Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No 2 problems...
It is perhaps a measure of the success of Hotel Djenne Djenno that the very pretty new septic tanks (see entry Oct.15 06) are already full and brimming over.
It is difficult to assertain which event at the hotel would have the more negative impact in tourist terms: an encounter with an open septic tank or the removal of a dead body. (one of the tricky situations dealt with at Fawlty Towers.) It is certain however that the situation needs dealing with, and preferably when there are no hotel guests around.
The OMATHO, (Office Malien pour le Tourisme et l'Hotellerie) are very insistant that all good hotels should have septic tanks to keep nasty stuff from seeping into the water table and the surrounding areas. They are not so keen to explain what exactly should be done once the tanks are full.
The local kaka removal service (kaka is French for no.2) is not a big shiny truck with a big hoover attachment, spiriting the effluent away to some environmentally correct destination, but it consists of five chaps with buckets and wheelbarrows, who picks up the smelly stuff at midnight and nothing more is heard of it. I asked Dra, my friend and the manager at the Campement what actually happened to the kaka. He looked at me the way one looks at a very silly child and replied: ' I have no idea. Why do you want to know?' It is my very strong suspicion that the wheel barrows are empied just beyond the hotel gates...
My mud architect Boucoum has been informed. It is his responsability, after all. He did reassure me a little: apparently there was a malfunction. Normally the tanks should not need emptying, but contain a sort of filter system, you will be glad to hear- well at least I was.

Friday, July 27, 2007

This morning , when I went to say hello to Xaloc who is grazing on the tender new grass in front of the hotel I found a piece of paper flying around in the breeze. It was a note that I had thrown away at least two weeks ago. It had been placed in a deep hole in the distance where we throw our rubbish. It should have been burned, but since my instructions are not always carried out, there it was, still legible, bearing the name and number of a young woman I have been meaning to contact for some time, thinking she may become a friend. Apart from Allessandra the Touareg (see entry a couple of weeks ago) I have no female friends here.

Although I admire the cheerful resilance and strength of poor uneducated Malian women, I am quite cross with their educated sisters. All that university education seems to accomplish for these women is to remove the use of their legs. Once they have been to university, they become too grand to walk. Since Malian women, in contrast to their sister in Burkina Faso (see August 06 entry) are not allowed- or don't want to- ride bicycles, the only alternative is a small moped or scooter. However, not everyone is able to afford this. Therefore the educated women of Mali sit around waiting for their husbands or boyfriends to pick them up on their motor cycles.
In addition, the educated women of Mali, if they have a job, keep their whole salary to spend on themselves, buying jewellery or clothes or whatever they may fancy. They do not pay a penny towards the upkeep of their families, which is all the responsibility of their husbands.
This arrangement is the wish of both husbands and wives- as far as the husbands go, it means they keep total power, because money is power here. The women comply with this arrangement, because they like buying jewellery and being ferried about on the back of motorcycles.

That is not all. Let me rant on since I have started.
The educated women of Mali, when they are taken out for a drink, at Hotel Djenne Djenno for example, sit next to their husbands or boyfriends like flowerpots and say absolutely nothing, looking vacantly into the air, whether they have degrees in anthropology or sociology or philosophy.
The puzzling thing is that one sees marvellous, educated Malian women on televison- so they must exist. Articulate, brave, ambitions women who are doing things in politics, health and education.
The truth is that Djenne is a backwater, an extremely traditional place where women do not have opinions.
But this morning, as I said, there it was, the paper flying around in the air, bearing the name and number of this young woman- clearly sent as a reminder to contact her?
She works at an ONG ( French for NGO, or Non-Governemental Organisation) here in Djenne, doing something in education with European funds. That means she has a very good salary. Probably quite a lot larger than her husband who is a school teacher. But although she keeps her salary she chooses to do something with it rather than simply buy jewellery, and she is the person who single handedly brought in , and paid for, the Malian star Saramba Koyaute, who stayed in this hotel last March. (see entry mid March)
She lost a lot of money on this exercise, because the star was supposed to perform in Sofara, a neighbouring village, the day after her performance in Djenne. However the star was enjoying the comforts of Hotel Djenne Djenno so much that she refused to move, and when she finally turned up everyone had gone home and vitually no tickets were sold.
Perhaps my potential new friend lacks organisational skills, but she has vision , ambition and lots of energy to have arranged the concerts. She needs cultivating and today I will call her and invite her for dinner. Who knows what we may be able to concoct together?

