Friday, September 28, 2007

Have been hobnobbing at the Swedish Ambassador’s residence at a book launch with my friend Jeremiah- seen here in the splendid staircase.

Here I am next to the hapless Gustavus III, who was dispatched into the Beyond by my mother’s New Lover’s great great ……great grandfather’s gun(see May 8 entry).

And here I am (wearing a MaliMali dress and a |MaliMali necklace, soon to be sold in the Hotel shop!) with the author of the worthy tome 100 ways to save the World, which has done very well in Sweden and has therefore now been translated into English. I can’t help thinking that the English may not take to its commendable sincerity, being a more unruly and irreverent bunch… For instance, here is an excerpt from chapter 91, bearing the scintillating title “Obey the Law”: ‘Our governments and civil services are home to many thoughtful, intelligent public servants who actually give a great deal of thought to their decisions. Politicians and bueaurocrats at the EU, national regional, and local levels are (mostly) genuinely concerned and informed individuals working hard to protect the environment.’..Yes, riveting..ahem….
Now, you must understand that you, as a foreigner, are of course not allowed to say things like that about the Swedes- don’t even think about it.
I will fix you with an icy stare and then wander off, not amused: ‘who exactly does he think he is, the pompous English pratt’?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Have installed myself in a London studio to work on my big commission and I am working hard, and at the same time worrying about Hotel Djenne Djenno...! All is well at the actual hotel according to Keita, but yet again this last weekend the clients who were booked in just went straight past and on to the Campement because they thought the hotel was closed!
It is no longer raining in Djenne, so my pumping scheme is no longer necessary(see above and below and entry around 10th September). But it is raining in Guinea or somewhere, because the water is still creeping up slowly!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sitting in a London internet cafe remembering happy breakfasts at Hotel Djenne Djenno. Recently Napoleon used to graze in the banana grove just next to the restaurant. He wasn't tied up, so sometimes he just wandered in and appeared at my table to say good morning, to the delight- or perhaps horror? of the French tourists at the next table...

More serious matters: the water is stabilising says Keita, but last weekend a whole group of tourists who were booked in to stay just went past, because they saw all the water. But we are OPEN!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Back in London biting my nails. In daily contact of course and hear that the water is stabilising- still rising, but very slowly. But I read in the Independent this morning that more rain is promised for the whole Sahel region- many countries are in real trouble, not only Mali.
This year there will be grave difficulties with the harvests because of the rains. Last year the Malian government- as well as that of Burkina Faso- borrowed yet more money from the World Bank in order to pay a fortune to some American private companies to go in with airplanes and 'seed' the clouds: a fantastic new technology to get the rain started. It works very well.
In the West we often think that Africa just sits and waits to be rescued. It is not true. We don't know when such initiatives are taken. Mali averted disaster and famine last year, but at enormous cost. This year that possibility is not even open- there is no technology available to STOP the rain!

I was sorry not to have been at the hotel a few nights ago to welcome a n American from New York bearing the splendid name Javier de Frutos. He wrote me an e-mail a couple of months ago and booked a double room in September, because he was a reader of this blog!
Ever since, when I saw his name in the reservations sheets he became associated with the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness', and the thought was always pleasant and cooling somehow in the heat of the Malian summer. Alas, I couldn't greet him and his partner since I was already in Bamako- instead they were greeted by torrential rain and only just managed to squeeze in through the sand bags to enter the hotel compound. The hotel is now noisier than normal, because we had to rescue the new generator (see above) which we have put it in the laundry room next to the restaurant.
I decided we needed to cheer up Mr. Frutos and his friend so I called Beigna and told him to up-grade them from an ordinary double room to the Peulh suite where they spent two nights. They were so pleased with Papa's steak and chips which they had for dinner the first night that they ordered the same thing as their main course the following night, apparently. And indeed Papa's chips are among the best anywhere, it has to be admitted...

While in Bamako I went to Malick Sidibe's studio to greet him and to see the lovely photos he took of the hotel a few weeks ago. I took the opportunity to buy a couple of his old prints too, which he signed.
As soon as I arrived to London I went straight to Vogue House and Conde Nast Traveller, who were waiting impatiently for his pictures. They will feature the Malick Sidibe pictures of Hotel Djenne Djenno in December issue. So let's hope there is still a hotel then...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Apres moi, le deluge?
I left Djenne this morning, and I am writing this on the Bani bus, Keita asleep beside me. We will stay two days in Bamako, then I fly back to London.
The water stands at approximately 20 cm from the hotel entrance. The lowest points have been shored up with old rice bags filled with earth. Djenne has now run out of both bags and earth- Hotel Djenne Djenno is not the only place in trouble.
So we have taken alternative measures: since we are going to dig a big hole in the garden anyway for the proposed swimming pool, I decided to start digging straight away, and the earth is used to fill our old rice bags.
However, it continues raining. We have had to block all the normal escape routes for the rain water, which normally runs through a hole in the mud wall at the lowest point of the garden. But where the water can run out, it will also be able to enter. So we have closed the escape routes, thus causing another problem- what to do with all the rainwater which gathers in the daily heavy rains?
Yet again, the intended swimming pool comes to our aid. I have been too busy with other things to tell you of a beautiful Heath Robinson set-up which will be our totally environmentally friendly swimming pool:
We have bought two foot pedal pumps of American make, sent here to be used in grass roots agricultural projects. The pump has a hose pipe attachment with a filter that is inserted into a well. The pedal pump then transmits the water by another hose pipe in a radius of up to 50 m and a height up to 10 m. The idea is that I get up in the morning to do my morning exercise for about three quarters of an hour- (after all it is more or less exactly the same sort of machine I used in my gym in Notting Hill) or, more probably, Ibrahim the gardner will do the pedalling, (or indeed , who knows, perhaps this is the beginning of the Djenne Djenno Health Spa?) Anyway, it is possible to take out approximately 2 cubic metres per day. This water is pumped into the swimming pool. At night the other pump, at the other end of the pool, gets rid of the same amount of water, throwing it onto the banana plantaton just adjacent. It is flawless! Thus no water is wasted at all, and one of my problems with a swimming pool in Djenne has been removed: i.e. I have not liked the idea of wasting a lot of tap water on the somewhat decadent fun of a swimming pool in an area which is normally suffering from droughts.

