Friday, December 28, 2012

Yesterday morning it was time to take off the first bandages and let the first group of 25 people return to their villages.
It is mainly older people that develop cataracts, but this young boy had an accident on his eye and therefore developed a cataract which has now been removed.
This man on the right is one of five patients who were completely blind- they had all lost one eye for different reasons and then developed a cataract on the other eye. Dr Fayra –behind- just took off the bandage: the man is now able to count the fingers I hold up- he can see again!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The MaliMali Giraffe Dress and Giraffe Chiffon Scarf did finally make an appearance: on Christmas Day in Djenne. Much fun was had by all and the Turkey stuffing that I invented was a real hit- so much so that there was none left yesterday to my great consternation! Africans are normally very conservative in their eating habits, so when I said to Papa: 'do distribute the rest of the turkey to the staff and the gendarmes' I didn't think that the stuffing would be included. But yes. Not even a tiny little crumb left! I was very cross because I wanted to make myself a cold stuffing sandwich with some of the guava and whisky jelly! I just about managed to allow Christmas spirit to prevail... And the operations continue: more pictures tomorrow!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dr. Fayra Keita and his Team has arrived for the 100 Cataract operations:This is the second year MaliMali are able to offer this as a Christmas present for Djenne and the outlying villages. This year it was partly due to a large donation from Geraldton, Western Australia, from a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous. The rest, and largest part of the 4 000 000FCFA , was once more supplied by my wonderfully generous cousin Pelle and his wife Nanni in Sweden. It is possible that they want to remain anonymous too, but this time I want to blow the trumpet for them! So THANK YOU! And also thanks to several smaller donors during the last year for the activities of MaliMali Projects- see
And the Christmas tree is up! Birgit is still here, and Keita of course as well as a couple of friends up from Bamako to celebrate Christmas with us. Armed gendarmes are patrolling the perimeter of the hotel at night, on their request. Tonight the Balafon orchestra will play for us and the Cataract Team , we have slaughtered a sheep and the staff will join in too for our Christmas party!
Tomorrow the Djenne Griots will sing for us, and the Toubab Christmas will take place with Boubakar the gardener as Father Christmas once more, and a dinner with our turkey! See November blog.. I am inventing substitutes for traditional Christmas fayre: instead of Cranberry sauce we have just made 'Guava and Whisky Jelly, with a dash of Tamarind..' And the stuffing contains unripe pawpaw cut in dices, raw peanuts, roughly chopped, and Papa's DjenneDjenno Pesto! Who knows, maybe we are inventing something interesting..? Will keep you posted. Djenne Djenno wishes you a wonderful Christmas! May the next Year bring peace to Mali!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

There has been much activity in the studio and my hotel staff are becoming dab hands at the painting and dyeing techniques. The other day Birgit took Max and the carriage while I rode Petit Bandit to the Bani river and washed the bogolans.
The following morning we got up before the sun and caught the Djenne bus to Bamako: a gruelling 12 hour journey.
Although the fashion show was cancelled, Sylvie’s shop ‘Ethnic Women’ close by the Villa Soudan in Bamako opened on the 19th of December, with a small gathering of friends (Sylvie and I top right). The bogolan rag rugs, recycled from the scraps after cutting the garments out, are proving to be a hit, and we will have difficulty to produce enough! (see ‘furnishing’ page on But now we are once more back in Djenne, where this morning the cataract operation team arrived from Bamako in their operation vehicle, once more to operate on 100 patients. More of this later... Christmas preparations are also in full swing!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Alas, it is off. New emails have gone out to everyone, telling them that under the circumstances the Embassy has decided to postpone the fashion show until further notice ...But I will go to Bamako anyway, and new MaliMali things like the bedspread OVAL above will be available in Sylvie's shop.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is going on??? I had settled down, rather disappointed, to the fact that the fashion show was not going to happen. But then I receive the official invitation from the Embassy this afternoon! It has clearly been sent to every embassy in Bamako, and everywhere else of any note in the capital! I phoned the Ambassador’s secretary- (Carin is away for a few days. ) The secretary was not aware that the fashion show was cancelled! So what will happen now? Will Carin decide to send out new emails, cancelling the thing, or will she let it go ahead? Bamako is calm at the moment.. Watch this space.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I have been caught up in a whirlwind of hyperactive creativity, making new beautiful things . The propelling factor being that I absolutely have to look one million dollars in one week when I give my little speech to the assembled diplomats and moneyed classes of Bamako at the Villa Soudan, to welcome them and introduce the MaliMali Fashion show, sponsored by the Swedish Embassy. To this end I have created the immortal ‘Giraffe Dress’, to be worn with a matching Giraffe chiffon Scarf. I been so caught up that I have been oblivious to events around me.
At the same time, my dear old friend Birgit has arrived, so we have had much fun and drunk lots of Djenne Djenne Cocktails..
So, when Carin Wall, the Swedish Ambassador called me this morning, as I was cutting out something else in the studio, she took me by surprise. She told me that during the circumstances she would have to postpone the fashion show. What circumstances? I asked . Carin explained that Diarra, the Prime Minister of Mali was arrested by Captain Sanogo last night and forced to resign, with his government. Although Bamako is calm at the moment, these sorts of events are not propitious for the sending out of invitations to something as frivolous and unimportant as a MaliMali Fashion show. The event is off until further notice… But of course the clothes will go in to Sylvie’s new shop next to the Villa Soudan, and I will be going down anyway in a few days , to sort this out. What we had hoped to sell will of course be severely diminished. But these are just small matters in the bigger picture which is looking grim for Mali. I have not read any news. I only know that the guns and ammunition has finally arrived, and I guess that this was the trigger for this very foolish action, which may plunge the country into chaos. Who will help us now? The Malian Army has the guns and ammunition, but they will go on their own if they go, perhaps without the training and guidance which was necessary.. ALA KA AN DEME….. ALA KA AN KISSI….

