Friday, December 12, 2014


  Finnish is a wonderful language- not that I understand it at all, but it does sound fantastic. Just take the only Finnish word in my vocabulary, which I just learnt: Kotitonttu. In Swedish it is called ‘hustomte’, and this may well be a Scandinavian concept impossible to translate- it is a kind of small friendly creature with a beard who does useful things around the house quite unnoticed. He is particularly prevalent around Christmas time and is related to Santa’s little helpers . One is supposed to feed him porridge by setting out a plate at night.  Apparently the only time the kotitonttu become angry is when the porridge is missing.

 I know this Finnish word now because I have had a week’s visit at the hotel by the lovely Staffan and Yarmo who are Finnish but live in St. Louis Senegal where they run an artists’  residence.  Now these two bore a striking resemblance to kotitonttus: They both have beards;  they spent the entire time in Djenne quietly doing useful things like experimenting with indigo: wrapping up poles with dyed cloth and sewing other samples; they even brought their own porridge along in the shape of a tin of Quaker oates which we taught Baba to make for breakfast.  But most of all they just excerted such a peaceful and calming influence over me, who need to spend more time with such creatures,  learning from them to be more kind and undertanding...
Now they are gone . I have left Birgit in charge of the hotel and and I also left for Bamako this morning before dawn with Dembele, crossing the Bani in a pirogue before the first ferry in order  to get to the Djenné Carrefour and catch the first Bani bus from Mopti- we just made it with not even a minute to spare!  Then we endured/enjoyed one of those familiar, gruelling bus journey days travelling  down the main artery of Mali through San; Bla and Segou- the journey punctuated by the obligatory stops at the ‘gates’- the control points at the entrance and exit of every town. Often a gendarme will get on the bus and check people’s identity cards or in my case, passport. I remember  all my journeys through so many countries in Africa in the past; always with these check points. What is the point? It does not even have anything to do with security and the recent Malian crisis. It was always this way. Maybe it is to give all those sellers of local produce an opportunity to board the bus to sell their goods? In any case there is always a mad scramble of mostly young girls who crowd into the bus energetically promoting their wares with piercing voices: ‘Sefan Be! BallaBalla Sefan Be!’  boiled eggs!  Pomme Be! Apples!  Gateaux Be!
Dembele and I are in Bamako yet again for the SANTA Christmas Fair, the opportunity to sell some MaliMali goods this Friday. Happily this event co- incides with that most Swedish of  pre-Christmas celebrations: St.Lucia, and there is a big party at the Swedish  Ambassador’s residence tomorrow to which I am invited- in fact I am staying here and just as I am writing this the Bamako Choir is practising tomorrow night’s performance wearing long white robes and grappling with the unfamiliar Swedish lyrics.


Blogger Susan Scheid said...

Ah, Finnish! It looks musical on the page, even, doesn't it? But we were grateful, when in Finland, for the signage in Swedish. Although we didn't know your language at all either, we could just about make out certain words! Have a lovely holiday season, Sophie!

2:40 AM  
Blogger roguekira said...

Kotitonttu - a lovely post!!!
...once upon a time we had such creatures in Germany too.
you might like to read the ballad about them

10:25 AM  
Blogger David said...

Glad you get the seasonal works there - the Kotitonttu (plural?) sound enchanting, lovely guests to have around, and you deserve them. And I've always wanted to go to the Santa Lu-see-ya festivities at the Swedish Embassy but the diplomate has so far failed to oblige.

I don't remember the checkpoints on our own 'gruelling bus journeys': are they post-conflict?

Are you staying put in Mali for the festive season, then? How's Keita?

11:42 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

A Happy Christmas to you Susan David and Rougekira! And thank you for the link: Ja; tatsachlich Shade! O weh! I Wonder why the species died out in Germany?
And David I rather fancy Kotitontti as the plural; but who knows? If anyone does know please tell us!

5:02 PM  
Blogger Laurent said...

A very Happy Christmas to you and hope you have a wonderful New Year. Thank you for your blog, always fascinating to read.


4:23 AM  
Blogger Ans said...

dear Sophie, where is your shop in Bamako? I'm visiting Mali for 10 days next week, mostly in Bandiagara with my family in-law, but if I have time I would like to visit your shop in Bamako
I love your blog. I think we have met a couple of years ago, when I had fallen ill and was lying in a hotel in Djenne. I think you were the one who passed by to see how I was doing. I never took the opportunity to thank you for that. It is engraved in my mind, and I would like to thank you now and wish you a good holiday season and a good and healthy start of the New Year

5:04 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

And a very Happy Christmas to you too Laurent) thank you for reading! and Ans- I wonder if you were the very sick girl that my Keita treated at Chez Baba but more that a couple of years ago now... I was with him then and we were quite worried about you for a moment. Alas I don't have a shop in Bamako ; but if you are going to the Dogon country, please pop in to see us in Djenné again!
A happy Christmas to you and your family!

8:45 PM  

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