Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bamoye's Guitar 2

Last night Père Noel arrived!
And guess what? He gave the hotel guitar to Bamoye, who sang Sophie Ya Fama and added a new verse: Sophie Iniche! (Thank you Sophie.)

Peace and Joy once more from Hotel Djenne Djenno.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from Hotel Djenné Djenno!

This year there are only Keita, Birgit and I here. But tonight just after sunset Père Noel, AKA Boubakar the old gardener  will once more turn up and there will be Christmas presents for everyone! So more about that later...

Thank you kind donors!

This Christmas  there was not enough money to call the cataract team. But through kind donations from several corner of the world, notably Sweden and Germany we are instead  the middle of a Trachoma campaign, and 50 people will be cured from this debilitating eye desease which will cause blindness if not cured in time through a simple operation. Here is Barry operating on a village woman who has already lost the sight in one eye, but the second one will now be saved. More pictures to follow!

But I wanted to talk about something else:

Bamoye’s Guitar

Keita's friend Bamoye and I have some things in common :
First and importantly KarKar makes us cry. KarKar (Boubakar Traoré) is a Malian troubadour who pares down his performance by guitar and voice to the bare essentials : there is not a word  or a chord which is not necessary. And what is there is extremely simple :  just love and loss, love and reunion ; love and loss. All of Kar Kar is about love.
Now, Bamoye is a Romantic and a kinded spirit. He is also a welder. I had entrusted him with my version of the Mies van der Rohe chairs, and he did the sample  beautifully. The problem is when I then gave him a big order for 16 chairs and bought all the material, he handed it all over to his apprentices, who made it all into a dog’s dinner. I was extremely annoyed , but this is a very long time ago now. Since then we have seen each other a lot of times : Bamoye is one of Keita’s best friends .  Bamoye plays the guitar : he did not have one of his own, but used to come to the hotel to play the guitar we have here. Bamoye made a song for me with the lyrics : ‘Sophie Ya Fama!',  (Sophie, forgive me!’) this song was very moving and  KarKar himself could not have done better and of course I forgave him- I had forgiven him a long time ago.

About four years ago when there was plenty of tourists here and many musicians returning from Timbuktu’s Festival in the Desert, there was a young man here with his guitar. He ran into  Bamoye one night and they stayed up on my sunset terrace almost from sunset to sunrise and played together - Bamoye played the hotel guitar and the young musician asked him to teach him the song ‘Forgive me Sophie’, which he did. As a thank you present the young musician gave Bamoye his guitar when he left !

So Bamoye played his guitar which he cherished more than anything that he owned. One day Bamoye had to go away for a few days. While he was away an acquaintance arrived at his house and said to Bamoye’s wife : ‘ Give me Bamoye’s guitar, he told me I could have it when he was away’. So Bamoye’s wife gave it to him. When Bamoye came back home there was no guitar. ‘Where is my guitar ?’ asked Bamoye. ‘I gave it to your friend’ said Bamoyes’s wife.
What followed was a high tension drama which involved a large number of Djenné inhabitants who took different sides in the dispute which ensued . When Bamoye finally  found the guitar it was ruined. He had never given his consent for his acquaintance to take the guitar and use it.  Bamoye became so incensed that he  wanted to divorce his wife. He banished her from his house with their three children. She was living with her parents for several weeks until both Keita and I intervened and said ‘ You can’t divorce your wife for the sake of a guitar !’ The rest of Djenne filed passed Bamoyes’s abode and said about the same thing.  Eventually Bamoye took her back . When I told Birgit this story she said : ‘Why can’t you divorce your wife for the sake of a guitar ? I totally understand . It was his most precious thing in the entire world !’
And last night Bamoye came to play the hotel guitar….

Sunday, December 22, 2013

How Nice!

I have had even worse connection than usual, so was not able to reply in time  to a request from these people who wanted to include me in their list of best bloggers- but I find they included me anyway! This is something connected to Huffington Post I believe...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Born to be Wild

Back in Djenné now for nearly a week. Birgit had already arrived and Keita too. Christmas preparations are in full swing, but in between draping the solar Christmas lights  we travel around town on my Yamaha trail bike as usual and that is quite fun. She used to go out with an English Hell’s Angel in her distant past, and we laugh and sing (shout) ‘Born to be Wild’ at the top of our voices as we are crashing about Djenné to the bemusement of the locals:
keep your motor running/Head out on the Highway/ Looking for Adventure/ Or whatever comes out way! Like a true Nature's Child We were Born, Born to be Wild...!

When she is not out terrorising the village population, Birgit has been making herself useful and endearing herself to Boubakar, the donkey foal and she brushes him every day.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Is it possible to imagine anything more elegant than a Djenne Notable in his Grand BouBou? I think not.
On the right of me is Badra Dembélé, one of the Djenné town councillors. On the far left is Babou Touré, another town councillor and also part of the Library Committé and one of my two advisors and collaborators on the digitization project. On the left side of me is Hasseye Traoré,  Grand Marabout de Djenné and President of the Library Committé.
We are looking quite happy- that is because we are about to hand over a copy of  the hard drive with the 150 000 images from the last two years work at the Djenné Manuscript Library to the Archives Nationales in Bamako.
At least twenty people had come all the way from Djenné for the ceremony, as well as many of the Djenné population that now reside in Bamako.
There was Phil Boyle, the British Ambassador who handed over the hard drive to the Director of the Archives Nationales and there was in the audience the new Swedish Ambassador Eva Emneus. So I was spoilt by the ambassadors of both 'my' countries!
more pictures  on
I did make a speech and I was later interviewed by the Guardian - a very nice chap called Charlie. I told him by the by that I had been cross with some of the Guardian's coverage of the Mali crisis...  I hope he went off to check 'guardian' in the blog search above...
...and then this morning I had to get up at 6.30 to go across town and see a journalist from the BBC- I was live on the World Service on something called News Day, talking about the Djenne manuscripts!

