Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I have been unpleasant again.
Oh dear, this is becoming a habit.
It was like this:
(First of all I ought to explain again that Djenne, although without doubt the most beautiful town in the entire Sahel region, is indescribably filthy. People talk lengthily about cleaning the town up while at the same time they continue merrily to drop plastic bags and refuse on the ground and using the gutters for the mixing up mud for the mud plastering of their houses. Then they ‘forget’ to remove the mud again so the gutters are constantly clogged up. Kind toubabs are never-endingly buying more cleaning equipment for the town’s Mairie; equipment which has a habit of mysteriously disappearing within a month or two).

About ten days ago I was handed an envelope that someone had delivered. I glanced at the content. I saw something about ‘Assainissement de Djenne,… votre Soutien financiere et moral ….etc. ‘ and I stuffed it in my pocket, probably mumbling something under my breath along the lines of ‘your’e not going to get a penny from me.’ Then a few days later, as I was having breakfast, a small group of rather smartly dressed young people arrived. (Oh-Oh, what is it Now ??? I steeled myself for what was undoubtedly going to cost me some money, which is now in short supply here. )
“Yes??? I enquired.” What can I do for you?”
‘We are from the Association XXXXXX’ explained the spokesman. “We came here a few days ago with a request letter”. Oh, yes, I remembered. “ You are the people about the Cleaning up of Djenne?’ Yes, said the young man, Our Association is for the Cleaning of Denne and for the Young Unemployed. We want to organise a Dance.'
I interrupted: 'Ok, so you are unemployed and you want to clean up Djenne. That is marvellous. Go ahead! What are you waiting for?' ‘We don’t have any money, said a young girl in a sequinned evening gown. ‘So the request letter was actually intended to raise some money to organise a dance. We hope to raise some money with this dance in order to buy cleaning equipment. ‘ Hold on a moment’, I objected. ‘ Do you want to clean up Djenne or do you want to have a dance? If you want to clean up Djenne we can go straight ahead. I tell you what. Tomorrow morning at 8.30 Birgit and I will meet you at the Tomb of Tapama.' I glanced across at Birgit who was nodding energetically. 'Everyone should just bring a broom from home . We will all start working and by midday it will be cleaned up! We will show you that it is going to be possible to do the major part of the cleaning up up Djenne just by picking up paper and then burning it! Then, after that, we might start thinking about your dance. OK?’
'Ok,' said the delegation, rather crest fallen.
Later we got a phone call. It was not going to be possible to meet up the following day. Everyone had other things to do. And in any case they had to have a meeting of the association about this. 'OK, that is fine,' said Birgit. We will do it next Wedneday at 8.30 at the Tomb of Tapama. In that way you all have plenty of time to get organised. ‘
This morning at 8.30 Birgit and I went to the Tomb of Tapama, armed with our brooms. The Young Unemployed for the Cleaning Up of Djenne were obviously otherwise engaged….

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

a belated
from Djenne,where this chap was very happy with his chistmas present- he was one of the last to be operated on.
The team has now left- all 100 operations went smoothly and successfully, alhamdilullah!
Meanwhle, back at the hotel a jolly time was had by all- and there were quite a few hotel guests after all.
Birgit said it was one of her best Christmases ever, and I agree.

Last night the garden was full of tables for dinner. The solar fairylights twinkled in the mango tree and the sky was unusually bright with stars. A group of people arrived from town to dine, and this provided a funny incident: one newly arrived dinner guest tried to hide from the neighbouring table because she (an employee at the Bamako embassy of a prominent European country) had one week previously told the people at the neighbouring table that they were UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES allowed to travel anywhere north of Segou! and then they all find themselves in Djenne....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last night the cataract team arrived for the planned 10 days of operations sponsored by MaliMali. The aim is to remove the cataracts of 100 people.

This morning there must have been over 100 people waiting at the Djenne Health Centre: there had been radio announcements for several days alerting people in Djenne and the surrounding villages about the cataract team arriving, and people had come from as far as 50 k away. Some had arrived last night and slept by the truck.

