Sunday, October 28, 2012

The following morning Al Hadj called me from the Manuscript Library and spoke in a muffled voice: ‘Samba is here. He has cut off the electricity and said the project is stopped’. ‘What utter nonsense’ I replied. ‘ Call the gendarmes!’ Then I phoned Yelfa, above right. (And here we get to the gist of this story- the rest is only a preamble.) ‘Where are you Yelfa? ‘ I yelled without giving him a chance to respond. Then I launched into a brief synopsis of the library situation before instructing him breezily; ‘ Just get yourself down to the Library and sort this out can you? Get the gendarmes in if needs be!’ ‘Ok’ replied Yelfa , unusually quietly I thought. ‘I don’t think there is any necessity for the Gendarmerie, though.’ ‘Well whatever. Just sort it. I have just about had enough of this! I barked back. In the evening Yelfa passed by. Everything was calm at the Library. Samba had settled down and even cried a bit, saying he didn’t know what had come over him. Yelfa and I conversed about this matter for some time. The Yelfa said quietly: ‘ When you phoned me this morning I was at the funeral of my little five- year old girl. She was ill with malaria yesterday and we took her to the hospital. But during the night she died and we buried her this morning. ‘I have had other children die, but they were only one or two months old. This little girl ran towards me every time I came home shouting ‘Papa! Papa!’ She sat on my lap and we ate together every day. ‘ Yelfa told me this in a matter of fact way which did not mask entirely the pain he was feeling. I was humbled and shaken. How could he have even replied to my phone call about this stupid Samba business ? How could he have been discussing it with me for at least half an hour before even telling me about this? Again and again I am astonished at the reaction to death here. It seems to me like total submission, far, far from our notion of struggle, and Dylan Thomas’s battle cry ‘Rage Rage against the Dying of the Light’... Death stalks the muddy streets and lanes of Djenne, ever-present and insatiable...


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