Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yesterday towards evening the only horse transport trailer in Mali arrived from Bamako with my long-awaited new mount.
Maobi was surrounded by an entourage of four. His owner Erica and her husband Ed; M. Douiba, the co-ordinator of the Malian presidential horse guard and finally Amidou, the driver of the horse transport. Maobi's legs had been bandaged for the long journey, and when he was finally led out of the trailer onto the soil of his new territory it was with the care and attention normally reserved for a papal visit.

Erica is staying for a few days to make sure he settles in. She is lunging him only to start with, and perhaps in a day or so we will start riding him. Meanwhile Pudgiogou, the groom, is getting valuable training in how to look after a posh horse!

Maobi is a powerful horse; a well fed stallion, full of beans. But he has spent his life so far in the rarefied and leafy Circle Hippique in Bamako, and has perhaps never seen or heard a donkey before. The flocks of sheep that pass before him in his new stable are a new discovery, as are the dusty open open spaces which will become his new environment. Under the circumstances he is behaving well, he is not frightened but he is very excited.
Tonight my old friend Haidara the marabout will come for a visit on the splendid Zaloc who is equally high-spirited. Erica has decreed, quite wisely, that Maoby must stay in the stable when he comes. The sight of Zaloc will make him impossible to handle- he is likely to attack and we will not be able to hold him. Later, when he he is used to the environment, when I know him better, then I will ride him at a distance from Zaloc at first. More horse business will follow shortly...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Third and final sunset picture- at least for now.

I have somehow managed to stumble into this thing called Facebook. It is not as if I have tried, in fact it was the opposite. I am trying very hard to escape it. It just takes too long with the rubbish internet connection that I have here. But out of curiosity I cannot help wanting to find out who these people are; is it really my schoolfriend that I haven't heard from since I was seventeen? Tonight I went on there and low and behold, there was a comment from my friend Caroline about the last but one blog! She says the following:
Do you know the story of the little girl who looks across the valley at the houses with golden windows? She sets out for the village, and when she gets there she sees her house on the other side of the valley - with the sun shining - and her house with golden windows.
Grass is always greener.
Fabulous photo.

More Djenne Djenno sunsets...
As soon as I had written the last entry I wanted to remove it, since it is of course the most appalling lot of muddleheaded nonsense, no doubt induced by one too many Djenne Djenno cocktails. But fate played a cruel trick on me and I have not had any internet connection ever since then, until this morning, so we'll keep it now, since anyone who reads the blog has probably seen it already...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There is a moment just before sunset when everything is golden, and the most mundane things become poetic and rare. The boys playing football in the distance become what their dreams are made of: they shimmer already with their dreams of a far away land where they will make their fortune at Real Madrid or Manchester United. If reality is that golden and dreamlike, where is the place for dreams? The problem is that we don’t know that we shimmer with gold, if looked at from a certain vantage point. It is only at a distance of time or place that we know what our life really is or was….

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Moules Marinières?
I spotted some shells that looked exactly like mussels on the shore by the Bani crossing the other day, so I asked one of the Bozo fishermen to bring me some. Noone eats such things here, but since there is no accounting for the strangeness of toubabs, he didn’t even raise an eyebrow and arrived with a bagful of them last night. I had downloaded a recipe from the internet, and was ready in the kitchen with Papa, a glass of white wine and some chopped shallots . I was hoping that our experimentation would add a new winning starter to the Djenné Djenno restaurant repertory. I mean, how chic would that be: Moules Marinières on the menu!
I made sure they were all closed at the beginning, and that they opened during the boiling time, and just in case, I informed a doctor who happened to be staying in the hotel.
Alas, although they did me no harm they were very disappointing. I should have known: the name even means, after all, that the mussels have to come from the sea: it is the marin in the marinière that gives all the taste. The salt of the sea was missing of course and the mussels were very bland.

Apart from such culinary adventures, Djenne Djenno is having a jolly week because Keita is here. Today a lamb will be slaughtered and prepared for tonight’s dinner party for him and his friends, the balafon players will come, and AN BE TA DON KE – we will dance. Who knows, perhaps even Keita will do a few steps? He is nearly well enough now.
The other thing I ought to mention, just in passing, is that, ahem, Beigna is back. It was the soft hearted Keita once more who pleaded with me, so I have relented and tonight Beigna will serve at the table again with Baba as usual. Maman will continue with his work for MaliMali, which has suffered a bit recently, so perhaps all will be well....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My dear friend Birgit’s departure is now imminent, and she will leave a great void. Her kindness and good spirits never failed to cheer me up, and the staff too. She brought laughter and that is the lubricant that can make almost anything roll along…
But there are consolations on the horizon: Keita will arrive on Sunday, to stay here for a week. He is now walking unaided, supporting himself with a walking stick only.

The imminent arrival of the magnificent Maobi, a high-spirited black stallion from the Circle Hippique in Bamako. Maobi is owned by a Swiss lady who did proper dressage on him. She has kindly offered to sell him to me because she is leaving the country and she doesn’t want to leave him in the Bamako stables- she prefers him to retire to the countryside. Maobi is a very posh horse, and he will be quite wasted on me who will only take him hacking- we will take our little promenades to the ancient burial grounds of Djenne- Djeno towards sunset on most nights, and sometimes we will join Max and the carriage on a picnic outing to Diabolo or Sirimo; i.e. the things I did with my beloved Napoleon. Will Maobi want to mix with such country bumpkins as us? We will have to wait and see: Erika, the Swiss owner, is arriving with him in a horse transport from Bamako at the end of the month. She will stay for a few days to settle him in. We will go to the Bani crossing together with Max and the carriage, we will swim with the two horses in the lovely fast running stream which joins the Bani from Djenné at this time of the year. The horses will frolick together on the sandy shore, and who knows? Perhaps the elegant metropolitan Maobi will take to our rustic pastoral pleasures, as enjoyed yesterday by Birgit Max and myself?

