Friday, September 27, 2013

A precarious peace...

‘Le Mali est de retour. Oui, avec l'appui des pays amis, le Mali est debout, et  tourne la page la plus sombre de son histoire.’
‘Mali is back again. Yes, with the support of friendly nations, Mali has once more arisen and turned the darkest page of her history’.
Such were the words of President IBK when he addressed the United Nations in New York today.

But at the same time, there was a grenade attack today at Kidal on the Malian army soldiers who guard the bank. Two soldiers hurt. And the MNLA has just announced it no longer wants to negotiate with the Mali government, which had been the plan according to the Ouagadougou agreement of ceasefire which allowed to elections to go ahead in the entire Malian territory. For the MNLA there will be nothing apart from an independent Azawad. For Mali there is nothing apart from a Mali with its borders and integrity intact. So, what will happen now? I am flying back to a Mali not far from continued conflict...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What fun to have my old flat back! 
That meant that we could have a fund raising evening for MaliMali last night. We made over £600 with promises of more coming in. And how was all this cash generated?
Well, for a start, there were no less than three competing fortune tellers.
There was the impossibly glamorous Madame Sosostris  AKA Amanda in African feather hat who did a whole selection of magic including card readings. Here Clare seems to be enjoying the predictions.

Her husband Nicholas, almost equally glamorous in his turban, had the lovely Madame Claire Voyant AKA Kathy predict his future in tea leaves.

And last but not least among our fortune tellers there was Ms Giulietta  AKA Juliette with her pack of Feminist Tarot Cards (?!) Andrew looks very attentive and to the right Charlotte who has spent a lot of time in Djenne.

 But that was not all.
There was our gambling expert Daisy who ran the Black Jack table with great success looking gorgeous here (right) in MaliMali above: I am about to count the evening’s takings which had been accumulating in a tea pot.

There was also an auction for the embroidered cloth from the Bozo women of Djenne which fetched £100 from darling Jeremiah (holding the cloth).

We had lots of fun- many guests belonged to the  Salonistas’, the people who came here for my open Tuesdays in 2003-2005, before I left for Mali. we have  Pia of Djenne Djenno fame ( find her in blog search above) and Henrique , two of the most frequent of the Salonistas..

And of course there was MaliMali clothing on sale: here is Salonista  Lucy in her new Coat Dress!

I now have only a few days left in England and I am beginning to feel the change: Africa has started to claim me back in small increments. There are hundreds of things to do: the above Margoya for instance is being  made into a silk screen which I will  bring back with me to use for printing with mud.  Every time I manage to tick off one of the many tasks I have to achieve here before leaving I am letting England go while leaving a little space where Africa enters.

Friday, September 20, 2013


I am looking out over the familiar view from my Ladbroke Grove window. In the foreground the library, in the distance Trellic Tower providing  the iconic skyline of my Notting Hill. I will leave in a little over a week.  Soon my feet will once more touch the soil of my  beloved Africa.
I am listening to ‘Buena vista Social Club’ for the first time since 2005. This music is forever linked to this view and this my London flat in my mind.  It was the soundtrack to my impossible love affair during the hot summer of 2005: a passionate, overwhelming but ultimately doomed affair which I misunderstood for love. At Christmas time 2005 when I left for Mali with my 8 friends nothing remained except pain and a wish to go far, far away...
Before leaving for our holiday I wrote in my diary:
It is Christmas Eve 2005, nearly 6 in the morning. I  will go to Africa on Boxing Day. Maybe I won’t come back. Something will happen in Africa, I think- something which will change, or end my life. ‘
I was right. Something did happen in Africa. I found a totally new life which lay there, waiting for me to discover it.
If you ever read this, You, my impossible love of 2005, please know that it was all necessary and good. If it had not been for you I would never have left to discover my new life. Therefore I am eternally grateful to you, and I can listen to 'El Carretero' and ‘Candela’ now with nothing but  love and happiness in my heart although as I am writing this my face is wet with tears of amazement over the indescribable beauty of the divine twists and turns of life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jamaica, Mells Manor, Rossetti and Baobab Fruit...