And now on to the next reason why I am in Bamako: tomorrow's SANTA, the Christmas fair. Rush Rush Rush!!!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Dust and Deuxième Tour (Second round)

The Harmattan is sweeping in from the North, bringing fine sand  from the Sahara and a noticably cooler temperature. The Djenné population have taken to  wearing their wooly hats again( it is now about 25- 30 degrees C instead of 45..) and are gearing up for the second round of the elections.  It had looked as if Djenné  had already achieved  the necessary result since one of the candidates- the present MP- had received  51 % of the votes in the first round, and that is enough to win outright. But the population of Djenné was not happy, not even the supporters of the winner. Why ?
‘Why can’t we have a second round here ? Everywhere else does !’ went the rumblings  of discontentment .   I must say that I joined the chorus. Not for any political reason- far from it.  But elections are a lucrative business for a tourist town which is on its knees from lack of tourists. Election observers and officials must be fed and must have somewhere to sleep and some will hopefully return to Hotel Djenne Djenno.
If that was all, that would be well and above board. But there are more sinister reasons... Levy, my journalist friend told me this evening that there is hardly a family in Djenné and the surrounding villages that has not been paid something for their promise of a vote. There are millions being distributed by the candidates to ensure victory.  The youths that are making a nuisance of themselves tearing around town on their motos shouting 'vote RPM- Adema' or 'vote URD' are not doing it fur fun, as I had naively believed, but they are being paid! Naturally, all these people  don't want to lose out on the payment of a second round!
So, could this be  the reason  why there have been suddenly ‘irregularities’ discovered in three neighbouring villages, making the final figure go down to  49% for the winning side, thus not enough to sail through in the first round ?
Whatever- I 'm afraid I say Hurrah! for the second round too…
The Deuxième Tour is scheduled  for next Sunday but I will not be here. Two major events are calling me to Bamako : first of all on Thursday the 12th there is our long awaited ceremony for the handing over of the hard drive containing the 2 years of digitized Djenné manuscripts  to the National Archives. Phil Boyle , the British Ambassador  who came to visit us in June, has kindly promised to be present, and the event will be televised on Malian TV. I will have to say something of course . I keep wondering what to wear….Hmmm….let’s see :  I think it will have to be my embroidered Djenne boubou, with the big Peul earrings…
Ah, and yes, on Saturday there SANTA,  the big Christmas Fair for the Bamako toubabos. MaliMali will be there of course !

Saturday, December 07, 2013


I can't not say at least something about the passing of Mandela- although everything has been said already I have to at least add my little voice from Djenné into the great madrigal of world  homage.
I cannot claim to have met him, nor to have any new insights in to his life but I have noticed that he is revered  and will be remembered for the most noble of human virtues and qualities:


and probably I have forgotten something: yes, of course, Tenacity and Faith  (although I am not sure about the details: I don't know anything about this side of him...)

Rest in Peace Mandela.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The mystery of Karim

 Karim, my griot/gardener’s assistant/groom/chamber’maid’ (yes, since the Mali crisis started most of the staff have had to fulfil multiple functions) is a very unusual person. No one understands him, but that is part of his strange charm. He came from Yangasso one day out of the blue some years ago now asking me to give him a job. ( see June 10, 2011 and June 19, 2013) Noone knows where he eats or where he sleeps- although I have my suspicions that he sleeps in the laundry room... He is infuriatingly  incompetent in many ways: he can’t see cobwebs for instance, and therefore never removes them. He has made it quite clear that he thinks I am making a frightful fuss over nothing concerning the rubbish disposal- he is the one supposed to burn things and put things in their designated places.
Sometimes I ask him to sing when we have guests. He is a griot after all, and that is the main reason why I took him on.   I thought it would be nice for hotel guests to be serenaded now and then.  When he sings he will get something more than usual of course- I will pay him something extra even if the guests don’t.  But he can’t be commanded- at least in this respect. ‘Will you sing for us tonight Karim?’ I ask hopefully. ‘Non’, is the reply more often than not. There is no point of asking him why. He won’t reply.

But he is not insolent or impolite at all. He is just very much in charge of himself. He is very ‘cool’ : that is how I think I would have described him when I was a teenager.  Sometimes he does accept to sing, and then he brings his red painted Kamale Goni and sings my praises all night long.


Although we have our differences when it comes to cleaning matters etc, there is one area where we do understand each other perfectly: my little griot loves animals, and they love him. Most Malians are indifferent and even cruel to animals. I am now potty about my little donkey foal Boubakar, and Karim laughs approvingly about this. He also knows that I love my stubborn little horse Petit Bandit, who has taken to following me around the large enclosure that surrounds the MaliMali studio and my house. He does this not because he loves me, sadly, but because I have an inexhaustible supply of burro (bread) in my bag, and he is a dominikelaba  (a glutton).

Karim’s greatest fan is our little cat Sogolo (named after the mother of Soundiata Keita).  She follows him around all day long- more like a puppydog than a cat, which I thought were supposed to be more independent. Whenever you see Karim, you can be certain that Sogolo is not far away. It is because he feeds her, yes, but I think their love affair goes deeper than that. It is a very sensual affair actually. Sogolo uses Karim quite unashamedly  as a caressing machine.

Every morning when Karim is using the foot pump for the pumping of  the water from the well to water the garden, Sogolo is there, using his feet for her pleasure...!