Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Burnt Out Case



I am becoming a sad character in a Graham Green novel. My recent attempt to go back to Djenné failed miserably.  
I went to Djenné with every intention to pick up where I left in mid August. I am still not well but I thought I would take it easy and try to run on half engine speed to start with. But already on the journey something weird happened: as I was approaching the town my fever returned and  I started feeling really sick again. As I arrived in my house in Djenné- which surrounded by water at this time- a stench of cadavre greeted me. I looked out of the window and saw a dead sheep floating swollen stiff with rigor mortis just outside. I went to the studio and found that during my absence for six weeks two thirds of my patterns had been chewed up by termites IN FRONT OF THE WORKERS who had noticed nothing.
I went into town to be present finally at the opening of the Djenné Museum after five years ( a scandal of huge proportions: built by European money but never opened ) but I had managed to get permission let us use it for an exhibition of Djenné manuscripts and a conference. I managed to drag myself in to town for this important event and on the way I looked at the mountains of filth everywhere  where the barefoot and naked children are playing with old razor blades merrily chucked on the ground by the Djenné population. That night I developed a terrible diarrhoea, I vomited and did not sleep a wink. I decided I had to leave Djenné immediately and after breakfast the following morning I signed cheques for the salaries for the next two months for hotel, studio and library staff, then I fled.
I saw nothing beautiful and wonderful in Djenné any longer. I saw only filth ignorance greed and impossibility, and where I used to feel compassion and an urge to help I now felt totally overwhelmed with a sense of impotence and a certainty that I would either go mad or turn into a monster if I stayed.
Djenné is hard as a diamond. I will cut myself to shreds if I attempt to stay: my body told me in the most forceful language possible to go. Life in Djenné can only be attempted in perfect health.

I am in Bamako at Eva’s now once more. Kind and generous as ever she insisted I came back. Keita is here  too, going n  through the last of his treatments for this time around, feeling relatively fine and doing well.
I am leaving for London on Monday where I will try and regain my health again to return with renewed vigour and enthusiasm ready to celebrate, hopefully with joy,  the ten years anniversary of that momentous day when I first walked into Djenné with Pia, Andrew et al  and my life changed forever.

7 Comments:

Blogger Gilliane said...

Oh dear Sophie, how terrible for you to have to face such physical pain and emotional torment. My thoughts are with you.

5:40 PM  
Blogger David said...

We will receive you with open arms and all the TLC of which we are capable. 'Hard as a diamond' is an inspired image, a sad emblem of all we hope to change. But also remember how weak and run-down you are, and viewing things very differently from usual.

Good to know in the midst of all this that Keita is relatively well. In the meantime, I'm reminded of a fabulous couple of lines in a book I know you'd love, Lila, third in a series of novels about a single place, Gilead, and group of people: 'The best things that happen I'd never have thought to pray for. In a million years. The worst things just come like the weather. You do what you can.'

8:01 PM  
Blogger David said...

Marilynne Robinson is the author, I forgot to put that in - one of the best I've ever read. There's great consolation and grace as well as toughness in these books.

8:02 PM  
Blogger mary said...

So pleased that Keita is 'relatively fine' - it sounds a positive state to be in. Not quite so for you, it would seem. I do hope that your trip to explore Western medicine reaps good results and that your feelings towards Djenne will once again be understanding and positive. You have shared so much together.
We look forward to the usual balanced and perceptive muses from you again soon.
Mary

8:57 PM  
Blogger Laurent said...

Wishing you a speedy recovery and better health.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Marianne Leitch said...

Get better Sophie. A break will do it

9:59 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Dear Friends,
Those of you who have read my journal for some time know that one of the wonders of the African experience is the extremes one lives through: I know and I have faith that I will be back with restored health and that I will be able to pick up again and live once more the life I have loved in Djenné- and that Keita will be there too!

3:46 PM  

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