There were some obligatory courtesy visits to the prefecture, the Mairie etc., where some speech making back slapping took place but before 10 am the team had started the consultations.

Before the operations the cataract has to be dilated.

Then Moussa administered the anaesthetic

And by midday Dr. Keita started the operations.
Tomorrow the first bandages will come off: more then!

Today Birgit and I went to the health centre at 7am to see the first patients' bandages come off.
A cataract operation in Europe or the West is mostly done in the early stages, before the patient has lost the vision. But here in Mali it is often quite a dramatic result: it is often literally a question of giving someone their sight back.

Birgit took lots of pictures and cried a lot. Here she is with Fatumata who has just had her bandage taken off.
I too have to admit to being quite moved that this has finally come to fruition. Thank you all the kind people who have given money and made this possible!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back at the fabulous pool side of Hotel Amitie in Bamako for a couple of days. It is quiet and nearly empty here: I hear that even Bamako has suffered from a turn down in visitors after the recent events.

Birgit virtually pushed me out of the Djenne Djenno gate. She told me I needed to get outta there, because I was becoming unpleasant. This was undoubtedly true. It started because I had done an unwise inspection of the rubbish disposal area behind the hotel. It was unwise because this activity should only be engaged in under auspicious stars. NOT at full moon since I have lunatic tendencies, and I mean that in the literal sense that I am badly affected by the full moon. It is inevitable that I will have a crise de rage when I notice that noone has been following any of the rubbish disposal instructions that I have put in place. Africans think that my rubbish disposal ideas are symptoms of a deranged or at least severely neurotic mind. As readers of this journal will remember – it is after all not the first time that I rant on about this!- , it is just a question of a three way system: the stuff that rots go into the compost heap, where it snuggles up to the donkey and horse kaka. The burnable stuff is supposed to be burned every day, and the indestructible stuff like broken glass, tin cans etc is buried in a deep hole which is later covered with earth and a new hole is dug etc. Anyway, I did have, predictably, my crise de rageas usual.
More worryingly, Iater I did something I never ever do, and that is to be unpleasant to some hotel guests. There are hardly any people here, but last Sunday there were 6 hotel guests. I decided we all needed cheering up so I called my griots- the little orchestra that play here every Sunday when we are full. I thereby wiped out any profit of the evening. Nevermind. But then one elderly couple suddenly told me that they were not even going to have dinner! That meant that I would actually be losing out on the evening since I had to pay for the orchestra. ‘What? You are not eating here either?’ I snapped irritably to the nice elderly couple. ‘Well, there is no point of calling in the orchestra then! ‘ They looked at me rather taken aback and I stomped off, later to regret this outburst, telling them that of course they could watch the orchestra anyway, and they didn’t need to eat. It was too late and they never joined the evening, which turned out to be very nice: we were finally joined by a group of people from town who had dinner too, so it all turned out OK in the end…
But Birgit sent me away…
So here I am indulging in some popular culture: I am finally reading Stieg Larssen’s “The girl who played with Fire’, having resisted it a very long time for some reason but now I am helplessly hooked...
Back to Djenne tomorrow, laden with Christmas goodies, including a Santa Claus outfit for Boubakar the Gardener!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Memories of the Marrakesh Express
A charming young Nigerian woman came to visit me yesterday. She has been following this journal for over a year she told me. It always thrills and amazes me that -to me- totally unknown people should wish to follow my strange life in this far away place. She had a particular reason for being interested in Djenné and in my little hotel though: she was an architecture student at the Sorbonne, and she specialized in traditional building materials. She was interested in seeing the new rooms: the Diawando and the Minianka. She also wanted to see Maobi’s grave and my new horse. He is no longer The Horse With No Name, he has finally been named ‘Petit Bandit’. There was a small detail about the young Nigerian lady which reminded me of a train journey that Keita and I made last spring while on holiday in Morocco...
We were travelling in a first class compartment between Marrakesh and Meknes. Our travel companions were two young people who didn’t know each other: a student at a Military Academy and a pretty young girl in tight jeans and Hijab. Keita started chatting to them both. He found out that neither of them was married so he was soon matchmaking to the embarrassment of them both. The journey went quickly with lots of laughter. Afterwards I asked Keita if he didn’t think the girl had been very pretty. ‘Oh, she was OK’ said Keita rather unenthusiastically. ‘But I cannot understand how her parents can allow her to wear that tooth jewellery!’