I have just spent a lovely weekend in Somerset. I went down by train with my friend Clare to support Andrew who was giving a talk about his family’s connections with Jamaica and the village of Comerton.  The talk was held in the lovely little village church  (which had some interesting effigies). The entire village population had seemingly turned out and there was cake and coffee in the interval- I felt as if had walked into an old Agatha Christie film, it was all so very charming and English. Andrew was on great form and spoke eloquently about Jamaica; the Kerr-Jarretts and the Jarrett-Kerr’s – yes, one branch of the family is called one thing and the other branch is called the other, for some reason which I never quite fathomed...
Clare’s family home where we stayed is the wonderful 16th century Mells Manor. I had always wanted to see it, because my beloved friend and mentor Princess Lulie  often spoken about it. She used to go and stay, and described it as ‘the coldest house in England’. Her connection with the family was ‘Trim’, Julian Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith with whom she danced at the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo during the war. (See January 8,  2013: my obituary of Lulie  from the Independent )
Sadly  both Lulie and ‘Trim’ are now gone, and I never had the pleasure of meeting him. The new Earl and Countess are Clare’s brother Raymond and his wife, also called Clare. They were the kindest of hosts and we had a lovely time. I slept in ‘the Oak Room’ where I was watched over by a version of Rossetti’s La Donna della Finestra which looked almost like this picture- I am so annoyed that I managed to forget to bring a camera! The Manor has lots of exciting things to look at, such as the embroidered scarf that Mary Queen of Scots wore when she heard her death sentence, as well as a many Burne-Jones paintings. It has a choice of lovely fireplaces which all seemed to be lit; this was welcome since the weather was pretty grey and cold. But Lulie would no longer be able to describe Mells as ‘the coldest house in England’ for it has been totally refurbished and is now warm and comfortable. It is a very friendly and cosy house, luckily devoid of any ghosts (I did remember to ask before going to bed just in case...)

I wanted to bring a gift of some description and was mulling this problem over- finally decided to bring the baobab fruit that I had bought on the side of the road  between Djenne and Bamako as I was leaving for Europe. The fruits were no longer as pretty as they had been when I bought them, when they had been covered in a light green moss like ‘velvet’.  This had dried and discoloured, but would nevertheless provide an exotic gift I thought, and I had also got a plastic bag of the baobab powder which is derived from the inside of the fruit, dried and pounded. This powder is used for making juice. It would be good with some gin I thought- fortunately my hosts were adventurous enough to let me try out my new cocktails on them after Mass on Sunday (held in a little chapel in the grounds). My hunch was correct- the baobab juice is delicious with gin. It will be our new Djenne Djenno cocktail and it will be called the Mells Baobab cocktail.
I hope Raymond is going to plant a baobab in his greenhouse- I think the seeds are found in the fruit...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

There is no need for me to write anything today- just go and visit David's blog: you will get a much better travelogue and account of a late summer  visit to my mother and husband's Dalarna in Sweden   than I can come up with, complete with detailed culinary trials.. !
 People sometimes bear a slight resemblance to something from the animal kingdom, and I remember playing a fun game called 'what sort of Bathroom are you?' In this game  one has to guess who one is talking about by describing them as say, a bathroom; a plant; a style of music or indeed an animal. Well, if we played this game and my mother's husband Gillis (above) was the person to be so discribed, I would definitely describe him as an elk. A forester by profession; a great hunter and wildlife expert  he must have slowly adopted its looks and characteristics over a whole lifetime...

