Friday, January 30, 2009

Bamako Bulletin.

A question has been turning over in my mind: should I take the link to my blog off the hotel website?

The other day I got a hotel booking by email which started: ‘ I am really sorry to be disturbing you at this moment of difficulty, but I would really like to book a room on the third of February. Would that be OK?’

Illness and bad luck is hardly what tourists and prospective hotel guests are expecting or want to see when they check this blog out. Sunny stories from an exotic location is of course what people want.
But this blog is not a marketing ploy. I didn’t start the hotel as a ‘career move’. If I had wanted to make money or really be a successful 'hotelier' I would have gone somewhere else. The hotel is my life now, and my life is the way it is. At the moment that includes Keita’s illness.
I have decided to keep the blog link on the hotel website.
But dear prospective hotel guest, please do not feel that you are intruding: We want you to come, and you will not have to be personally involved in any of this stuff. Just keep drinking those sunset cocktails on our roof and enjoy the hotel- that is what we want you to do! And in any case, until the 6th of Febuary you will only run into my friend Birgit at the hotel, and she is of excellent health.

Keita and I seem interminably delayed in Bamako. If we are not waiting for test results to come through, we are waiting for medication to be sent from overseas, and now we are waiting for Monday to start taking this new medication, because today it is too soon for Keita to start a new course of Chemotherapy, which should be done in combination with the new drug. On Monday we will still have to wait until Wednesday in order to make sure there are no bad side effects to the new treatment.

Within evil there is always good somewhere. Look at the drug Keita is about to start taking on Monday: it is the evil old drug Thalidomide which caused 10000 babies to be born with horrific malformations in the early sixties. It is now THE only effective drug to treat Keita’s disease, Multiple Myeloma. We went through a series of contortions to find this drug which is not available in Mali. Teams of friends were researching the pharmaceutical suppliers of their respective countries, which included Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden, the United States and the UK. Strangely, the easiest place to get hold of the stuff was Sweden which we had assumed to be the hardest. But it would have been ten times as expensive as in the UK, whence it finally winged its way here courtesy of Federal Express.

Keita has deteriorated further. He has lost almost all use of his legs and cannot walk anymore- even with the help of friends holding him up either side. Today we bought a wheelchair for him. This will make things easier practically speaking but of course, symbolically, it is very difficult. The idea that he is now in a wheelchair is hard to digest. Some of the time he is very angry, raging against what is happening to him, but most of the time he patient and trying to be positive.
This has happened to him so fast- just over six weeks ago he started to have some inkling that there was something wrong. Now he has to come to terms with perhaps being lame. Although it has not been spoken of, of course he knows there is a possibility he will never walk again. Our minds are amazingly adaptable, and we acclimatize ourselves to our changing circumstances. Yesterday he made me cry by saying: ‘if only I could walk just a little, it would be fine’.
Otherwise I don’t cry and I am feeling strangely unemotional. Perhaps I am just practical too- what is the use of crying? Having said that, I seem to cry a lot at certain songs, but they have to be extremely simple. I just have to hear KarKar (Boubakar Traore) sing- just about anything actually, but in particular I TARA SANTA MARIYA I KA MARIAM FO N’YE ( when you go to Santa Maria, send my greetings to Mariam) and I am in floods of tears- not to speak of his ‘Adieu Pierrette,’ his farewell on the death of his toubab wife.

We have moved out of the Colibris and we are staying with my friend Ann, a Belgian girl who runs Tounga Tours, a successful Malian travel agency, with her Malian husband Van. We sit on their verandah, play cards, talk about hotel business sometimes, I draw Keita and read books- things I have not had the time to do for years. Keita is listening to an amazing collection of music we just found on my laptop. I vaguely remember a kind tourist at the hotel last year – it must have been someone who stayed at the hotel after the Music festival at Essakane. He copied a whole lot of stuff on to my laptop, which I promptly forgot all about until yesterday. Anyway it is amazing stuff- mainly ‘world Music’ for want of a better label. Someone called Mariam Hassan- possibly Moroccan; the ‘Baobab Orchestra’; ‘Transglobal Underground’ and by far the best of all: a snippet of about 4 minutes of something entitled ‘Origins of Guitar Music in Southern Congo and Northern Zambia, 1950’ Absolutely fantastic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Keita and I are still in Bamako, waiting for the results of a bloodtest to see how well he has responded to treatment. We try and amuse ourselves in various ways- for instance we would like to know how to find out who the white person is on the picture. The man in the middle is Keita's father, Abdolaye Keita. The photo was taken in the north of Mali probably before independance. How could we find this man? Is there an internet site?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keita and I left Djenne early Thursday morning heading for Bamako courtesy of the Mission Culturelle’s driver and car: the result of his tests were ready. A large pale orange sun, more like a rising full moon illuminated the austere Sahel landscape as we arrived at the Bani Crossing. The water stands low now. As we crossed the short distance I asked Keita: ‘isn’t is beautiful?’ I knew what his answer would be: ‘Ca c’est pour les toubabs’.
And we laughed as usual. That is a standing joke between us. Sunsets and sunrises and anything to do with nature appreciation is for toubabs. Only once, when we passed the spectacular rock formation La Main de Fatima in the Hombori Mountains did he reply differently: ‘And that, Keita? Is that for toubabs too? ‘Non, ca c’est pour tout le monde’.
We sped through the familiar Malian landscape dotted with its fantastical baobab trees which seem to me the embodiment of West Africa: its strangeness, its earthiness, its mysteriousness, its humour and its ancient wisdom. All the while my mind kept racing and repeating, involuntarily, the opening lines of 'A Hundred Years of Solitude':

