Friday, April 04, 2008


Some of the old tunes, Play it Sam!
I have only a week left in Djenne.
I am ready to leave. I dream of my holiday like I used to dream of my summer vacation when I was a child. I want Europe. As the heat and dust increases day by day here the hotel is winding down, and most of the remaining guests are aid workers or various embassy staff. Half of me is already walking down Portobello Road wearing my black leather boots.
I want good coffee, precision, the Wigmore Hall and the Suffolk mudflats, wireless internet connection, Shakespeare and the Smashing Pumpkins, cheese, the Lahore Kebab House, electricity all day- what bliss!- art material shops, and I want to laugh a lot with English people- see blog entry almost exactly a year a go, when I was stricken by the same symptoms.

As for my Henry Higgins experiment, it appears to have run aground. The day after my guided tour around Djenne with Fatumata I told her to get to the studio at 9am to work hard all day in order for us to finish the bogolan which will be her new dress. She arrived at 11.30, doodled for about an hour, had lunch with my staff, then doodled a bit more before she informed me she was too tired and it was too hard. I told her to keep going. She then disappeared to the loo for about an hour, after which she turned up with a Dutch woman to give her a guided tour of my studio!
It is quite draining to supervise her and the same sort of experience as being in close contact with a heroin addict. Only one thing exists- in case of the addict, the next fix, and in case of Fatumata, the next tourist.
This morning she didn’t turn up at all. I have now been informed that last night some tourists arrived who took her off camping!
What harm might this do her, you might ask if you do not know this place. I will tell you: you are ruining her life, well-meaning tourist! Within a couple of years she will be trawling the bars of Bamako. Since she knows nothing and is illiterate she will not be able to work to support herself, and since her behaviour is shocking to an African she will have no hope of finding herself an African husband to look after her. Leave her alone, and leave young children of her age alone when you arrive here, PLEASE!
I wanted to try to teach her something, but how could I possibly compete with the hoards of tourists who want to buy her coke and give her money for doing absolutely nothing!

3 Comments:

Blogger Robin said...

Hi there -- you may remember me, an American who lived in Mali for a couple years (before you arrived, alas). I am still enjoying your blog! Your daydreaming about vacation made me laugh -- back in 2003 I wrote a list of things I was daydreaming about in the US (and I'd only been in Mali 2 months). Some samples:

* Boots and jeans and sweaters. And my suede jacket, and gloves, and scarf, and hat.
* Blankets.
* Bookstores.
* The New York Times, Sunday edition.
* Brand-new movies, in the theater, in English.
* A wide selection of beers and wines, instead of Castel and Flag, Castel and Flag, Castel and Flag ...
* Salad that is more than ten scraps of iceberg lettuce, half a white onion, and a limp pickle the size of my pinky finger, dressed with mustard.
* Clean air.
* Smooth, paved roads that aren’t littered with plastic bags.
* Sidewalks.
* A whole month without a power outage and the accompanying noise and fumes produced by generators.

You get the picture! And then, when you are in the US or Europe, you realize how much you miss Mali (and how much that surprises you. At least it did me).

I'm saddened by your tales of Fatoumata. What will come of her indeed? I can picture her in the Djenne equivalent of Bamako's Bla Bla bar, in tight jeans and a tube top, chatting up a fat mining company exec. Or worse, hiding in the shadows off the main drag, hissing "Cheri, cheri!" Awful. I wonder, does she have any understanding that this is where she is bound if she continues? Or is her vision short-sighted? (As it is for teenagers around the world?)

I totally agree that the tourists make it worse, but in their defense, it is hard when you are there for a short time -- the poverty and obstacles are overwhelming -- and Fatoumata is there telling you the best thing you can do for her is pay her to "guide" you. Who are (rhetorical) you to judge what's best for her? What relatively wealthy Westerner, already feeling guilty about such a great disparity of fortune -- is it just the good or bad luck to be born on one continent or another? astounding -- wants to bear the wrath of someone who endures more than we can even imagine?

Phew, that was a rambling sentence. Anyway. Is there some way you can educate the tourists? I'm sure you talk to your guests about this ... I wonder what else we can do.

Robin

2:08 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

good to have such a thoughtful comment- thank you Robin, I remember you well from ohter comments some time ago. It is a very difficult problem.It saddens me. Anyone else have a thought on this?

5:47 PM  
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