Normally, yes. But in this exceptional year, my new swimming pool pump is being used for another purpose- we have inserted a cement cylinder left over from the well digging on the new land (see March entry) into the ground at the lowest part of the land where the water gathers in the rain, to form a one metre deep receptacle at ground level. Last night we tried it out- It works beautifully- the rainwater is thrown out beyond the rice sack barricades. But the water comes quickly- one has to pump under the rain, otherwise it becomes overwhelming.
Africans think that is is impossible to work in the rain. Beigna told me, 'yes the pumping is a good idea, but we'll wait until it has stopped raining. '
'Oh no you won't' I thundered, like an evil panotomime Dame. You will goddam pump in the rain if it is necessary! And you will pump in the nice yellow rain outfits I have bought for everyone!' To illustrate my point I started to pump frenetically in the pouring rain and there was no stopping me for about three quarter of an hour, when I more or less fell off the pedals- but the water had gone.

As I am looking a the beautiful and uncharacteristically green Malian country side speeding past I remember my friend Kathy's offer to pray to St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers and floods. Although a Catholic by conversion, there is too much Swedish Lutheran still lurking in me to have taken saints very seriously. But mind ful of Pascal's wager, I decide to have a little talk with St. Christopher:

'Yes, hello, is that St. Christopher? It's Sophie here from Hotel Djenne Djenno, the new hotel to the left just before the little bridge at the entrance of Djenne. Have I come to the right department? I believe you are in charge of travellers as well as floods? Pardon? Oh, yes indeed, I have a friend called Kathy. And she's briefed you already? so you know all about us? How marvellous! You know we are running into a spot of bother with the rising flood water? Well, I would be most grateful if you could please try and make the water stop. It would be such a shame if it were all to go belly-up. Just think of all the good things that could happen- all those travellers you are looking after who should be coming to Hotel Djenne Djenno, and all the music and laughter and fun that is supposed to happen there. And we've barely started!
And not only that- don't forget MaliMali- all the people who will benefit if it works- Kadija the jeweller and all the workers she will employ for all the necklaces- think of Dembele and the bogolan and the new loom arriving from Segou- think of the fashion show we will have a t Christmas if there is still a hotel- so, would you please have a go at fixing it for us? Thanks!
Oh, yes, and while your'e at it I have just one final favour to ask: I know it is not your department, but could you put a word in for me to the patron saint of bosses. I would like to be a bit more patient and kinder to my staff. Thanks a million!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Last night I cycled back from town and arrived at the hotel where the lights of Baba's Great Gate were reflected in the water which now surrounds the fragile mud structures.
It lay there, my little hotel, more beautiful than ever, like a Venetian Palace, or the entrance gate into a fairy tale, and perhaps that is what it has been?

Its extreme beauty seemed to me like the last brilliance, like a fever giving roses to cheeks which will soon die...
My friend Kathy just wrote me that she is sending prayers to St. Christopher, the patron saint not only of Travellers but of floods too.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Outside the fragile sanctuary of our hotel garden the water is rising... today we had to remove the fencing we put up only the other day- it was supposed to surround our new vegetable garden.

Today Hotel Djenné Djenno started to fight back- twelve labourers joined the staff with wheelbarrows and old rice bags which were filled with earth to shore up the entrance to the hotel...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Two days ago my mother called from Sweden- am I OK? she had seen pictures of floods in Mali. I said I knew nothing about it and that we were OK.
It is not the first time I have noticed that new travels much slower within a country like Mali than to the outside world. So, yes, indeed there may well be floods here.
The rains have been heavy and frequent, in Djenné itself five mud houses fell in the last violent storm. Yesterday we heard that two great hydro electric dams have had their sluice gates opened to release some water- it seems to be travelling this way!
Perhaps the rains have now all but stopped but water is creeping up towards the entrance gates of Hotel Djenné Djenno with quiet and deadly determination. Tomorrow morning we will start shoring up with sand bags. Keita and I are leaving for Bamako and then I am off to London again on Saturday- at the moment I feel as if I am leaving a sinking ship!