‘Many years later, facing the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia would remember the day his father took him to see ice’.

We finally arrived in Bamako towards sunset on a still, beautiful evening and crossed the Pont des Martyrs: the water was blank as a mirror.
A diminutive Dr. Toure received us at the Point G Hospital and asked us to sit down. He then put on a pair of spectacles and read lengthily through the voluminous assembled test results in total silence while we sat quietly too like good school children and looked intently at his impassive face.
Finally he cleared his throat and said breezily: well, yes, it is what we have suspected. It is the bone disease Multiple Myeloma. (The word cancer was politely avoided, although that is what it is) Then he went directly into what will happen now. Chemotherapy is to start immediately. (The word chemotherapy was never uttered either, since it does not form part of established bed-side manner vocabulary.)
On Monday an injection will be given to strengthen Keita’s bones, which have deteriorated spectacularly fast, making it quite difficult for him to even stand up now.

I am now writing this a few days later, we are still in Bamako. Keita has not had any bad reaction to the Chemotherapy at all. He is in good spirits, we play cards, watch TV, plan things for the hotel, talk to Birgit who is holding the fort in Djenne, I look after hotel bookings; we have take-aways from Amandine’s and tomorrow we will go for the injection at the Point G. Keita is a very practical person and now, once we have started doing something and the enemy has been named, he is ready to fight.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

We have just had a brand spanking new review (our 5th) on;
hot off the presses:

Jan 3, 2009
Everybody loves Djenne-- for the market on Mondays and, of course, for the world's largest mud mosque. And on top of that, it is a special little city, one of the best places to visit in Mali. And there isn't a better place anywhere in the country to stay than Djenne Djenno, a product of love and affection from owner/manager Sophie. The boutique-style hotel is beautifully put together and run like a real family style residence-- very relaxing, very cool. The rooms are very nice as well as inexpensive. The common areas are conducive to getting to know other travelers and the location, out of town but just a few minutes walk to the mosque is perfect. And the food is delicious!

This TripAdvisor Member:
Liked — ambience

And other cheerful news include that the British Library have invited me to produce a detailed financial plan by the end of January for the proposed 'pilot project'for the Djenne manuscript library! That, as far as I understand it means that we are well on the way to get the sponsorship from the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library.
Now, if I hadn't been a blogger, this may never have happened! For the beginnings of this idea, see blog in the beginning of April 2008 on the Djenne library. Having written about the manuscript library of Djenne, I was contacted by email by several readers of my blog who told me about a conference held in London in June 2008, by the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library.
I went to this conference when I was on holiday. When I returned to Mali I went to Timbuktu- see late August blog I think- to meet Abdelkader Haidera and Alida Boye of the University of Oslo, which has been sponsoring the Timbuktu manuscript projects.
This is what I wrote in the proposal:

This pilot project would aim to survey the scope and extent of the existing Arabic manuscript s of Djenne, Mali, a town which has historically equalled Timbuktu in importance as a centre of Islamic learning and sub-Saharan trade since the foundation of both towns around a millennium ago.
The Djenne manuscripts include those written in situ by individual Marabouts, and also many purchased from elsewhere by Djenne collectors.
There has already been a brief survey made of the manuscripts of Djenne by the Malian scholar Abdel Kader Haidera, the Director of the Mamma Haidera Library in Timbuktu. He estimates that there are in the region of 10 000 manuscripts in Djenne, some dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Most of these manuscripts are kept by individual families, and only a very small portion has been deposited in the newly built Djenne library.
The manuscripts are, according to Haidera, similar to those of Timbuktu, i.e. the main part consists of transcripts of the Koran, many illuminated and some bearing comments in the margin. There are many other types of manuscripts too, including material treating subjects such as mathematics, medicine, geography, law and astronomy
The historical manuscripts include information on economic connections between Timbuktu and Djenne. In addition there are manuscripts transcribing the oral history as handed down by the ‘griots’ , or the ‘minstrels’ of West Africa. There may well be differences between the Djenne and Timbuktu material as yet not discovered. Although the two towns are linked and often called ‘twin cities’, their geography and populations are very different. While the population of Timbuktu is overwhelmingly made up by the light skinned nomadic desert Tuaregs, the town of Djenne, situated in the heart of the Niger inland Delta, counts amongst its population the Fulani, the Bozo, the Bambara, and the Songhai; a darker-skinned population descended from the ancient Malian kingdoms to the south, a population for whome animist traditions have remained strong, running alongside their Muslim faith. These cultural differences are likely to be mirrored in the Djenne manuscripts and may well throw new light on aspects of West-African history.

