Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The sun has set on my ninth day back in Djenne. It slid down invisible behind the great dust clouds brought along by the Harmattan, the North wind which breathes down on us from the desert between January and April turning everything to a sandy monochrome- the hue of the desert itself.
I am sitting in the bar writing this. It is soon 7 pm, which means that soon dinner will start. A group of nice French Canadians are having Djenne Djenne cocktails at the next table. I am starving, very much looking forward to tonight’s dinner: chicken liver pate followed by Poisson a la Scandinave- (a pretentious but useful title) which is just grilled fish with a Bechamel sauce and lots of dill and boiled potatoes, followed by fruit salad marinated in lemon and ginger juice—a slight change because Papa tripped over in the kitchen and spilled all the yoghurt which was otherwise on the menu. He is a bit on edge at the moment, because the head chef from the Hotel l’Amitie in Bamako (one of the largest and poshest hotels in Mali) is here with his girlfriend for a couple of day’s holiday. Papa does not have too much to worry about though- he passed last night with flying colours. We are angling for a ‘stage’ for him (a few weeks of apprenticeship in Bamako might be possible to arrange?)
Maman has just put some music on: Afel Bocoum, one of Ali Farka Toure’s acolytes from Niafunke. That reminds me of the new Prefect here in Djenne, who is a personal friend of Afel Boucoum’s. The new Prefect is a very unassuming fellow physically; small and thin. Although I had been part of a delegation of the hoteliers of Djenne who went to welcome him at the Prefecture when he first arrived, I did not recognize him a few days later when he turned up unannounced at the hotel. I was having a sunset cocktail on the roof when I noticed someone insignificant-looking shuffling around nearby, trying to catch my attention. ‘Yes?, I enquired haughtily and somewhat irritably. ‘ What can I do for you? Are you the West Africa Tour guide?’ ‘ No’, he replied quietly.’I am the new Prefect’. Now, for English speaking people who may not realize, this is tantamount to saying he is the King of Djenne. He is the single most important person here. Fortunately he was not offended, and we started chatting amiably once I had grovelled for a minute or two, apologizing and offering him drinks. This is when we started plotting to bring Afel Boucoum to Djenne for a concert... more about this later perhaps.

I went for a ride on Maobi at 5pm, accompanied by Pudg on Max. All is well again and we are friends like we used to be, Alhamdilullah! Maobi has regained his former happy disposition since we can once more escape and gallop out onto the great wide dusty spaces like we always did before- finally the water has receded.

Susan Mackintosh, one half of the great archaeologist couple who excavated the Djenne Djeno site in the seventies, putting Djenne on the map as the oldest city in West Africa (300BC) has been spending ten days at the hotel and last night we had dinner together. She really is a Grande Dame, but like all proper Grande Dames she is kind, unassuming, helpful and gracious in every way. We spoke of the Manuscript library, the British Library project that is possibly forthcoming and she agreed to put me in touch with people that might help me. I feel so privileged to be here- what an interesting life Djenne has given me!


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