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Lulie has passed away

My great friend and mentor Princess Lulie (see entries April 21, 2007, Sept 4, 2009) has finally passed away peacefully in her sleep a few days ago. The picture above was taken at her flat in London in June this year. She was –probably- 96 years old, although her three passports, Jordanian, Egyptian and British- told three different stories. I worshipped Lulie. I smoked the same cigarettes as she, I wore the same perfume, I tried to be Lulie. I failed of course, and became Sophie instead, which is perhaps Ok, too... But I became who I am because of Lulie. Lulie was buried at Mortlake cemetery yesterday, in a simple Islamic ceremony. There will be a party in her memory at the Chelsea Arts Club towards the spring, and I will go back to London for it, even if it is the wrong time for me to go to London. There will be an obituary of Lulie in the Independent. I wrote it over many years, pretending to need to go to the loo whenever she said anything revealing about her life, and then jotting the nugget down. I will of course post it here too. I went for mass at Bamako cathedral last Sunday and lit a candle for Lulie. But somehow to pray that she would Rest In Peace seemed inappropriate. It sounds too boring for Lulie. I hope instead that she is even now meeting all the people that she wanted to meet: Aristotle, Hume and Mozart etc.. They will be pleased with her arrival, while we will miss her here, and she can never ever be replaced....

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Times article

A Djenne Manuscript dealing with Astronomy or Astrology -the border line is quite fluid... I love the drawing of the stars! This is to introduce the article that Jerome just sent to me in text only. It appeared yesterday in the Times. Unfortunately I still cannot make any breaks in the text. I don't know what is wrong! Mali’s ancient lore of love and magic that al-Qaeda would like to destroy Jerome Starkey, Djenne Published December 1 2012 To make a woman fall in love, dip your nib in a cockerel’s blood and write a prayer across your palm. Then wipe that hand across your face and grasp the lady’s arm. It is, according to one of Mali’s ancient and endangered manuscripts, a certain way to win her heart. “She will love him and follow him forever,” insisted Alphamoye Djeite, an archivist and holy man charged with preserving thousands of Islamic scrolls in the adobe city of Djenné. The paper and parchment documents, which date from the 14th century, chronicle a mystical strand of Islam that is totally at odds with — and under threat from — the extremist views espoused by al-Qaeda and their allies, who captured the north of the country earlier this year. Militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb destroyed two 15th-century shrines in Timbuktu this summer, claiming they were un-Islamic. Djenné, which is linked to its more famous cousin by 500 miles of the Niger river, rivalled Timbuktu as a centre of medieval scholarship, where Islam fused with traditional animist beliefs idolatrous to al-Qaeda. “There are many things in the manuscripts: history, geology, astronomy, even magic,” said Mr Djeitie, in a room overlooking Djenné’s Great Mosque. “We want to save them for future generations.” The mosque, which is the largest mud structure in the world, drew 15,000 tourists in 2008 but a spate of kidnappings further north and a coup in March has put the country off-limits for most travellers. Staff at Djenné’s Manuscript Library have collected and photographed more than 120,000 handwritten pages since last year. Some are adorned with illuminations, others with swirls and elaborate shapes. Some include grids filled with numbers that resemble Sudoku squares that only the holy men can explain. The documents include poems about the Prophet Mohammed, tips on interpreting dreams, copies of the Koran and various kinds of spells. “We have found a high percentage of esoteric manuscripts, which is surprising because these matters of magic are normally kept secret,” said Sophie Sarin, a local Swedish hotelier who manages the Endangered Archives Programme, which is bankrolled by the British Library. The manuscripts were usually written by Islamic holy men, known as marabouts, who to this day prescribe an extravagant blend of animal sacrifices and talismans to solve all manner of everyday ills. Some of the manuscripts in Djenné’s Library claim to search out missing relatives. Others ward off danger and illness. Aboubakar Yaro, a fellow archivist, said that only the most complete manuscripts were accurately dated. Most were kept in people’s homes and passed from generation to generation. Many of the manuscripts’ current owners were reluctant to part with them for fear of relinquishing their magic powers, so the library only ever takes them in on loan. The instructions on winning a woman’s heart belonged to the Niafos, a family of fishermen who have lived in Djenné for generations. Like most residents, the Niafos were concerned about the threat from al-Qaeda and their fellow Islamists, who have captured an area larger than France and imposed strict Sharia. So the marabouts in Djenné convened a secret summit and did what marabouts do best. “All the marabouts . . . got together and we have done a lot of magic,” Mr Yaro said. “So the city is protected. God is between us and them. They can never come to Djenné.” ENDS