Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Once upon a time there was a great place,- although something of a sleazy dive- in New Orleans called the Rock an’ Bowl. There was bowling downstairs, but the top floor was the heart of the place; a sweaty, stomping beer swigging bar filled with cigarette smoke and bodies hurling themselves about to live Zydeco music. To reach this one had to ascend a long, narrow staircase in the middle of which sat a lady of formidable proportions and disposition whose job it was to relieve people of a couple of dollars for the entrance fee. No one slipped past her and no one escaped, including one night a long time ago Mick Jagger and Keith Richards who, like royalty, didn’t carry any money. The lady was unimpressed and told them ‘I don’t care who you are, you might be God Al’mighty, you will pay me the money’.

There was once a famous restaurant in the All Saints Road, Notting Hill just around the corner from where I lived in a previous life. One night Madonna arrived unannounced with a group of friends and demanded a table. She was refused since the empty tables were already reserved. This refusal only added to the fame of the restaurant.

There was once a Doctor in Chief at the Djenné Health Centre. One day a Djenné grandee arrived at his surgery, pushing passed the line of people waiting patiently their turn. ‘Please would you wait in the line’ said the doctor. ‘Do you know who I am?’ said the grandee in his big boubou. ‘Yes, I do’ said the doctor. ‘You are the Imam of Djenné. That makes no difference to me. Please take your place in the line and await your turn, sir’.

There was once a Municipal Manuscript Library in Djenné, the property of the town of Djenné…?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Although times are bad the garden looked almost as it should on a Monday in the high season yesterday morning,with a large jolly group of Lithuanians- the first ever here.

Fatou made her delicious rice pancakes, and there was no stopping the Lithuanians who had 4 each!

Otherwise, what is going on? I wish I could tell you, but I cannot, at least at the moment. I am caught up, albeit on the perifery only, in a bizarre series of events with the Manuscript Library at its epicentre. Lets just say that this turbulence has all the ingredients of a best selling thriller, although we do not yet know the outcome. If it were a thriller it would have a lurid cover with matching blurb such as: 'Greed!' 'Deceit in high places!' 'Magic Spells!'Fear and Trembling! 'Revenge!' The actors in this lurid melodrama are, in order of importance for the plot: The Imam of Djenné; the Prefect of Djenné, The Minister of the Interior; the Minister of Culture; the members of the Djenné Manuscript Library's Management Committee, and a whole enormous cast of extras: the inhabitants of Djenné and...and... I will tell all one day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My much missed friend Birgit is now back in Amsterdam again. She must be thinking of Djenne Djenno, since she sent me this picture today. Perhaps she found the flowers in an up-market Amsterdam florist.

“What happened to the Monster Plant? “ she wanted to know. Birgit always walks around the garden, studying flowers and birds for hours.
The ‘Monster Plant’ is an Arbre Voyageur, planted in our garden three years ago and doing exceptionally well. This year it flowered for the first time, but not until Birgit had already left.

Despite exciting developments before the flowering, with sticky and erotic looking juice emanating,

the promise of something extraordinary was never really fulfilled, and the flower was rather an anti climax..

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We have had a surprise visitor. This little bullock has been munching quietly away at the undergrowth around the white bougainvillea for the last two days. Boubakar chased him away yesterday but today he was back again, delighting the breakfast guests in the garden... but finally this evening a young Fulani cowboy arrived and claimed our new pet, alas.

Friday, February 17, 2012

This is what I was supposed to post in Segou! So here it is, only slightly past the sell-by-date, courtesy of the internet connection in Djenné which has once more resturned:

Fortunately there are other things than the hotel to keep me here in Djenné, otherwise I believe I would be contemplating a retreat… There are but a handful of visitors here, and today, a Monday in February when we should be fully booked, there is not even one room!

But on the manuscript front there is some good news: we have started to digitize the manuscripts from the private houses. Yesterday a venerable old wooden box arrived at the library from the Marabout Alpha Issa Kanta’s House with its Koran School. We negotiated with him to have his manuscripts brought to the library during the digitizing process, since to photograph them in situ chez lui would probably spell the end for our Nikons:his floors are covered with sand, causing dust clouds to rise every time one of his little talibés pass. The manuscripts are all mixed up, although they were painstakingly put in order and listed by Garba and Yelfa during the pilot project in 2009.

The work on Kanta’s chests marks the beginning of a new stage. It is exciting material where we might find the nuggets I am hoping for: undiscovered Tariqs (history), interesting traditional medicine; literature, and the main part of the esoteric manuscripts. The magic manuscripts of Djenné; the material that no one thought would ever be made available for western eyes.

