Saturday, April 30, 2011

I was winging my way to England yesterday morning while Will and Kate were exchanging vows.
Some consolation was awaiting me at my friends Biggles and Rosamunda's hide-away in
Portland, Dorset, where we are having a lovely weekend. Today we were catching up with the papers. 'What on earth is Beatrice wearing on her head????' etc., with a glass of champagne in their ravishing garden...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maghreb Melt Down??
David, Keita and Jeremiah on another famous square in Morocco a couple of days ago:
in front of the Bab Mansour in Meknes.
We are very well and in Casablanca, far away from this morning's carnage in Marrakesh. We only just realized with horror a couple of hours ago what had happened when I found an email asking if we were OK.
We are looking out on to the Corniche, the palm fringed ocean promenade in front of our hotel. It is normally teeming with ice cream eating holiday flaneurs, but today it seems unusually quiet. The attack on Marrakesh has profoudly shocked people here. The death toll had just risen to 15, mostly tourists. Is this Al Quaida? It seems so.
How appropriate: we are just listening to Bob Dylan's Masters of War...
you fasten all the triggers/for the others to fire/then you sit back and watch/when the death toll gets higher

Friday, April 22, 2011

My last sunset in Djenne for two and a half months turned out to be a good one. It is normally uneventful this time of the year as the orange disc just gets lost in the dust clouds.

I will miss my unruly Maobi. I look at him every night from the sunset bar after our ride. Here he is in his mud stable, with a roof newly stocked with hay.

Before I left the hotel received its yearly coating of mud, the crepissage. Malian labourers, just like their English council worker counterparts, spend a lot of time hanging around ‘supervising’ or making tea. But nevertheless they manage to finish a whole façade in just a few hours.
Some guests complain about the pungent smell, thinking it has something to do with bad drains. But it dries in a couple of hours and I believe it is a good ‘cultural experience’ for them, so I don’t cancel the work because of hotel guests, on the contrary, I try to have some tourists here.

But that was some time ago already.
Keita and I are in Essaoiura, Morocco, and on our way to Marrakesh tomorrow.

Having a lovely time, wish you were here!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Love at the Bogolan Table.

Readers of this journal may recall that Dembele, my first friend in Djenne and the young man who taught me bogolan five years ago, used to be in love with Nana.
Nana married her cousin who lives in America. The sad thing is that she married him in absentia. He was supposed to come and pick her up, but he never did. There are rumours that he is already married to an American woman- she would clearly not take it in her stride to have a bride arriving from Bamako…So Nana is still waiting, two years later, in Bamako. I said recently to Dembele: ‘You know, if you still love Nana, I think there is a good claim to be made that her marriage is not valid. If you want to, I will support you.'
But Dembele told me that he no longer loved Nana, and that he wanted to marry someone else: someone I knew! It turns out that there has been a romance blossoming at the bogolan tables between Dembele and Baji Fitini!
I can quite understand the attraction from Baji’s point of view: Dembele was teaching her, and of course one always has a crush on one’s teachers, at least I always did, including my driving instructor AND my diving instructor...

They married a couple of weeks ago and on Monday it was their turn to come to Hotel Djenne Djenno as hotel guests for a treat in the Peul Suite. Here they are, arriving with Max and the carriage last Monday.

Abi and Livia have been keeping me company during the last few weeks at the hotel. They are both immensely learned and Fulbright Scholars or something equally impressive. They are here doing work on their forth coming Doctoral theses in Anthropology and Archaeology. Abi is one of Susan Macintosh’s Doctoral candidates I believe. However, they spend all their afternoons at Djenne Djenno reading what?
Harry Potter!!!

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Return of Basil Fawlty. (the picture has nothing to do with the text, by the way, it is a view over the new land, seen from the roof of my new house).

I have just thrown out some tourists. They didn’t even get the chance to move in to their room. This is of course unusual behaviour on behalf of an hotelier, especially since it is low season and there is not a soul at the hotel.

The tourists were booked in by a Malian travel agency –let’s call it TB- with which I have had recurring trouble. They take months to pay their bills; they book the whole hotel then they don’t turn up and they don’t reply to emails or return phone calls. In other words they are impossible to deal with. I finally cancelled all their bookings. They also have another annoying characteristic: they don’t listen to anything they are told. Therefore they took no heed of my ban and the other week they emailed me again quite cheerfully as if nothing had ever happened and wanted to reserve two rooms for two nights (today and tomorrow). I made the mistake of saying OK, fine, as long as the rooms were paid by a bank transfer before the arrival of the guests, that would be the only way I was prepared to do business with them in the future.

Two days later they emailed me to inform me (!) that one of the rooms would be what the French call a gratuité, which means a free-bee for the tour leader. I wrote back and said (forgetting that irony is lost on Africans): ‘ just let me get this absolutely straight, you are telling me that you want to book two rooms only, and that one of these rooms is supposed to be given for free???’

They wrote back and said that yes, I had understood perfectly.

I told them to get lost.
I said I had informed them on several occasions that I don’t even want to work with them anymore! If they want the rooms they will pay for them. No money=no rooms.

