Friday, July 29, 2011

Mr Ambassador? Hello? Excellency? Are you there?
There is a new Bona Fide British Embassy in Bamako. Not a Consulate, no, an Embassy, although the other diplomatic corps here define it a ‘lap_top embassy’, meaning there is an Ambassador with a lap top and a staff consisting of perhaps someone to make tea and run errands. That sounds fine to me. Why bother to spend lots of money of first and second secretaries etc. if the Ambassador can do it all himself? The problem in this case seems to be that His Excellency is letting his tea boy take care of the lap top correspondence.
I wrote the Embassy the other day; informing them of my presence here in Djenne; Mali, as a British Citizen. The main thrust of the communication however was that I had managed to secure a British Library (Endangered Archives Programme) grant worth more than 55000 pounds Stirling to save the ancient manuscripts of Djenne; running for 2 years and giving up to ten people employment during this period.
The people in Djenne think of Britain firstly in terms of Gerrard, foot ball player of Liverpool. Secondly they have perhaps heard of La Reine d'Angleterre- and of Lady Di. That is about it. I don’t know what British Ambassadors are here for. I had an old fashioned idea that they might like to spread good feelings about Britain, to show and share the glories of British Culture. Therefore I had entertained vain glorious hopes not exactly of receiving an MBE, but perhaps of being invited to a little champagne and twiglet do at the embassy; just some token recognition at least of the project, possibly co-inciding with my visit to Bamako next week when I will have to present the project to the Malian Ministry of Culture.

But no. I have had no response to my email to the Embassy, inviting the Ambassador to come to the forthcoming televised opening ceremony. I therefore called the telephone number given, and I believe I must have spoken to the tea boy. He said he would deal with my email shortly. That was two weeks ago.
Clare dearest, if you read this, could you please ask your brother Dominic (recent British Ambassador to Cairo) if he thinks the British Library Project in Djenne deserves at least an email in response from the Embassy????

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yesterday morning Pudiogou came to tell me that Maobi had developed diarrhoea after their morning ‘promenade’. He had been nibbling at some fresh new grass by the river’s edge.
We sent for the vet Theophile who gave him some injections. Later on Maobi worsened and we found him lying down in his box, clearly in pain and trembling. Theophile returned and gave him pain killing injections. Maobi drank and ate nothing all day, and by the evening he was very weak. Theophile returned yet again before midnight. I wanted to put him on a saline drip, something that is unheard of here in Djenne for horses. Theophile was of the opinion that the night would bring a cooling of the air and the dehydration would not become too severe. We should wait for the morning. Keita agreed, especially since Theophile had no previous experience of putting horses on a drip, and might even worsen the situation. We left Maobi in the open so that he could move freely if he wanted to – it was a beautiful clear night with no rain threatening. We instructed Leon the night watchman to survey him closely; to try and give him water and if he had drunk, some bread, which he normally loves.
Keita and I could not sleep. At two o’clock in the morning the guardian banged on the door with the joyful news that Maobi had drunk a whole bucket of water! Alhamdilullah! We now thought he was on his way to recovery and fell asleep happily.

But this morning Maobi was very very weak. Pudiogou led him to the large Flamboyant tree in the hotel garden, where he left him to rest in the shade while he went to look after Max for a moment, who had been much neglected the last couple of days.
But Maobi was too exhausted and sick. He collapsed under the Flamboyant tree and never got up again. We sent for Theophile for more painkilling injections, but alas, when he arrived Maobi was gone. Theophile thought he had died of colic from eating too much fresh grass. I stood next to him when he died. He just breathed slower and slower, until finally there was no breath left. Death must have many faces, but it seems not really to matter at the end somehow whether the dying creature is is a horse or a human being-the mystery of life leaving the body must be the same. One moment life is there and the next it is gone. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF DEATH IN THE MIND OF SOMEBODY LIVING.

We buried him this morning on the new land, next to his stable.
Maobi had been in Djenne almost exactly a year and a half. Djenne was a sort of retirement for him after many years as a dressage and jumping horse at the Circle Hippique in Bamako.
I am trying to remember our last ride, which was the day I injured my foot, a week ago today exactly.
As usual I had saddled Maobi myself, which gave us a little moment of intimacy and friendliness together before I mounted him. I always set out before Pudiogou, who brushed and saddled Max and joined us a little later. Meanwhile I took Maobi first of all for a little ride in an improvised manege where we did dressage for 10 minutes or so. This was essential, for it made him calm down and convinced him that I was in charge rather than the other way around.
The last ride was a pleasant classic ride for around an hour, which included a good gallop by the lake skirting the far edges of the archaeological site of Djenne Djeno. Maobi was excited by the new green grass springing up after the first rains and he was full of life and fun.

I think he had a really good life here in his retirement. He discovered Africa for the first time: the great expanses of dusty savannah, the blinding light of the African noon, the flocks of sheep and cattle and the bird life – the strange noises of the African night: all of this was new to him after the gentility of the cool and leafy Circle Hippique in Bamako. He relished it all and got to know it well. He was always eager to throw himself into a new adventure- brave and exciting and very macho, Maobi was a wonderful stallion. He, like Napoleon his predecessor, died a virgin alas. Why oh why did I never let him breed?

