Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Day in the life of Hotel Djenné Djenno
(or how not to make it in the Hotel Business)

alarm: help Baba with breakfasts for early risers- big day today. Hotel full tonight.
Must try and get rid of the rest of the guests before midday, so rooms will be ready for BIG GROUP arriving. Have moved out of my room, which I have given to adorable Basque couple. No more room at the Inn so la patronne is sleeping in a tent tonight.
8 am:
Belgian couples in Tamachek and Bozo want to stay another night and have dinner again because they are really enjoying their stay- I tell them that sadly it isn't possible.
calling Balafon orchestra to make sure there is no misunderstanding about timing for tonight's performance.
Menu discussed for tonight's gala dinner for 30 with Papa. Substantial wad of money handed over.
11 am.
Trying tel. no of BIG GROUP to find hour of arrival but no answer. It is an office number in Bamako, and of course it is still Christmas.
Desperate call from another tour operator: any chance of three double rooms tonight? 'try in town, sorry!'
Last guests gently but emphatically herded out of their rooms to make place for BIG GROUP.(Under breath: Merde! Get a move on! They could be here any moment!)
Big Swish 4x4 arrives with 4 elegant Germans who want to take 2 rooms for 2 night. 'Sorry!No chance!'
'Beigna! Have you prepared everything for sunset cocktails on the roof? They will be parched when they arrive!
Sun sets over empty hotel.
All tables set in the garden, Full Christmas treatment.Red Ikea napkins. Cassava leaf decoration.
Balafon orchestra arrives and begins to play. La Patronne staggers around on red high heals, a Djenné Djenno cocktail in her hand, looking forlorn.
Keita arrives and surveys this bizarre stage set.
'Where is everyone???'
Keita knows the entire Malian nation, including the tour operator in question. He promptly dials his private mobile number.
'We have a reservation with you for the 26 and 27th of December,I believe. Oh good..But where are they? What?
Oh, I see. Hmm. The reservation is for December 26 and 27th 2008....

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day greetings from Hotel Djenné Djenno
A young Dutch guest enjoys my risgrynsgrot, or the rice porridge all Swedes eat for breakfast at Chrismas- I got up at 6.30 to prepare it!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yesterday the hotel celebrated its first anniversary! A rather low key event, in fact I completely forgot about it, being wrapped up in preparations for the imminent onslaught of THE BEAST (the full hotel) over Christmas and well into New Year. I brought out the red christmas ribbons and put on the bogolan new chair covers. Quite pleased with the results.
Jolie, non?

The hotel itself is getting a face lift before Christmas, and Baba's main gate is finally being replastered with mud, after the ravages of the severe rainy season.

My dear friends Jeremiah and David have joined me for a few days (see blogs May and September etc)and have spent Tabaski with me at the hotel- hardly any guests and just as well since I had no staff..I let them go and celebrate with their families while I became sweeper upper, chef, receptionist and chambermaid all rolled into one at the hotel. Jeremy and David brought me a great Christmas present which I already opened: The full collection of Fawly Towers on DVD!
The staff has now seen a couple of episodes and have come to the conclusion that I am a female incarnation of Basil Fawlty...

I had some time for fun in the middle of Christmas preparations, and joined Jeremy and David for a 'promenade en cheval': a lovely ride on to the charming Bambara village of Diabolo- they went in the carriage drawn by Max and I followed behind on Napoleon. Once in Diabolo we happened upon a tabaski celebration by the villagers who were dancing a drumming: seemingly a gift laid on for my music loving friends.
In the evening we had entertainment of quite a different kind: exhausted from the trip the dusty plain we snuggled up 'chez moi' and watched the mother of all film noirs Double Indemnity.. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In order to improve labour relations we have just initiated a new scheme at Hotel Djenné Djenno: Every employé has the right, once a year on one of his/her day's off, to spend one night as a client in one of the suites of the hotel. This includes bringing a person of their choice to share the treat- sunset drinks with 'la patronne' on the roof if that is what they want, three course candle lit dinner in the garden, served upon by one of their workmates and unlimited satellite TV watching, as well as endless coka colas. This idea caused a sensation when first aired the other day, and the entire work force spent the day splitting their sides with laughter.
It started with Baba the waiter last night. In reality the occasion turned out to be surprisingly solemn: Baba and his friend arrived at sunset dressed in their best outfits.The staff stood to attention in their uniforms. I had lent him a suitcase which Ali carried to their suite. Baba had checked himself in under the name Monsieur Gerrard, since Gerrard of the Liverpool football team is his big idol. Everyone called him Monsieur Gerrard, and noone laughed! Having eaten the three course dinner he had ordered which included fillet steak and chips and cream caramel to finish, Monsieur Gerrard retired to the suite with his friend and they watched Liverpool beat Marseilles 4-0, the first goal obligingly scored by Gerrard to put the finishing flourish on the day.
This afternoon he will be back in his work clothes, serving the full house we expect for dinner tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tubabs (white people) and Farafins (black people)have different opinions of
what constitutes a good hotel. Keita has been bothering me for months regarding the lack of satellite TVs in the hotel and particularly in the suites. In his opinion a suite is not a suite unless it has at least this minimum of gadgetry. The presidential suite at the Campement for instance has not only a really huge television but it has an enormous fridge and other accoutrement of 'civilisation'. I have shrugged my shoulders and taken no notice. In my opinion nobody comes to Africa for a holiday and is disappointed because of a lack of satellite television! But Keita then points out, quite rightly, that this is Africa and the hotel should not only be for Europeans, but we should be able to receive the President of the Republique in some style if necessary- and any other African dignitaries for that matter. So I have finally buckled under the pressure, and the three suites (one of which serves as my home at the moment) as well as the reception is now equipped with satellite TV. Therefore I am able to watch BBC World, and I am fully aware that there has been a pricefixing scandal in UK supermarkets; that Ian Storey has made a triumphant debut at La Scala as Tristan, and furthermore that Philip Shave Simplicity is making hard to reach places easy to reach.

