Friday, April 26, 2013

I lied to Father Manolo.

Yes, I am afraid I did... I was booked in to stay at the Catholic Mission next to the Cathedral for my five day’s Bamako visit. But two days into my stay I got a better offer.
My friend Caroline invited me to stay once more in her lovely air conditioned house with its garden and pool. Now, the Catholic Mission is a very good place indeed. It has many things to recommend it- not least the price. And since this is a MaliMali business trip I can’t very well be spending our funds on an air conditioned  toubab hotel. But the Mission is certainly spartan. And it is 35 degrees in my room with a very feeble fan high up in the ceiling..Father Manolo and Father Jean Paul are quite rightly giving their attention and consideration to spiritual matters rather than to interior comfort and decoration. There is one luxury that Father Manolo allows himself however and that is a large wide screen TV in front of  which I found the football loving prelate last night, becoming discouraged at Madrid’s beating by Dortmund.
'I’m afraid I have to leave earlier than planned, Father,  something has come up’ I lied.  I didn’t elaborate, but the kind father Manolo looked quite concerned. ‘Oh, no nothing too serious I continued, ' but I do have to leave now.’  Why didn't I just say that I had been invited to stay at a friend's place? I am sure he wouldn't have minded. Quite ridiculous behaviour!
I am here to deliver MaliMali goods to Sylvie shop amongst other things. And I will soon be back  to send quite a few parcels off to Down Under in particular. The programme ‘The Road to Timbuktu’ has been very good for MaliMali and we have quite a few new orders. Before leaving Djenne we suffered some electricity cuts, so we could not quite finish a certain order. I therefore had to take it to a Bamako tailor.  While I  sat waiting for him to finish sewing I took the opportunity to study the latest Bamako fashions (see above).
The pictue  reminds me of M. Diarra, our school teacher who is running the adult literacy  class. I asked him to find one or two beautifu young Djenne girls to do some modelling for MaliMali. I explained that they needed to be THIN. He said he understood. However the prospective models that have been presented have all had the dimensions of the above beauties...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Onwards and Upwards...

...with this wonderful sketch from a manuscript I found this morning at the Djenne Manuscript Library. It is from an undated and incomplete document which arrived with a whole lot more in a bundle last week- a new acquisition from a Djenne family of the Bozo tribe.
The manuscript deals with Magic, as so many do.  It talks of both love and traditional healing, Mohammed tells me. Whether this drawing has any meaning or whether is just a decoration was not clear. It  looks as if it is taken straight out of a textile designer’s notebook c. 1950 I think. It is quite probable that is at least  150 years old however, because it belongs to a well known Djenne family who has not been operating in the field of maraboutage for several generations. Normally these sort of esoteric manuscripts have been produced in a family which has a Koran school and where the Paterfamilias is a Marabout.
So here comes MaliMali’s new fabric design!

Friday, April 19, 2013

After sunset

 I linger in the court yard after dinner, watched over by the newly risen Jupiter and a perfect half moon. Orion is beginning to make a timid appearance. I write in the light of one of the German storm lights which have illuminated the dinner tables at Hotel Djenne Djenno since the beginning. All is quiet, apart from the sound of Petit Bandit munching his millet not far away under the Flamboyant tree, the crickets and  the moezzin’s distant call to evening prayers.
All is still, but this stillness is deceptive. I am acutely aware that on another level of my reality time is hurtling past with ever increasing speed. The more my days are ordered by my pleasant routine (breakfast in the garden; a few hours in the studio; an hour’s siesta;  some grappling with impossible internet connection followed by a 30 minutes ride before shower and sunset cocktail; dinner in the garden. Evening reading a book or watching an old European film) the faster my days seem to pass. So what of it? That means Keita will come back soon, and I enjoy his being here. But it also inevitably means that he will soon be gone again, and we are only careering toward the Exit- what can be done... how to  slow it down?