Keita has an African’s idea that here is a reason behind this tragedy. He thinks Maobi took my place. He thinks it is not a coincidence that I had an accident a week ago. There are powers at work that would like to harm me according to his theory. Somehow I have enjoyed protection and the evil has been diverted and absorbed at least partly by Maobi. My foot is only touched, and it is not important.
(Napoleon died by a road accident at a turbulent time when much evil was flying around in the air, two days after my marriage to Keita, when I was travelling on a bus towards Djenne…)
But why Maobi now? I ask him. He thinks it has something to do with the Djenne Manuscript Library and the big sponsorship I have managed to obtain for them. Although that is a good thing of course, there is plenty of jealousy around…
Be that all as it may be.
Maobi is dead.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I check the statistics on this blog now and then. It tickled me to find out that 2 people in a place called KIRIBATI has read my journal in the last 24 hours!
How intriguing! Where on earth is Kiribati?
It is an independent Atoll in the South Pacific with about 100 000 inhabitants, formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, but you know this already of course...I now know courtesy of Wikipedia. How very exciting! If the Kiribatians are looking in again, please accept my invitation to spend some time at Hotel Djenne Djenno!

Friday, July 15, 2011

This is Daniel, an English Financial analyst, who spent a couple of days here in Djenne as the only guest in my empty hotel. He had started his career as a salesman and migrated into finance quite by accident. His talents as a salesman became quite apparent, because he managed to sell me his idea of the current world financial situation extremely efficiently. Daniel is convinced that we are standing on the brink of the annihilation of the West as we have known it. It is a question of months, not years, he told me. And apparently he is not alone in this belief. One aspect of his 'brink of disaster' approach is quite creative. I had been feeling guilty about indulging in such frivolous pursuits as silver and gold jewellery fabrication with my jeweller Sory in town. I thought I could not really afford it. But Daniel tells me this is the only thing I should get involved in! As much silver and gold as I can get my hands on is his advice. OK, no problem, here goes! I don't need much encouragement in this direction... We will buy the available Maria Theresia Silver Thalers with Kissiman in the market this very Monday coming, and we shall set to work to stave off disaster immediately!
And why am I in a wheel barrow???
Because I have once more had a silly accident on my horse. But yet again, it wasn't even a proper accident! I mean I wasn't even thrown off in full career, cutting a dashing romanic figure, hair flying in the Sahel wind which might have been a bit more news worthy. NO, the stirrup leather was not properly fastened, and I just hit the ground quite matter-of-factly as I mounted a calm and well behaved Maobi two days ago.
I went for the ride, and nothing seemed to be the matter. But the following morning I could not walk! Daniel brought me to Mopti on his way in his lovely 4X4,depositing me at the hospital where |I had an ex-ray which revealed that I had a crack in a bone, warranting crutches and rest, but not really a plaster. I spent the night at la Maison Rouge, drinking lots of wine and arguing amicably with Amede, which is our want.
I had the pleasant foresight to co-incide my silly accident with the 14th of July celebrations among the toubabos of Sevare/Mopti where everyone had been invited to celebrate Bastille Day with the French Military, who put on a lovely lunch where much good quality proper bubbly flowed. I tagged on happily on my crutches. Pictures will follow of Sophie nestling up amongst the last survivors of the 'Anciens Combattants' from the 'Tirailleurs Senegalais'....the African regiments who were present at the liberation of France at the end of WW2.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

There was a slight but much appreciated rehabilitation of my worth as an African today, since I had felt I might as well return to Ladbroke Grove now, covered in ashes, a paper bag over my head. Three days a go a little Griot named Karim appeared out of the blue with his Goni (West African string instrument.) He came from Yangassou, a small town between San and Bla, on the road between Bamako and Djenne. He said he had heard of Hotel Djenne Djenno and believed that there may be work here. I told him that there were no toubabos around, so there would be no work in the near future. Meanwhile I had already begun to feel responsible for him. Was it true that he had travelled all that way? He said the members of his orchestra had all gone to work in their fields to sow. I asked the little Griot why he hadn’t gone too. ‘ I have no fields to sow’ he said quite simply. My heart melted and I said: let’s hear what you can do: sing me something. So he did. He has a lovely soulful voice and plays his Goni well. ‘OK’ I said. There are some toubabos here on Sunday, you can stay until then, help Boubakar in the garden and play on Sunday night. I will give you your food and lodging and pay your journey back and forth to Yangassou plus pay you something for your concert on Sunday night.
But the little Griot wanted to start playing straight away, so he serenaded me alone last night, and tonight as well, although tonight there were some guests. He has invented a song with the Bambara words above: CISE MUSO A TE FEN JUGU DI A DEN MA. That is apparently a song about me, about how the mother hen will only bring good things to her chicks amongst whom he counts himself…
I listened to the little Griot Karim who really sings very well, and I thought how very superior Mali is in so many ways, but in ways that do not matter in the big commercial picture of this world. Karim’s music, very simple but very profound nevertheless, is quite excellent in quality. Probably much better that what one could hope to find in most little towns in England on a non descript Saturday night. But music does not run the world, alas…

