Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It is not only Haidera who is providing exotic remedies. An old Medicin man from Diabolo has been called in by Ace to tackle Keita’s illness and to give him a month’s course of treatment. This involves giving a sort of steam bath with a pot of boiled roots and twigs where Keita is in the bathroom with a blanket over him, steam rising onto his legs. He also has to drink this concoction, and before going to bed there is an interesting mixture of shea butter, ashes and other unknown ingredients which has to be applied to his legs with stroking motion going downwards only. This is then repeated in the morning just before sunrise. (by me).
During his steam bath the other day his legs fell against the boiling hot pot and he burned himself badly. It may have been the effect of this which caused his high fever the following morning. Because of this I was even less inclined than usual to let the hoards of friends in that day. Therefore, when his buddies Dra and Barry arrived, I tried to stop them from going in, explaining that Keita really was not feeling well. ‘Please let him rest.’ Dra just looked at me with ill disguised aversion and just barged his way passed me with Barry in toe.

I was pacing up and down waiting for them to leave the room and when they did I stopped them and tried to speak to them calmly: ‘Please Dra, do try and understand. If I tell you that Keita wants to be left in peace, it is because he himself has said so! It is not because I don’t want you to see him!’
Dra then more or less spat at me and said- ‘Don’t worry, I will never put my foot in this hotel again!’
I went in to see Keita, who was looking pained and upset. I tried to be calm, but told them how unreasonable I thought Dra’s behaviour was. ‘There is a crisis going on’ said Keita. ‘They came to tell me that my wife is on her way here on the bus from Segou. My mother has sent her to find out what is going on’.
Keita’s big mistake is that he has not told his family what is going on. Not only I but many others have been trying to make him go to Segou and see his family, but he has not wanted to- all the time thinking he will go when he gets better- and meanwhile he has deteriorated every day. Finally his mother ( who has lost her two other sons as well as two daughters) decided to take matters into her own hands and dispatched Keita’s wife to see for herself what is the matter with Keita. Now, it would not do for Keita to receive his wife in my hotel. Although the family has known about me for two years I am not his legal second wife, so according to the formalities of Africa he had to be moved to somewhere else.
This bombshell could not have come at a worse time. Keita’s temperature was sky rocketing. Within half an hour the fore court of the hotel was buzzing with people. Various guides and others tried to get in to see Keita, but I steadfastly refused to let them in, since I was worried about his frail condition. One by one they cursed me, suddenly seeming to let out some sort of pent-up rage against me. Especially one guide called Pygme- he swore at me and he too insisted he would never set his foot here again.
Ace and some others had come up with the idea that Keita should leave for the village Diabolo where there is now a recently built place used as tourist accommodation- it has good facilities and a proper toilet on ground level; by now essential for Keita’s well-being. The car was being prepared for his departure for Diabolo.
Keita agreed to this arrangement but said he wanted to rest first. I really didn’t like the way he looked so I borrowed Birgit’s thermometer and found that Keita was running a 40.2 fever. By this stage a sort of division had sprung up outside – there was the hoard of ‘enemies’, or those who has sworn at me circling around outside the great gate like a flock of buzzards, and then there were one or two of our most faithful friends sitting inside the hotel compound- these included Mohammed the gentle Barbara Cartland loving accountant and Boucoum my mud architect, as well as Ace of course. Mohammed and Boucoum had insults hurled at them by the buzzards and were treated as 'traitors’ for talking to me at all. A rumour was spreading around Djenne: I was keeping Keita captive and refusing to let him go to meet his wife!

I decided to call for a doctor- was it really a good idea to dispatch Keita in to the bush running that sort of fever, and taking high doses of a dangerous and new drug? Jammie, or Madame Dr. Cisse, one of my only female friends here arrived smartly. She decided Diabolo was out of the question and solved the problem by arranging for Keita to be taken to the Djenne Hospital- or the Centre de Sante where he himself has worked for 15 years.
So it was to this place that he we finally took him on Saturday afternoon. I followed in the car and helped installing him, and that included arranging to have sheets brought for his wife too, before I left by foot to go back to the hotel. Ace the driver of my car was still needed by Keita’s side. As I was leaving a whole group of the 'buzzards' had gathered outside his room. They saw me leave by foot. As I went through the group it felt like a wall of hatred either side. Not one of them offered to take me back to the hotel on one of their motorcycles. Some way down the road I met Mohammed who gave me a lift.

Since this day matters have taken a new turn. I have not seen Keita. We speak every morning. He told me he will make it clear that anyone who regards themselves as his friend will have to treat me with respect or lose his friendship. His wife is at the hospital and looking after him until tomorrow when she will go back to Segou making place for his older sister who is in turn arriving from Segou, again dispatched by his mother. What will happen now is not clear. A sort of nuclear explosion is taking place in Keita’s family, which is large and includes people in powerful positions in Bamako such as the Medecin de Chef of the military hospital at Kati, who immediately insisted on sending an ambulance to take him straight to Bamako and his hospital. Everyone has opinions and everyone thinks they have a claim on Keita. A large portion is furious with him for keeping his illness a secret.
What seems to be certain after this episode is that the situation cannot continue the way it is- either my relationship with Keita is over and he now goes Segou or his wife comes here to look after him, or else we have to marry and I become his second wife. In that way I am entitled to see his mother and his children, we can continue to live together here and I will look after him, with the help of his family and his first wife if it comes to that.
As it now stands I am now even allowed to go to his funeral, should that day come.

Boucoum our architect has been here today to talk to me about it. He talked to Keita last night. According to African custom Keita will now speak to his older sister and I will be introduced to her. If she likes me she will then talk to Keita’s mother and her other sister, then the deal is concluded.
Meanwhile from my side there are some complications too. Tomorrow morning I am going to Mopti to have lunch with Monsignor Fonghoro, Bishop of Mopti. Although some of my friends have been mystified by my seemingly being able to be a Catholic and a professed believer and at the same time always doing exactly what I want, I do have some scruples. I am a bit worried about what he will say. What if he says I can’t do it?

The situation is wildly different from another time that I sought the advice of a prelate: at that time I was about to leave my second husband. ‘I know exactly what you are going to say to me’ I said defiantly to Dom Placid, the Benedictine Abbot at Cockfosters. ‘If you know what I am going to tell you, why are you bothering to ask me?’ he wanted to know.
‘To try my resolve’ I replied. As it turned out, he said exactly the opposite of what I had expected.
I am now expecting Monsignor Fonghoro to tell me I can’t marry Keita. But who knows? This is Africa and the Catholic church is a pragmatic and elastic sort of thing really…


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