Friday, February 29, 2008

The other day I rode Napoleon on an outing to the neighbouring village of Diabolo with some friends who rode with Max in the carriage. On the way we happened upon a Bobo dog trader. The Bobo are a tribe who lives to the south, towards the border of Burkina Faso. On Mondays many Bobo come all the way from Bobo- Diolasso in Burkina to display their wares in the market in front of the Great Mosque of Djenne. The Bobo are often Christians, which makes them able to drink, should they wish to, and to eat meat which would be forbidden to Muslims. This Bobo has been roaming the country side buying up unwanted dogs one by one in the villages for a pittance. He is now on his way back to Burkina with his hapless pack where they will end up in a stew.

The ‘elegant (sic) Charlie Dimmock solar powered garden lanterns’ I bought at Woolworths in Portobello Road have twinkled away for well over a year now in the gardens of Djenne Djenno. They got a well-deserved overhaul by Keita –right – and Sekou last Sunday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

By the turning to Sofara there sits an old Dogon, tearing up rice sacks which he makes into rope. I am told that he has been sitting there for twenty years, quietly engaged in the same occupation. Just to the left of him there is a hut to which he retires at night. There doesn’t seem to be any family, which is unusual in Africa. It transpires that he has a family in the Dogon country. ‘But why doesn’t he go home to them?’ I asked. ‘Oh, he arrived here twenty years ago on a bicycle, but he lost it somehow. He is now waiting for his bicycle to turn up before starting the homeward journey.’
I made the old man’s day by buying a few metres of rope. I toyed with the idea of presenting him with a bicycle, then decided against it. This is how he has arranged his life, so it must suit him. Going back to the Dogon country would probably be a disaster. And this way he preserves a gentle hope that one day the bicycle will turn up, whilst at the same time being able to postpone his return for ever.

Meanhile, back in Djenné, I went off and handed over the equivalent of about 700 pounds stirling to the local school this morning. This is some of the money that still remains from our London jumble sale effort (see entries September 2006). The money will be spent to put up a proper fence around the school’s vegetable garden, where each class has its own patch and all the pupils take part in the watering and growing.

Until now the garden has been surrounded by a make-shift fence of twigs and sticks which has failed to keep the sheep and goats out. Despite of this, I was presented with a well-developed beet root by the president of the parent-teacher association. The local dignitaries gave a little speech and much hand-shaking went on. Don’t you think I look respectable in my hat?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Little Kadija is going to follow in her mother Fatou's footsteps and become a very good cook: she is exposed to the goings-on in our kitchen from a tender age...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Have decided to withdraw what I wrote yesterday- something exciting might be happening to do with hand-weaving looms, let's leave it at that and should I have something to report later, I will...