Tubabs, on the other hand, are interested in other spectacles. This Belgian for example is capturing the rising of the full moon, appearing behind the turrets of the Djenné Djenno façade. This is very amusing to a Farafin. What on earth does he see in the rising of the full moon?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My lovely sou-chef Fatou gave birth to a baby daughter yesterday morning at 4am. She was still working in the kitchens at Djenné Djenno until ten pm the evening before because we had a full house with lots of dinner guests. The following morning she failed to show up to provide the delicious rice cakes which is our breakfast speciality. Instead she called me from the maternity ward and I hurried over to see her and the new-born which has no name yet.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Every year around the beginning of December the Sahel offers a spectacle fit for kings when the Fulani drive their cattle on to the southern shores of the Niger at three predestined locations, beginning with the Fulani town of Diafarabé. Thousands of heads of cattle leave the fringes of the Sahara, the arid soil of which can no longer yield any pasture, and move to more fertile climes.
The date for the crossing is decided a few days in advance and is determined by the end of the harvest on the southern shores of the Niger, after which the cattle are free to roam without destroying the crops.
The Fulani are a beautiful race of people, spreading across all of West Africa’s Sahel region. They are the cousins of East African cattle tribes such as the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania, and they have the same nonchalance and pride which seems to be characteristic of most nomadic races.
Last year I was busy in Bamako buying airconditioners for the imminent opening of the hotel, but this year my modern, urban Fulani friend Barry and I went on the three hour’s cross country piste to Diafarabé on my new Yamaha DT in time to watch the first herd cross the deep waters yesterday.

The young Fulani paint their cattle for the occasion and they swim across with their herds, shouting encouragement during the dangerous crossing:
Ih!Ih! Darti on Karan Haka!
(Go on! Go on straight ahead! Go on and you will find great pasture this year!)

The crossing is rough and many beasts are lost, either trampled by their mates or, overwhelmed and frightened they lose their way and once they are alone they will soon lose heart and perish. Barry an I hired a pirogue and watched the spectacle from the middle of the crossing. We saw a young cow beginning to lag behind her herd and clearly struggling.

We asked our piroguier to hurry to her side; Barry grabbed the stuggling cow by the ear and we paddled her to safety with her herd which was reaching the shore.

Not every beast was so lucky, and at least twenty were lost in the three or four hours we were watching. Savage scences ensued as their carcasses were washed up on the shore and immediately set upon by hoards of little Bambara and Bozo boys who chopped up the meat with machetes and knives. The Fulani owners left their drowned cattle since, as devout Muslims,they are not allowed to eat meat from beasts which have not had their throat slit.

After witnessing this magnificent spectacle of life and death we left for Djenné in the afternoon, and passed by the village of Mounia, where I found the hunter griots who entertained my guests at Christmas last year. (See December 2006 entry)I wanted to hire them again, but I was told that one of them had died and the other had left. ‘But why did he die?' I asked, aghast, remembering the handsome tall young hunter from last year. ‘Oh, he just fell ill and died’, they replied. ‘And the other one, where did he go?' I asked. ‘Oh, we don’t know, he just left’, they replied. And I was once more struck by the precariousness and expendability of life here…