Thursday, September 05, 2013


‘Who is looking after the hotel when you are away?’ people ask me. Well, this time it is Baba, and he is doing a great job. There are not many guests around- hardly any in fact, but I am in almost daily contact with Baba to see if everything is OK.
Baba has been with us from the very beginning of the hotel in 2006 when he was only 19 years old. (look up ‘sleepy little native’ in blog search above) He started as a waiter, but  he now does just about everything including showing people to their rooms, preparing the bills and negotiating  room rates with difficult guests. He does the two latter tasks better than I, who have very little patience and tend to get annoyed with guests who want to negotiate.
There was just one such guest at the hotel for the first round of voting in the recent presidential elections. It was an Italian election observer, sent out by the EU. I showed him our nicest room. He said he wanted  something  cheaper (the room in question is about E35). When I showed him a smaller and cheaper room he asked again if there wasn’t anything  even cheaper on offer. I said that I could possibly give him a room where we switched the air conditioning off, but as I was saying this I could feel myself getting annoyed.  I should have walked away but instead I heard myself saying: “You are with the EU are you not?” He replied in the affirmative. “Well, don’t they pay for your accommodation?” I knew very well that in Bamako he would have been staying in hotels that were much more expensive. “Yes they give us a  Per Diem”  he said.  So I understood that he wanted to put as much as possible of this is his pocket of course.   I continued with mounting irritation:
“ We have been surviving here for nearly two years now with virtually no guests. The rare ones that come all want to negotiate, saying that because of the crisis we should be giving lower rates.  I personally don’t see the logic in that argument.  It should be the other way around! We are the only place open  and still surviving in Djenne.  And you are here for the EU! I can’t believe you are asking me to give you a room where we should switch off the air conditioning so you can save some money!” then I swung around in disgust  and  wandered off, leaving   Baba to deal with the situation. Somewhat chastised, the man took the smallest air conditioned  room. But he continued being a nuisance and asked the price for everything, including a bottle of coke. Baba was also getting increasingly irritated.
As Baba’s  work tasks have increased  in importance, so has his confidence and  the amount of autonomy he is allowed. There are fixed prices at the hotel of course, but when the EU observer had left the hotel and Baba gave me the money and the copy of the bill that he had made out, I was very surprised to find that the Italian  had been charged twice the normal price for a very simple couscous with vegetable sauce.  “But why Baba? This is not the normal price!” I exclaimed.
“I didn’t like him,” said Baba, stony faced.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

IBK sworn in

I travelled to Shropshire today on a train  through a smiling and sunny English country side. Meanwhile,  in torrential downpour in Bamako the new Malian President was sworn in:

"I swear before God and the People of Mali to preserve faithfully the Republican system; to respect and to ensure that  the Consitution and the Law is  respected; to fulfil my functions according to the interest of the Malian people; to preserve the gains of democracy; to guarantee  national unity, independence and territorial integrity."

The ceremony was conducted in the presence of the international diplomatic corps and the leaders of the departing interim government who have governed Mali in the last 18 months or so. These included Cheik Modibo Diarra, ousted in December as Interim Prime Minister. There was another dignitary present, whose invitation  also illustrates the characteristic Malian traits of forgiveness and generosity: Moussa Traore,  Mali's dictator  during 23 years (and friend of my Keita's father) not only graced the inauguration with his presence, he also enjoyed sustained applause from the crowd.  ATT however, who led the coup that overthrew Moussa Traore in 1991, was not present. It seems that he is now less popular than the dictator he overthrew.
The problem with the Malian state is that the President wields too much power. And we know what happens, don't we? 'Power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely' in the well worn quote of Lord Acton.
But fortunately the Malian president does not quite wield absolute power. So let's wish IBK well and let's hope and pray he will be a wise and fine president to lead Mali back on course again.
Vive IBK!
Vive le Mali!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Out of Africa

Spent a blissful Sunday doing Notting Hill things such as going to mass at St. Francis of Assissi, then having wineflowing lunch with old pal and Mali veteran Andrew and Sandra- we ended up at Andrew's pad watching Out of Africa for the hundreth time...and this is what we looked like at the end making use of  Andrew's liberally supplied Kleenex....
But this was a Sunday Special.
I am otherwise  hectically engaged in useful occupations like the revamping of my flat, and the organizing of a hundred  practical details to do with the prosaic side of life... so correspondence will be brief and lacking in Mali connections for this month of September.