This lady is another potential friend. She is certainly someone I respect for her enterprise and energy. She sells jewellery to tourists- some of it quite predictable, and the same sort of thing as every other jewellery seller. She does have some pieces, however, which shows individual flair and great style. I think that we could do something together.
She arrived with a commission I had given her a couple of weeks ago- I made a little sketch, adopting something she was already working on, and this is the result: a stunning necklace made out of melted down old plastic bottles and flip-flops!
It will be part of the merchandise in the new shop at Hotel Djenne Djenno this coming winter tourist season. Oh, that reminds me- do look in the World of Interiors August number where you will find, on the Antennae pages, some fabric made at Djenne Djenno- for our new enterprise called MaliMali.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

'june 17th 1805:

finding that Hinton was worse, and Sparks delirious, left them to the care of the Dooty of the village; having given him amber and beads sufficient to purchase victuals for them if they lived , and to bury them if they died.'

June 18th: 'Lieutenant Martyn, the sergeant, corporal, and half the soldiers sick of the fever'..

August 9th: Michael May, a soldier, having died during the night, buried him at daybreak.

17th of November: 'of forty-four Europeans, who left the Gambia River in perfect health, five only are present alive; namely, three soldiers , (one deranged in mind), Lieutenant Martyn, and myself'.

Mungo Park's journal of his second journey makes depressing reading to say the least. He made a very grave mistake in setting out from the Gambia river to strike across to the Niger just at the onset of the rainy season. It was a mistake that cost the life of almost all his companions and indirectly probably caused his own demise, since he was left more or less alone and isolated on his last fateful journey down the Niger river to try and reach its mouth- he didn't make it but met his death in some rapids in today's northern Nigeria.

The West African rainy season is quite a frightening and overwhelming phenomenon.

Violent storms are often preceded by dramatic and beautiful skies, the portents of huge dust storms bringing Sahara sand in big whipped -up clouds causing near invisibility which is sometimes, but not always, followed by violent torrents of hard rain, beating down in horizontal attacks on the fragile mud buildings.

In the aftermath of the storms there is a calm and a momentary freshness in the air before the merciless sun has once more heated the atmosphere causing an unhealthy and unpleasant humidity.

Then at night, all the toads of West Africa celebrate in a deafening chorus. And all the mosquitoes are hatched and start their deadly business (although Djenné Djenno is so far mosquiteo free, being apart from the city- the mosquitoes have not yet discovered us!)

Neither Mungo Park, nor his French successor in these parts, the amazing René Caillé, the first explorer to reach Djenné, understood the connection between the mosquitoes and the 'fever' which consumed their companions as well as themselves during the rainy season. When Mungo Park fell ill with the 'fever', he believed that he had 'imprudently exposed himself to the night dew', and that this was the reason for his illness.

Today, thankfully, there are cures and noone with money needs to suffer for any length of time if attacked by 'the fever'. I do not take preventative malaria treatment, because I live here and it is very bad for the system to continue indefinitely. I will get malaria again, but it will be treated quickly and efficiently. Not so for the majority of the poor here many of whom still die in this desease which remains the biggest killer in Mali.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The first guests of the new season having breakfast at Hotel Djenné Djenno last week: a nice Belgian couple, here seen with Adama, their guide.
The generator is behaving itself and all is well here, well, sort of...
Having a hotel is a demanding excercise in wisdom and diplomacy, neither of which I possess in any great measure.
The latest is that Boubakar the night watchman has accused Papa the chef of stealing potatoes. He said he saw him leaving the premises the other night carrying a plastic bag full of potatoes. Meanwhile Beigna the barman has found another plastic bag in the store room, full of rice, wrapped up in Ali's jacket, presumably ready to leave the premises.