Once again the image of the fast flowing river returns. We are stationary, tied up at our moorings while the wild river flows by, faster and faster. Meanwhile all the world is floating by us in tiny increments. We can watch it float by or we can reach out and gather in some of this flotsam. We have to chose carefully and only pick the stuff that concerns us- but there is so little time, and how do we know what concerns us? And with this material we might be able to create something if we are lucky enough to see the relevance of each increment when put next to another that we managed to pick up earlier... It is only like a puzzle really, although in a puzzle the pieces are there already, and in the river we have to gather them up first and understand...but what if we don't understand? There is no rehearsal either. It is not fair!  It is all too mysterious and precarious and it all moves too fast. The progress is all too inexorable. I am giddy. It will be over quite soon... nevermind.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Bambara Adventure

In order to mount a defence against encroaching and unaccustomed feelings of restlessness and uncertainty I have decided to launch myself into a new adventure. It is something I should have done years ago, of course. I am talking of The Bambara Adventure. I have half heartedly been studying the Lingua Franca of Mali for as long as I have been here, and have a relatively large vocabulary tucked away, but never used. Why? Because I used to run a successful hotel. I had to be obeyed instantly without my staff collapsing in laughing fits at my pitiful Bambara attempts.
‘How long has that couple been sitting over there waiting for their dinner? Too long! Get a move on and give them some bread at least to start with!’ That sort of salvo would not have been possible in bad Bambara.  But now my staff can have as much fun as they like at my expense- there is no one here. So this morning I arrived with a flourish: ‘Aw Ni Sogoma. Sisan ne be Bamanankan fo doron. Ne te Toubabokan don’ . (Good Morning. From now on I will speak nothing but Bambara. I do not understand the language of the Toubabos.) The last bit is quite fun: there is only one white man’s language here- whether you speak Dutch, English French or Lithuanian- it is all Toubabokan.
The staff has been exemplary. They have not laughed too much, but rather have endeavoured to speak to me slowly and clearly and with patience. This should only take a couple of weeks inshallah!
And other fun happenings is that my appearance on TV Down Under yesterday was quite a success if I can judge from the various emails that have arrived from strangers lavishing hugely misguided but  gratifying praise on me about what a wonderful person I am,  as well as making various interesting offers such as the kind woman who would like to come and help me in the MaliMali effort by  teaching  crochet to the locals...
I believe the programme can now be watched on

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Road to Timbuktu

Couldn't sleep so rather than tossing and turning under the mosquito net I got up to see if there was any connection- and yes, bingo! And an email from Down Under cheered me up: the programme is called 'the Road to Timbuktu' and it is to be shown on something called 'Foreign Correspondent' on Tuesday at 8pm in Australia. Here I am with Eric Campbell the reporter and David the cameraman.  Will they show a little snippet of the fashion show?
Yes, yes, I know I have been overdoing the Pirogue dress recently, and its in virtually every post... will wear something else next time, promise!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Heat, Dust and Uncertainty

Keita has left for Segou.
The thermometer shows  35 Celcius in my bedroom.
Great dust clouds are whipped up at the passing of a horse and cart or a moped. Most colours have disappeared and all is becoming a uniform pale ochre.  I go riding with Petit Bandit late afternoon across the great dusty plains, then  I sit alone on my sunset terrace watching the Djenne boys at their football games- little stick figures like a Laurie painting, surrounded by halos of dust with the Great Mosque behind.
After the excitement of the fashion show and the TV companies all has gone quiet. There is nothing on the horizon to work towards, and an unaccustomed feeling of abandonment and lack of direction has taken hold.
What will happen next? What should I do? Can I stay on here? For the first time since I arrived in Djenne, I am beginning to doubt my presence here. Everything was so clear before, now I don’t know...

Meanwhile the studio keeps going : Niamoye and Baji are preparing the loom for more bogolan rag rugs.
And the date palm is producing its first fruit this year!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Question of Kidal