The girl on the train and the Nigerian woman who visited me yesterday had one thing in common: they both wore a tooth brace… this is something that has never been seen in Mali.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Despite last week’s rallying of the troops, and despite of David’s kind and inspired efforts on his blog ( thank you dearest!) of course things are looking bleak, and of course more than half of the reservations have been cancelled. There are some consolations, mainly in the shape of my dear friend Birgit’s arrival, in combination with Christmas plans forming.
We WILL HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS, damn it all! My friend Ann will come with her children from Bamako. I have invited all the Djenné Christians from Pastor Felix’s inter denominational congregation –about 35 counting the children. I am working on a Christmas crib with the inspired recycled metal worker Vieux who makes cute angels etc from aerosol cans etc. See above his Christmas tree which already twinkles with little solar lights at night. Boubakar my old gardener will be Father Christmas, distributing goodies to everyone; we will sing Christmas songs , perhaps eat some Christmas ham if I can find a pig- not easy in Djenné!; watch Walt Disney videos and dance to the Bobo balafon players. Pictures to follow at the appropriate time.

We have had some hotel guests inspite of it all. Some very fun and interesting, such as the hugely glamorous Belgian former Ambassadress to Pakistan, Burma, Argentina Morocco and lots of other exciting places. She recently retired to Buenos Aires She uttered the quote of the week: 'You have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to travel with a Parrot'. She bought lots in the shop and saved Dembele's payroll for a couple of weeks.

In the mean time I am having run-ins with arrogant guides. Guides arrive here together with a driver and sometimes only one or two hotel guests. For some reason they believe that they are entitled to a free air conditioned room! I really don’t know where this idea comes from: when Keita and I went to Ghana through Burkina Faso with a car and our friend and driver Patrice, there was absolutely no question of his being given a free room anywhere! I used to ask if there was any accommodation for drivers, and the receptionist always looked blankly at me. ‘Yes, you can take a room for him’ was the only alternative, and that is what we invariably did. And there was never any question of the driver getting a free meal. Here guides are given a three course meal for free, at the table of the hotel guest even if it is only one paying person! The driver also gets something to eat for free. I have never ever had a guide say thank you. All I seem to get is a wall of hatred from certain guides that come here. They are very cross that I don’t give them a room! Then they are fed-up because they are not allowed just to hang around the bar and take up all the lounge area seating so that the hotel guests have to go and find some place on the edges of the seating area with out fan! When I ask them to move to make place for the hotel guests I am accused of racism. I tell the guides that I have myself moved out of my seat, and that we are all here to serve the tourists, and that includes both them and me! This makes no impression, and the response is that they (the guides) are the clients since they are the ones paying the bill! They should therefore be treated in the same way as the hotel guests! That is not all. This sort of guide is likely to phone up and complain to the Tour Operator‘s head quarter if they find me talking to the hotel guests! They want complete control of the poor tourists who are often too weak-willed and shy and worried about accusations of racism if they oppose in any way the wishes of their guides.
This is my home and of course there is no way I am going to stop talking to my guests. In fact, I believe, if it is not too immodest, that the fact that I talk to my guests is one of the reasons my hotel has become successful!
But believe me, these guides hate me with extreme venom. It is not only they: the Djenné guides continue to hate me because they still cannot hang around here asking people if they want a guided tour around Djenné etc. This is taking its toll and I sometimes wonder what I am doing here….