Friday, July 08, 2011

Back to normal again, that is to say, back to my normal grizzly Mali personality, which I had happily put on the shelf for my European visit. I don’t think I was angry once in Europe, but as usual, I have about one uncontrollable fit of rage a day here. And what is it that makes me so angry? The points of friction seem ridiculous when written down in isolation, but when experienced one after the other they declench explosions…
People want things from me all the time. That is understandable, there is hardly any tourists around and people who rely on tourism are literally starving. When I arrive back they see a possibility of borrowing or having some money coming their way. I try my best not to be annoyed and I try to figure out some way of helping by giving some work if possible. So when Boubakar the weaver came to see me the other day he pretended it was a courtesy visit, but I knew that he needed something from me as usual. And indeed he did. So I arranged for him to come and start weaving our big loom next Monday, although we really don’t need any more weavers, since with no tourists we don’t sell anything and it will just be stock piling. Getting the loom ready for Boubakar involved sending for someone from Segou at some considerable expense to put the loom back into order.
Then yesterday, as I came back from my ride there was Boubakar hanging around. Just seeing him made me annoyed. We had already arranged everything, what did he want NOW??? I wanted to take a shower and escape onto my sunset roof with a whisky and soda. (My new fad, a change from the rum and ginger cocktails), I did emphatically NOT want to talk to Boubakar again. 'Yes?' I enquired unpleasantly. 'What is it now?'
“I have brought Oumar, my brother, he explained. (‘It gets worse’ I thought to myself and gritted my teeth. Oumar makes clay jewellery.) ‘Ok what do you want?’ I continued irritably. ‘I want Oumar to come and weave here instead of me, I won’t have the time’ said Boubakar. I lost control completely and started shouting at him: 'But Oumar is a godamn jeweller!'
‘Oumar can weave too’, objected Boubakar, now getting angry as well.
‘I have arranged this for you, damn it, I thought you needed saving from death by starvation! I don’t need a XXXXing weaver, we have weavers already, I was only trying to help you out!’
And with that I swanned off to take a shower while Boubakar and Oumar stomped out through the gate, no doubt on their way to town to tell anyone who wanted to listen that the toubabo muso has now finally gone completey insane. On my way to my new house I shouted to Maman: ‘And never ever ever ever let people hang around here asking favours from me at 6 pm again when I come back from my ride, coz I will go beserk again! Get them to make an appointment- in the future I will see people in the morning between 9 and 11,' I added grandly, disappearing for my shower and to get changed and smartened up for sunset drinks and romantic dinner with myself in the garden where the new ebay solar fairy lights twinkle away from the mango tree and the flambuoyant.
Of course, the solution to this whole thing would have been to say, quietly and calmly, ‘No I am afraid that won’t work Boubakar.’ Good day’. That is all that was necessary. Instead I behaved like a lunatic!
Heaven help me from myself.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Back in Mali and back in Djenne for several days already, but have been so busy my feet have hardly touched the ground. Grey clouds hang ominously over Djenne, and violent winds whip up the ubiquitous plastic bag debris, throwing it high in the air where it circles like vultures. Rain is looming but not materializing to my relief: I am not ready yet for the hardships that the rainy season brings the owner of a mud hotel.
Have finally caught up with more or less everyone. Much has happened: Here is Madame Koita with the new girl triplet orphans that this amazing woman has decided to take on. The mother of the girls, who are now about 6 weeks old, died a day after giving birth to them in a remote village where no one was able to care for them. MaliMali sponsors Madame Koita and her orphans with monthly support. See “project” page. I have just tried rather clumsily to do something with the malimali website myself, hoping to bring some more sponsorship and not wanting to spend any hard earned malimali money on a proper website designer.
There is much new building work going on as I noticed when Pudg and I went for our first ride on Maobi and Max yesterday. Various cement buildings are springing up quite close to the hotel, since the Unesco World Heritage protection only covers the town itself, and one is allowed to build in other materials than mud outside the town perimeter. The most noticeable of these new cement edifices is going to be a large hotel, owned by a Swiss woman I am told. Will she live here? I have no idea, since she has not introduced herself, and I am only relying on hearsay and rumour. I have been the only toubab here for 5 years. It might be fun to have a European neighbour. On the other hand, it seems a strange time to invest in Malian tourism since the hotels are more or less empty, thanks to the French efforts of mud slinging. The new hotel may well become the sort of place tourists will like. It seems to have Dogon figures/decorations in cement on the external walls, and given a coating of cement “banco’ it may become pretty, albeit absolutely nothing to do with Djenne architecture, and blocking my customary view of the equipages leaving the market on a Monday. I do hope it will stay unpainted. The colour of raw cement is actually very close to the colour of the Djenne mud buildings, and if left unpainted it will marry it into the landscape slightly more.
On va voir….

From left to right:
Assiata FONE, Kadija FONE and Fatouma FONE.
FONE is Bambara for either twin or triplet, and all children born either a twin or a triplet will be given this name.