I have had to sack our barman Beigna yet again, and this time he was d’accord: he doesn’t want to work here anymore. Readers of this blog will have followed our bumpy relationship and may be aware that this is now the fifth time that he is sacked. Let us touch briefly on the reasons for this latest and most probably last demise of Beigna, and let us simply say that his conception of his relative importance and position at Hotel Djenné Djenno did not coincide with mine or anyone else’s for that matter.
I have therefore had to rejig the staff, and have put the lovely young Maman in the place of Beigna as barman/receptionist. Maman has been in charge of running the MaliMali studio and shop. He has an accountancy diploma and should, theoretically, be qualified to take on a semi-managerial position here. The barman side will need some training of course, but he is very keen and learns easily and quickly.
He is a very innocent and pure young man. It is my guess that he is a virgin. He has a brown dust mark on his forehead five times a day from touching the ground in prayers. He recently became the object of ardent desire for an American visitor, a man in his fifties. Birgit and noticed at first that the American was hanging around and trying to talk to Maman, which proved difficult since the American spoke no French and Maman speaks no English. Maman was flattered by the attention he was given, and since he is naturally a very friendly person he was responding in a warm way. When the evening approached he became troubled and confused however, and asked to talk to Birgit. He told her that the American had asked him to be allowed to go and sleep in his house. Maman really had no idea why, and he said to Birgit that he had nowhere nice to offer him, and that his place was not suitable for a toubab. Apparently he had offered the American to come and visit his family the following day instead, but this had not been accepted. Maman was concerned that he had not been able to please the man, but he was adamant that he didn’t want him to come back home with him. Later on the man asked Maman to come and spend the night in his hotel room. Impossible as this may seem, Maman still did not understand what the man wanted. At this point Birgit decided to have a ‘friendly talk’ to the Amercan. She said that he needed to be careful because he could find himself in trouble here. The idea of homosexuality is really not accepted, and it can even arouse violent reactions, should it come to the knowledge of the wrong people. What may be acceptable and well-known in Bamako is not yet accepted here in Djenné and in the bush.
I guess that what both Birgit and I reacted against was the inegality of their positions which made the refusal difficult for the innocent boy. The American was rich and wanted something out of a poor African who might just have agreed to something he did not want. This situation would have been distasteful even if it had been a question of an rich old woman who was after his favours.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Little Night Music
In a minor key, or rather in a mood of discord. I am very annoyed. I have been very annoyed all day!
And why? Because Africa is an unbelievably annoying place!
It started this morning with two French people arriving, ‘just looking’. While the girl went to the loo, the man started asking the same questions everyone asks, but he did so with a sort of annoying French smirk on his face, as if his questions were interesting or original. But they were just the same old thing as everyone else asks, i.e. ‘what brought you to Mali?’ ‘How long have you been here?’ Why did you choose Mali? So I gritted my teeth and tried not to look too irritated while I answered the questions to the best of my ability. And then the blasted girlfriend arrived and she asked the exact same questions again!
The people that come here are quite well travelled, they are not your average package tourist. They are often interesting and I often like to talk to them. But they have one thing in common: they all think I am fair game. They think that just because I live here and I open the doors of my hotel to them , they are allowed to ask me anything they like! Unbe--------lievable! At six thirty in the morning, when I am preparing their bill, they will ask me what I am doing here; and how I got here! And not only that, they have absolutely no shame, they will ask things I swear they would never dream of asking anyone else, such as: ‘do you own this place?’ ‘How much have you invested here?,’ And if I don’t immediately reply, and look a bit bewildered or bemused, they will try and simplify things for me:’ you can tell me in Euros if it is easier….’
And that is the Europeans! The Africans are just as annoying but that is for another evening. I want to sleep ….

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Surveying the scene from the sunset bar: what might the new year and the new decade bring? What new and unlived combinations of joy, pain, laughter, tears, surprises, excitement and hope will present themselves? And how much do I influence directly the events that are in store for me?

Well, for one thing, our mango tree will most probably yield its first harvest: it is resplendent with blooms.

Partial eclipse of a ‘blue moon’, a once-in-a-lifetime sight enjoyed on the last day of 2009 by the guests of Hotel Djenne Djenno, which included a group of Californians who did much to perpetuate my theory that generalizations are, generally speaking, a fine thing. They were mostly vegetarian and they did yoga on the roof at sunrise and sunset. They had names such as ‘Orpheo’, ‘Ocean’ and ‘Love’. They were on their way to Essakane (the Festival in the Desert) where one of their number was performing as it transpired to our great surprise… He had been serenading the other hotel guests with his guitar ever since his arrival, and, well, hmm… Ocean asked me if there was much ‘depression’ here. I said that to ‘be depressed’, was a luxury invented by westerners. Here people are sad if their brother, wife or daughter dies; if there is not enough to eat or perhaps sometimes if their husband takes a second wife. There is not much navel gazing going on, and weltschmerz, angst or ennui have not yet been imported.