Friday, February 15, 2008

My new bogolan studio is finally nearing completion, and soon the great loom I have ordered from Segou will be arriving, with a weaver who will stay for a month with us to instruct three locals how to use it.
The builders will move on within a week to constructing a new house where the guides and drivers will sleep because their old house within the hotel compound will become the new shop housing the merchandise we will produce in the MaliMali studio. (See
And then we will start on the new hangar, or the roof structure for the bar and restaurant, as soon as the tourist season is over, around the middle of March.
And then....and then...and then...
I lay awake sometimes in the early hours unable to sleep. But I never stray from the confines of Djenné Djenno, over which I hover busily in my mind, building and cultivating, tearing down and constructing elsewhere, until I finally fall asleep exhausted but happy. Life beyond the borders of my little kindom has become irrelevant somehow, apart from a few rare outposts where my few loved ones reside.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Running a hotel is a very organic thing. My decisions are not the only way things happen. Nascent traditions seem to spring from the spirit of the hotel itself.
The magazines for instance: someone left their Newsweek on a table, which was followed by a Hungarian interior design magazine, and an American stock echange predictions magazine, as well as the New Yorker and many others. Here Jean is catching up with the latest on the French art scene. So, should you be venturing this way, please leave us something to read from your corner of the world!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The hotel has been taken over by the world’s united mud architects for the last three days- Mali has been host to the international conference TERRA which takes place every three years or so in an appropriately muddy place- the last time was in a small town in Iran.
There were over eight hundred delegates who spent a few days in Bamako where learned specialists lectured on such topics as ‘termite saliva as binding agent in adobe structures of southern Kenya’.
Most delegates then took the opportunity to travel around the country. Already on Thursday came a van-guard of jolly Mexican architects who nearly drank the bar dry, followed on Friday by ten uncharacteristically enthusiastic Swedes who started dancing in the bar even before dinner had been served. Hans, their tour-leader, said that if anything happened to them at the hotel or en route back to Sweden the future of Swedish mud architecture would look grim, since they were the sum total of Swedish expertise on the subject. Hans has a Swedish building company that makes proper Swedish-looking houses out of Swedish mud bricks.
And last night the hotel was once more taken over by the mud-enthusiasts above, whose nationalities ranged from Spanish to Brazilian, Swiss, Italian and Japanese.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I used to do a lot of life drawing, and liked to do quick sketches- I have a good line and an ability to capture, quickly, the essence of the model. When I was faced with a three-hour pose which needed analysis rather than instinctive treatment I tended to get lost, bogged down in unnecessary detail. I was lucky enough to be taught by the artist Mario Dubski at the Royal College of Art. He said, when criticizing my drawings, that there were some good elements, but it was not sustained. His words have echoed in my memory and I have applied them to many other things in my life, which has contained an enormous amount of experience gathered in many disparate fields. I readily admit being a dilettante.
In the mysterious meanderings which make up our life we seem to arrive where we belong eventually, although it never seems so during the journey.
Here at the hotel I meet people for two days mostly- some leave after a day and I never have any personal knowledge of them, apart from a brief ‘good morning, I hope you slept well’ (although that is actually a very loaded question for a hotelier which I tend to avoid, just in case they didn’t sleep well, and it had something to do with the hotel).
People pass by and often I spend some very pleasurable time with them, getting to know people very briefly, but not necessarily only superficially. I sometimes see one deep slice of them, but only one aspect, what can be gleaned from a few intense conversations. They seem to me like my life drawing encounters. My relationship with them is fleeting and not sustained. And it seems that this is what I have instinctively chosen, although I never knew it when I chose to become a hotelier…

Above to the right is Joel, an Israeli physicist who is on holiday in Mali with his wife Anat, a linguist. To the left of Anat you see the Swiss photographer Ralph. We had two lovely days together full of interesting discussions about EVERYTHING intermixed with a great deal of laughter. Joel told me that colours are light waves, and we perceive them as different colours because of the frequency of the waves- some are closer waves and some are longer. The sky for instance is blue because of this, (although I can’t quite remember whether the waves are long or short-) but of course you know all of this already. I asked if my new bogolan pattern could be used as an illustration of this light and colour phenomenon. He said it was perfect.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Yesterday there was a bleating sound disturbing the sleepy afternoon peace at Hotel Djenne Djenno. A lamb had strayed from its herd and made its way into the courtyard. We carried it outside the gates in the hope that it would soon find its mother again, but within minutes it had returned, clearly enjoying the hotel garden. We carried it out again, and it returned.
Finally I became all maternal and picked up the little thing. I carried it around with me all afternoon and cancelled the riding session with Napoleon. I went as far as to order a baby bottle to be sent over from the pharmacy. And then, just as we were getting on so well and enjoying bonding and quality time together a Fulani sherpherd arrived and sadly claimed his lamb back!

oh! and I nearly forgot!! GO AND BUY THIS WEEK'S FRENCH ELLE!!! - the issue out the 28th January- it has a feature on Mali and it says when in Djenné you have to stay in Djenne Djenno!

Friday, February 01, 2008

West Africa is infuriating, invigorating, ridiculous, hilarious, confusing and many other things too. It is never ever boring.
One entertaining and somewhat unsettling habit in Mali relates to names and nicknames:
We have one Papa and two Babas at the hotel (both Papa and Baba are of course short for father). Petit Baba is about ten years old and only Papa the chef is old enough to have proved himself worthy of his name. I asked the name of a pretty young girl who comes to the hotel selling bananas, a niece of Papa’s, and I was told she was called ‘La Vieille’(the old one). Similarly Baba the waiter has a brother of tender age called ‘Vieux’. So why have they all been given these ill-fitting nicknames? It turns out that the nickname does not at all relate to its bearer but to the person in whose honour they have been named. La Vieille’s real name is Aminata, and she was named after her grandmother, who is of course an old woman, at least in African terms.

The best of all is the adorable little boy above who is called ‘Ancien Combattant’, (old or former fighter/soldier) which is shortened to ‘Ancien’. His real name is Lassana, and he is named after his great uncle who was a high ranking officer in Moussa Traore’s army.