The material that we have worked on so far ha been made up of mainly orthodox Islamic subjects: the manuscripts which have already been delivered to the library for safe keeping. These have been preselected and ‘sanitized’, that is to say they are unlikely to contain anything unknown or controversial.
So imagine my frustration with my archivist Yelfa, Grand Marabout de Djenné, when I realized that he is in fact also ‘sanitizing’ these new manuscripts when he chooses the ones to be sent upstairs for photography! To my dismay I found the team photographing yet another Koran yesterday. ‘But why did you start with a Koran again?’ I complained to Yelfa, whilst picking up at random another exciting looking manuscript full of interesting figures and drawings from the ancient Kanta wooden chest. ‘Why can’t we do this one, Yelfa?’ He replied that it was because he doesn’t understand that one!
‘Ah, but for goodness sake, Yelfa, we can’t just digitize the things that you understand!’ I exclaimed in disbelief. The problem is, we are rather at his mercy, and I do not know what he is deciding to remove!

I was touched to be invited to certain Maoloud events this year.
Three different invitations arrived from various Djenné families that organized Koran reading in their neighbourhoods. Ace told me this was quite an honour, and that it means that I am now accepted as a member of Djenné society finally.
The problem was that I could only see a vast expanse of men- all the Marabouts of Djenné- sitting on mats and chanting verses from the Koran when I arrived at the first event. I therefore chickened out and went home.
But last night I took courage again, and arrived, clutching my invitation, at the house of the family Toumagnan deep in the Youbocaina neighbourhood behind the Great Mosque. I was kindly received and told to go up on the mud roof to view the event with the rest of the women.
I now found myself at the epicentre of the melodious and rhythmic chanting which always reaches me from Djenne during Maoloud: the voices of a hundred Marabouts and their Talibés chanting the announcement of the Birth of the Prophet Mohammed. I let myself be seduced for a moment by the strength of it all: the sound, the unquestioning certainty of belief, the feeling that time has stood still here for near a thousand years…

As I left I crossed the courtyard where great vats of steaming and delicious smelling rice was being prepared. The smiling women insisted on giving me meat and rice in a plastic bag as I left, and I munched on this as I walked back through the sandy streets of Youboucaina, passing the ‘Maison Blanche’ youth club where Hip Hop from the Ivory Coast emanating from a ghetto blaster was making an unsuceessful bid for attention and modernity...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I am so annoyed!
I travelled all the way to Segou yesterday, only partly for the Festival de Segou which started yesterday, the other reason was to be able, finally, to reach a reliable internet connection. Djenne has been cut off from the world for the last ten days. I have nevertheless worked on several fronts, assembling everything on my USB memory stick. I have a long blog post prepared with several pictures, for one thing.
And what do I do? I leave the blasted thing behind in Djenne!
Fortunately I ran into the charming Saundra from Los Angeles (above,) and her three glittering African-American girl friends who cheered me up again and who escorted me to the opening ceremony of the festival. Saundra has been following this journal for three years and says she feels she knows me well already although we have never met.As always I am amazed that a stranger should be interested in what happens to me! But of course, people follow it for other reasons, perhaps to glean some information not about me but about Djenne or Mali. Yes that is of course it...
In any case, she was not planning to come to Djenne, but had nevertheless been arranging to send me a donation for the next cataract operations planned by MaliMali for next Christmas.
And now she was able to do so directly! I am very pleased for her generous gift and finally the evening turned out well after all, thanks to Saundra (and friends)!

Monday, February 06, 2012

‘O la la, c’est comme La Suède en Novembre!
remarked our only guests, two French couples, as they huddled for warmth with their coffee this morning. And indeed, the Harmattan is sweeping in with unprecedented vigour from the North today. It is actually cold! That is to say it is perhaps 18 degrees…
I am wandering around rather forlornly in my dusty and near empty hotel, not able to engage in anything. News are reaching us about worrying events: it appears that Touaregs have been attacked in Bamako and other places in retaliation for the attacks by rebel Touaregs on certain towns and villages in the north. As so often happens, to be present in a country at the time of unrest does not guarantee inside knowledge as the events are taking place. Djenné is peaceful as always, far away from the centre of events, seemingly removed in both place and time.

On a happier note, Le tout Djenné was bracing itself yeaterday for last night’s football match: the Cup of Africa quarterfinal which was played against the host nation, the redoubtable Gabon. I watched it with the staff as usual on a big night, under the Malian flag which the patriotic Maman had nailed to the mud wall as a banner.
After a nail biting marathon of a match Mali won on penalties. Djenné exploded in jubilation; all available mopeds and cars running backwards and forwards, their horns beeping for hours, rather drowning the other, more melodious sound produced by the chanting of prayers from the 50 Koran Schools of Djenné during this week of Maoloud.