There are approximately 200 manuscripts held by the Djenne library. These are not in any immediate danger of decay. The vast majority of the manuscripts kept by individual families however suffer numerous environmental threats such as from termites and also water damage during the rainy season when the mud roofs of Djenne often leak.
During the four months of the pilot project, there are plans to include a programme of information aimed at the individual Djenne families to reassure them that their manuscripts will be well taken care of if housed in the Djenne library. They will also be kept intact as collections bearing the name of the family.
The pilot project would be carried out by a Malian Arabic scholar and archivist, trained in Timbuktu, working with a Djenne Arabic scholar who would at the same time be receiving training. The project would be supervised by Abdel Kader Haidera, who has given his full support. At the end of the four month’s pilot project an International specialist would be invited to come and advice on the material, and on putting together the proposal for the Major Project.
Apart from the invaluable support of Abdel Kader Haidera, the project has a small advisory panel which includes Professor Philip J. Jaggar of the Africa Department, SOAS, Dr. Dmitry Bondarev , SOAS; Professor Jan Retso of the University of Gothemburg and Alida Boye from the University of Oslo.

The British Library Panel wrote, when inviting me to submit a detailed proposal:
'This is a well-designed project proposal which clearly demonstrates the urgency to undertake a well thought-out survey to identify and locate these historical manuscripts'.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

To cheer me up this evening I received an email from Howie Klein, a fellow blogger and travel writer ( stayed at the hotel a few days ago. At the same time I received an email from my friend Amede at La Maison Rouge...
this is what Howie Klein writed in his blog entry 'Boutique Hotels of Mali:

'Thanks to a fellow blogger, Sophie, a Swedish woman who runs a hotel in Djenne and blogs about the experience, I got turned on to an informal network of delightful boutique-like hotels throughout Mali. After I booked a room at Sophie's Djenne Djenno, she helped me, through a series of e-mails, plan out where to stay all over the country. All of the hotels are quite small, utterly unique, and very much geared towards serving the needs of foreign travelers. In Djenne, one of the most memorable places we visited in Mali, the Djenne Djenno, a 10 minute walk from the world's biggest and most famous mud mosque in the center of town, has a dozen rooms. We paid around $40 for what would be the equivalent of a junior suite. The hotel is beautifully decorated, beautifully run and impeccably kept up, from the beautiful gardens and wonderful common spaces to the clean, comfortable rooms (with, thankfully, mosquito nets). The restaurant is really good as well.

Our next stop was Mopti, Mali's second biggest city (and biggest port, albeit a river port). The Kanaga, with 80 rooms, is bigger than any of the hotels we stayed at while we traveled around Mali, and is considered the "best" hotel in town. It has a swimming pool and a good location near the river (the heart of town) but otherwise... not nearly as good as La Maison Rouge, one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever seen. The hotel, which opened about a year and a half ago-- and isn't quite finished-- is the dream of visionary French architect Amédé Mulin, who has been building it for over 4 years. Because of the luxuriant public spaces the hotel looks pretty large, although there are only 12 rooms. The rooms are beautifully appointed (although mosquito nets are very much needed) in earthy Malian design. Our double cost us around $80.

Keita and I arrived back in Djenne on New Years Day.
We are waiting for results of some tests which will take two weeks to come through. We will then return to Bamako for the verdict. Things are not looking good. Although the scariest possibilities have been ruled out- it was at first thought that he might have secondary tumors on his spine- the remaining possibility is just as grim really. It is possible that he has something called multiple myoma, a form of bone cancer. His walking is deteriorating and although he is putting on a brave face, I can see that he is suffering, not so much from pain but from the humiliation of people seeing him like this. He has always been the big, strong, calm, encouraging Keita to whom everyone else has looked for support.
He is seen above to the right on the day of his circumcision as a ten-year old.

I am going about the hotel business and enjoying being back. The hotel is full more or less every day, and things are running relatively smoothly. My guardian angel Birgit is taking a well deserved rest while I once more take on my role of ‘patronne’. I keep very busy but there is an underlying something wrong. My body and whole consciousness is on alert, and I can't really relax. I laugh and chat as if everything was normal, but every couple of minutes I feel a sort of jolt when I think of the THING that is happening to us, which may not go away and which may change everything.