So a meeting was called with the concerned parties, and I demanded an explanation, at the same time as I said that if anyone had financial difficulties and needed an advance they had only to talk to me. Both Papa and Ali said they knew nothing about anything. I said that under the circumstances I would confiscate the keys of the store room for the moment, and oversee the distribution of the daily food stuff myself.
The next day Papa told me that if it wasn't for his great regard for Keita he would have resigned there and then. How could I possibly believe that he would steal from the store? I want to believe Papa rather than Boubakar- my night watchman is more easily replaced than my chef.
Having mulled over all of this, and feeling thoroughly miserable about the sitation I called a meeting again last night, and I told the staff that I would not hear any such accusations again against anyone if there were not at least 2 witnesses.
At the same time I am wondering if the whole thing wasn't quite silly in the first place? Perhaps I shouldn't even worry if Papa takes a few potatoes?

And finally, after a year as a blogger, I have just passed the 1000'th visitor to the site!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

13 July
Hallelujah! And Allah be praised! ( Undoubtely the same divinity after all)
Electricity, in the form of the prettiest blue generator you have ever seen, bearing the reassuringly German name HATZ, has arrived at Hotel Djenné Djenno! It gives 18 KWA (that is what the French call it, no idea what this is in English)
We were therefore able to receive our first guests of the new season, and the Hotel is now up and running once more!
Keita and Kaba arrived back from a successful trip to Bamako with a carload of equipment- not only the lovely generator, but another 3 airconditioners which will complete the number and make all the rooms at Hotel Djenné Djenno air conditioned.

However: the latest plan is to build a little 'village' of huts like the one on the picture above, behind the kitchens in a new little banana grove which is being planted. This 'village' will provide cheaper accommodation for those on a narrow budget.
These distinctive huts are found in many Malian villages, particularly in The Dogon country. They are used for grain storage, and not for accommodation. We are going to try out one or two after the rains stop, and put traditional African beds in, but with real sheets of course, a light and a little fan in the ceiling. There will be a loo and a shower serving the needs of four huts.

Oh! I nearly forgot! Djenné has aquired a new phenomenon in the shape of Allessandra, born in a tent, the daughter of a legendary Toureg warrior from Timbuktu, later Euro Princess and general Grande Femme Fatale. We are here seen plotting various schemes at the Campement.... Djenne will never be the same again...

Monday, July 09, 2007

More cheerful today.
Election update: Baber Gano, our election candidate was pipped at the post by Amadou Cisse, a Djenne grandee of immense wealth but no profession and uncertain education. He is said to have toured the villages doling out mopeds and wads of cash to the electorate. I am taking this with a pinch of salt, recognizing a certain amount of sour grapes. After all, our Baber Gano was not above using such means of persuasion himself.

And now onto the other news:
Djenne may well be a one-horse town, but Hotel Djenne Djenno is now officially a two-horse hotel.
Max has joined the team, arriving the other day with a beautiful new cart, which I will start painting today..
Max will be taking the Swedes (see 4 May) and other tourists on trips to the Fulani villages in the neighbourhood, thereby hopefully persuading people to stay another day in Hotel Djenne Djenno.

Max is clearly hightly sexed and has spent his first few days here with a more or less constant , and impressive, erection. This continual arousal does not seem to disturb him though, and he is quietly and patiently munching his millet, persumably enjoying pleasant reveries along the lines of :

'Cor, that fit young mare we met pulling the haycart on the road from Senossa, I know she liked me... I swear she winked at me! ...Phwoar! I could give her one...'

As you can see, Max looks very similar to Xaloc, but he is a couple of years older, and hopefully wiser. He will be a good big brother. Ibrahim and Sekou are building him a little stable today.
Dolly will be housed in between the two, to prevent any jousting between the two young stallions.

Max is named in honour of my maternal great-grandfather's horse, a remarkable creature who saved the life of my great grandfather, thus in fact being one of the links in the long chain of events which finds me sitting here on the verandah of Hotel Djenne Djenno:
One winter day my great grandfather left his farm with Max pulling the cart in order to go into the forest to fell some trees. One of the trees somehow fell onto him and he laid trapped in the sub zero temperatures. He was able to disengage Max from the cart however, and the horse ran back to the farm where he made a big fuss, stamping and neighing and then guiding a rescue team back to where my great grandfather lay trapped.
Long live Max!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

When our Millenium was newly born, I loved a pretty young physicist, briefly but intensely. He told me about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Entropy, in bed whilst nibbling my earlobes.
If I I understood it rightly , it means that all things, if left to their own devises, grind to a halt and the universe is destined one day finally to stop and die. This phenomenon is called Entropy. Energy is expended in various forms in order to prevent this slowing down and dying.

