourself 'how to break your horse in' book. Alas, I just can't justify buying myself a horse when there are still so many things to do in the hotel, and the horse is just for my own pleasure. But hell, I think I'll do it. Sofara horse market next week, damn it! Yee-Ha! Then I can gallop across the dusty plain to see Ariel the peace corps girl in Senossa, and go to the internet café in some style. Farewell old chinese bicycle. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 15, 2007

First pawpaw at hotel Djenné Djenno will be harvested in a week or so! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Only two rooms are occupied tonight, and some time to recuperate. Yesterday I harvested the first produce at Hotel Djenné Djenno: enough courgettes to make a soup for twenty-two persons. The recipe was given me by a French lady who stayed last night, and her name was Sylvette.
It was very good and apart from courgettes it contains lots of the processed cheese La vache qui rit.
Another French lady gave me some more courgette seeds of a special southern French variety which she -unaccountably- happened to be carrying around with her in her suitcase. Posted by Picasa
Maurizio and his 5 friends were among my guests for the last two days-half the group stayed on the roof for the first night- no room at the inn. They were my first experiment in roof top hospitality, and the poor dears nearly froze to death, although I gave them a selction of my bogolan blankets. Oh dear... but here is Maurizio nevertheless, writing something complimentary on my tree, so all was well in the end. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dolly has now started working again, this time taking tourists around Djenne in my newly painted cart, driven by Ibrahim.
And today Hotel Djenné Djenno is preparing for an unprecedented invasion of The Beast.
Apart from all the rooms full we have 6 Italians on the roof; 10 Frenchmen in tents; 2 Australian film makers in the reception and I have moved out of my room to make space for 4 Spanish ornitologists. So speak later if I survive... Here goes! Posted by Picasa
see below: Posted by Picasa
6 Malian botanists who work at Kew Gardens arrived yesterday. They are here in order to catalogue the flora of Mali, and to try and save seed from endangered species. I took advantage of these gentlemen of course, and had them talk to Ibrahim about our plant nursery... Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 09, 2007

The lovely Tristan Ra left us yesterday morning, having more or less transformed the surroundings of the hotel, and inspired me to be more creative. Dolly will miss him as well as me. Tristan believed firmly in talking French to Dolly the donkey, rather than employing the stick, the Malian way of persuasion. When his conversation failed to move Dolly, he resorted to the ancient carrot trick, but Dolly remained unimpressed: carrots present no temptation for Malian donkeys. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The lovely Pia left for London this morning- Beigna drove her to the carrefour de Djenné -the time went so fast! Posted by Picasa
Today's programme at Hotel Djenné Djenno:
1. The builders will finish the staircase which will lead to the roof of the round reception, where the new 'sunset bar' will be situated.
2. Sophie will have a meeting with Baba, Chef de Service, to try and develop a system of serving the soup without putting the thumb in it. Posted by Picasa
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