‘What is happening in Kidal?’ Is the increasingly burning question asked by the entire Malian nation. Why is there no Malian army present in Kidal? The French army is there, and the Chadian Army.  It appears they are patrolling the town in the company of a still fully armed  MNLA.
‘Rebel Group in northern Mali marks anniversary’ announces Al Jazeera in a festive mood, stopping just short of congratulating the MNLA on the anniversary of its unilateral declaration of an independent state of Azawad.  There is a short film showing armed MNLA soldiers by a civic monument in Kidal, well-known to all Malians by now because of the film promoting the region of Kidal which is shown on ORTM every day.  The Al Jazeera’s journalist Mohammed Vall reports from Kidal. I am not quite sure what he says, unfortunately because my internet connection is too bad to use Flash Player.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, is urging reconciliation on his short visit to Mali. (Above with Dionkounda Traore)
The reconciliation is of course between the Touaregs and the rest of Mali’s population. The problem is that as long as the MNLA are not disarmed, there can be no reconciliation. The MNLA have refused to disarm, saying they are happy to negotiate however. The idea of negotiating with a fully armed MNLA is of course anathema to the rest of the Malians. So we have arrived at an impasse.
The French are treading a precarious line here and their position is becoming untenable.  It is not possible to support and fight for the reconquest of the Malian territory from rebel hands at the same time as supporting the MNLA.
Fabius did say at a press conference in Bamako:  When the time comes every group, the MNLA as much as any other armed group, will have to accept being confined (to cantonments) and giving up its arms," Although it is encouraging that he acknowledges this, France’s attitude to the MNLA has been  lenient to say the least.
 Mali has released, via Interpol, a list of ten men wanted for crimes ranging between murder, treason, sedition and drug smuggling. Some of these men have been arrested, some, like AG Ghali of the Ansar Dine, are probably hiding out somewhere in the northern desert. Others, such as  Moussa Ag Assarid, the MNLA spokesman are still being given interviews on France 24 and France Inter! This is a scandal and a huge provocation for the Malian people.
There has been much talk in the international press of the Touaregs’ fear of retaliation by the Malian Army. There should be no possibility of such retaliation in Kidal, since the Malian Army will be in the presence of a heavy contingent of French and Chadian soldiers who are already there. The arrival of the Malian soldiers cannot be delayed. The MNLA must be made to lay down their arms. Then the talks of reconciliation can begin, and whatever legitimate grievances the Touareg people may have can begin to be considered.
(A few hours later, I have read this to Keita. He wants to add some questions, and I will simply translate what he says:

Three questions to all the democrats of this planet who are now imposing elections on Mali by end of July:

Is it possible to talk of elections if the MNLA do not disarm?

Can there be two different armies in a democratic country?

Who is at the origin of Mali's problems, if it is not the MNLA? They are the cause of the coup d'etat and they are the once that invited the MUJAO and the other assorted criminals into the north.
Everyone who knows this country knows that Malians are not a violent people and that Malians are open to dialogue.)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Angelas Geschenk

Our German benefactor Angela was so pleased with Bill’s Well (see March) that she sent us some more money!


This time her gift to Malimali will pay for M.Diarra’s  adult literacy evening classes for  the next year. Keita and I popped in to Djenne to visit the  class tonight, and got a rapturous welcome. Here I am with M. Diarra and students, which  include Papa the chef, Pudg  our Man Friday who does just about everything, our little griot Karim and our electrician Aupipi.  
 So indeed, Dankeschon Angela!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Attack on Mourha

 Yesterday was a busy market day in the Fulani village of Mourha in the commune of Djenne, when the village was attacked by two armed men. The attackers struck the livestock area of the market, where comparatively large sums of money change hand: a head of cattle can sell for  3-400 000 FCFA (around 600E). The men, one an ethnic Fulani, one a Bella, traditionally the ‘slave tribe’ of the Touaregs, were heavily outnumbered,  disarmed and killed  by the crowd but not before they had managed to fire a round which caused non fatal leg wounds in two of the traders.  The bodies were brought to the Mairie of Mourha, where the Gendarmes of Djenne found them when they arrived, having been called to the scene as the nearest available authorities.

The liberation of the northern cities of Gao and Timbuktu  and the heavy presence of Malian and allied soldiers in the north has caused a large number of displaced elements  who are now roaming around the vast Malian country side, still in possession of their arms. These men may have been MUJAO, MNLA or formed part of any of the of the various rebel movements which held the North for nearly a year. If they now attack villages it can be viewed as simple banditism, but in certain cases, such as the village of Bougoumi ( see below), the civilian death toll of 20 seems too high to be explained simply by a raid for the purpose of stealing  the wherewithal for survival.
With regards to the events in Bougoumi, the ORTM published another communiqué relating to the massacre last night :

The Malian Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs, General Yamoussa Camara, informs national and international opinion that "one of the authors of the massacre, the former corporal in the National Guard Ag Ambi Hawa, a deserter from the ‘méhariste’  Unit of  Lere, has been arrested by the security services of Mauritania. "
This was a Touareg deserter from the Malian Army who had indeed joined the MNLA. Therefore the claim that the attack on Bogoumi was perpetrated by elements from the MNLA was not wholly erroneous.

This story is still totally ignored by the international press, who are now busy reporting the heavy fighting in Timbuktu during Easter Day, which has caused 7 casualties.