Africa seems to have a speeded-up version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Things fail and grind to a halt and nature encroaches with alarming speed. The energy expended to counteract African Entropy is much larger than elsewhere and an almost superhuman effort is needed simply to retain the status quo.
Little frail inroads made by alien entities such as electricity and plumbing are soon gobbled up by the onslaught of African Entropy which wreaks havoc silently but with deadly efficiency in the very fabric of the material world which surrounds. us. There are armies of termites at work in the wooden beams and soon the frail structures we erected will be nothing but heaps of dust.
Today we are replacing several main beams supporting the hangar or the grass covered wooden structure which gives shade to the bar and restaurant- they were thoroughly rotten and threathening to collapse, just six months after installation.

African Entropy is a master of seduction: it lulls everything to sleep while carries out its deadly destruction.
I arrived here back from Europe two weeks ago, full of energy and armed with a million schemes for the Hotel and even for the town of Djenné. But my European energy, like the plumbing and the electricity, is an alien element and fails to make any inroads.
Now I sit here, my leg in plaster, nodding off on the verandah, gazing at the big holes in the wall of the reception building occasioned by the first rains of the season. With every tropical rain storm cascades of mud are sent sliding down from the beautiful facades of Hotel Djenné Djenno. And in the distance I see Ali, aleep in his chair.

What made me so arrogant as to think think I could shape anything in this alien world , where everything slips and slides on its inexorable journey back to mud again after a brief appearance in a recognizable shape such as, for instance, a little hotel called Hotel Djenne Djenno?. Ashes to ashes , dust to dust and mud to mud...
And then, whooosh! A powerful surge like an electric shock wakes me up from my slumber and I want to wail and , like Dylan Thomas, ' rage rage against the dying of the light'!
And I want to hit into the muggy rain ladened pestilential July air, striking the invisible powers of African entropy with my crutch, and instead of Cyrano de Bergerac's A vous! Le mensonge, A vous! La Sottise! I want to cry: A vous! les Termites! A Vous! la Boue et la mauvaise Plomberie, A vous! Les Groupes Merdiques Chinoises!

Damn it, we WILL have electricity at Hotel Djenne Djenno! We WILL rebuild and be beautiful and I will ride that silly Xaloc again! I WILL swan about on my two legs, with my feet in those vertiginous red orthopedically incorrect shoes I bought in London , looking chic, being the hostess and having drinks with fascinatng people in my sunset bar!
African Entropy on yer bike!

Friday, July 06, 2007

PROGRESS has arrived in Djenné in the form of the BIM, Banque Internationale du Mali
which opened on the 28th of May.
Before there was only the Kondo Jigima, a sort of savings co-operative, run by a motherly local lady of ample proportions. The Kondo Jigima is totally unincumbered by the trappings of a modern office such as computers, fax- machines or even telephones.
Monsieur Lazare, above, is the Directeur of the BIM in Djenné. There is a fierce competition between the BIM and the BDM (Banque du Développement du Mali), my bank in Mopti.
I have now opened an account with the BIM in Djenné, for convenience- I clearly need a bank here, rather than in Mopti, a day's journey away. So I have made a demand for a transfer of money from the BDM to the BIM.
If my pal M. Guindo, the bank manager in Mopti (see entries Nov. 23 and May 25) had been around all would probably have been fine. But alas, he is on holiday. And the staff at the BDM have been most childish, pretending not to receive my demand for a transfer, leaving the telephone off the hook so as not to have to speak to me or Monsieur Lazare and using every known trick not to have to part with the money I sent them recently.
But we have faught back and Inshallah, the money should be there this afternoon, so Keita can go to Bamako and buy a generator to sort out the electricity problem at Hotel Djenné Djenno.
Oh, and what you see in the foreground of the picture is my foot in plaster. I didn't want to publish this, because my mother is going to be too worried. But here it is:
Xaloc and I went riding the other day, he stumbled in a short trot only, and fell over, then rolled on to me. I will be in plaster for a couple of weeks. It is not serious, just annoying.
Speak soon, must rush, or hobble rather....