Last night there was a phone call from the European tour leader booked in by TB. She also had the nerve to inform me that one of the two rooms would be a free-bee! My mind boggled. ‘Madame’, I said firmly but still quite calmly, I made it quite clear to the agency TB that there were not to be any free-bees! Just tell me one reason why I am supposed to give you a room for free? You bring me exactly two people, and you think that warrants a free room??’
‘But perhaps next year I will bring you lots of people!’ said the tour leader.
‘Yes, that is a possibility', I replied. 'And when that day comes and we know each other a little better, perhaps I will indeed give you a free room. For now however, our relationship has not developed to that level yet and tomorrow if you want to stay at the Djenne Djenno you will pay for your room!'

Just to let you know, I am not always so hard- nosed. There are stray teen agers arriving sometimes with rucksacks who cannot afford to stay here. They are tired and hungry and cute and young and I have been known to put them up for days for a pittance in the best room we have. But I thoroughly object to people arriving and believing the have some sort of Divine right to stay here for free!!

Well, this afternoon they arrived. I greeted them myself and told the two hotel guests to have a seat, then I motioned to the tour leader to follow me behind the reception area for a private talk. ‘You do understand that you will be paying for the two rooms?’ I enquired. And to my utter amazement the woman said, ‘no I want my room to be for free, as we discussed over the phone’! I made a last effort to calm down and said: ‘Madame, if you are going to a market and you see two apples that you want you say Yes please I will have those apples. You ask how much they cost and then you pay, don’ you? You won’t say I will take two apples but I will only pay for one, now WILL YOU??? ‘ This reasoning made no impression and she continued insisting that she had the right to have a free room!
Ladies and gentlemen, I lost it. I screamed: ‘No XXXXing way, are you retarded or something???!!’ She started screaming at me and I continued screamed back. I told her I had never in my four and a half year as a hotelier come across anything like it. I called the clients and told them that I was very sorry that they had to suffer for this, but I had no choice but to ask them all to leave. I wished them a pleasant stay in Djenne and said good day.

They left, either for the Maafir or the Campement, who knows? and indeed who cares.

Then, about an hour later, there was an SMS message on the hotel phone from the Tour Leader asking my forgiveness!!! I sent her a message saying OK fine, I accept her apologies. Then later, as I was riding Maobi towards the sunset, there was another message: could they come and eat here tonight? I said, OK fine, no problem! So as I am writing this they are actually having dinner in the garden! I ate early, then escaped to chez moi, not feeling in the mood for polite chit-chat. I left instructions with Maman to greet them and to offer the three of them a drink on the house to show there are no hard feelings….

Sunday, April 03, 2011

We have just revived something at the hotel: every member of the Djenne Djenno personnel is allowed one night a year in the hotel as a guest. That means being picked up by Max and the carriage, arriving at the hotel and being shown to one of the best rooms, having the luggage carried of course. It means having as much Coca Cola or Fanta as one can drink, and one's favourite dinner, being served at the table with the other hotel guests. It means having an orchestra with 'griots'singing one's praises all night. It means watching satellite TV and sleeping in an air conditioned room with a private bath room and hot water shower.
The last member of personnel to benefit was Pudiogou, my groom, and his young wife who spent the night in the Saurai suite last night. Here they are this morning with their young son Ali just before leaving...
Africans have a great sense of the theatrical. Although the rest of the staff had giggled about this all afternoon before their arrival, they behaved with great dignity once their workmate and his wife arrived. Pudiogou, of the Dogon tribe, became M. l'Ambassadeur du Pays Dogon. Everyone treated him like an ambassador and noone let on that they knew him. He, likewise, took on the role with great seriousness.
Next week it will be old Boubakar the gardener and his wife, Inshallah...

Saturday, April 02, 2011

I am stuck in a meeting about municipal waste disposal.

My friend Levy, sitting to my right, tells me it would be most impolite to leave and everyone would notice (I am of course the only toubab here). The problem is my Bambara is not good enough to follow the speeches. I have a good idea what is being said though.
Djenne is a beautiful town but it is filthy. Now and then, encouraged by various projects with funding from the European Community, Unesco and similar bodies the inhabitants of Djenné get together and talk about cleaning up the town. This time the pleasantly produced invitation read:
Les Causeries du Fleuve’: les Djennenkés parlent de l’assainissement de leur ville’, suggesting a café society get-together on the left banks of the Seine perhaps.
Unfortunately this impression of intellectual gentility was somewhat spoiled by the fact that one was compelled to circumnavigate 2 rotting cow carcasses in order to reach the meeting place at the side of the river.

I am stuck, as I said. I don’t understand much of the proceedings apart from the frequent appearance of fashionable French words such as assainissement and sensibilisation, the latter much used in Djenné, meaning awareness making and implying that the people present know something the rest of the population don’t know. ‘Sensibilisation’ is the method with which the enlightened persons will reach the unenlightened ones.

I have time to study my fellow Djennenké and I am amused to notice two types of waste disposal being carried out at this meeting about waste disposal.
A young girl is walking around offering cold water in small plactic bags. Having drunk the water in these bags, the majority of people just drop the bags unceremoniously on the ground in front of their chairs (see picture above). The more intelligent ones will see a correlation between the subject of the meeting and the act they are about to perform. They therefore screw up the plastic back discreetly, hiding it in their hand for some time before they deposit it quietly under their chairs a little later!
Later they will all go home, feeling that something has been done about the waste disposal problem of Djenné since much has been said, most eloquently. In a few weeks, or months, there will be another get together sponsored by Unesco or something, and the Djennenké will once more talk about it. ‘Les Causeries du Fleuve!’