The two last months in Bamako have been high drama with
elements of a life and death nature: only a month or so ago we thought that
Keita was slipping away, and then, not to be robbed of the limelight I added my
own on-going health crisis. And throughout all this the Swedish Embassy
Residence with Eva as its lovely chatelaine has been our privileged setting- a
great consolation in the midst of our tribulations.
Eva has, without being conscious of it, reintroduced me to
my Swedishness. I left Sweden when I was seventeen years old and have never
lived there since. I call her ‘Moder Svea’ which is something that only Swedes
will understand: for Brits it might be Boadicea and for the French Marianne?
The ‘Mother of the Nation.’ I am sure the many Swedish UN soldiers that pass
through here and partake of her lavish receptions for Lucia; Valborgsmassoafton
and other Swedish events would agree with me happily with this choice of
nickname for Eva who is warm; friendly; generous as well as a passionate believer in Democracy,
particularly the Swedish type.
We watched Swedish films, including a biopic of Olof Palme
-our great albeit flawed national hero- as well as a whole plethora of excellent
and very violent thrillers set in glorious Swedish landscapes, such as the two
films ‘Jagarna’ (the Hunters). When
Keita was with us we sometimes watched films about Algeria where Eva was
ambassador in her previous posting. Then
Sotis, Eva’s majestic black cat would sit purring on Keita’s lap.
Eva is a great cook, a gourmet and a gourmand. She has seen to it that I am reintroduced to
all the great classics of Swedish cuisine: Biff
à la Lindstrom for instance was one great dish that I had forgotten all
about. In the picture above she is showing something Algerian though: Orange au Sultan.
We have drunk wine in lovely glasses with three crowns etched in the crystal while we have listened to
Swedish folk music in jazz interpretation; we have talked about just about everything: often about our childhood memories of Sweden in the sixties and early seventies.
.We have floated around in her beautiful swimming pool at
the weekends where we have talked, planned interesting parties and laughed a lot. There seemed to be an inexhaustible fountain of stimulating, fascinating, important and even just ordinary fun things to talk about.
There was only one sensitive subject matter: Eva is of course, as she
should be, wholeheartedly behind the UN peacekeeping mission
in Mali (MINUSMA)-with over 200 Swedish UN soldiers in the Camp Nobel just
outside Timbuktu. The Malian people however are to some extent skeptical of
the UN’s presence and there reigns a sullen mistrust of intentions: to the
extent that there have been anti MINUSMA demonstrations in Bamako. ‘What are
they actually DOING?’ asks the ordinary Malian. I have been in Mali long enough
to be almost an ordinary Malian... The one and only argument we had during the
whole two months related to this subject and to recent Malian history, a
painful area for me.
I have now finally left Bamako and both Keita and will
treasure that two months interlude at Eva’s, even though both of us, by some strange
twist of fate, have been through serious illness during this time- it is a very
good place to be sick...
So here I find myself in London, still unwell but armed
with some optimism and faith in the National Health Service’s ability to sort
me out. It seems that my hopes are not unfounded. I listened to the advice of
several friends who suggested that I go to the walk-in clinic at The Hospital
of Tropical Diseases in order to rule out any possibility of some sort of parasite
still lingering. They have taken me on wholeheartedly. The young doctor ( “Hello!
I am Emma”) looks about eighteen but is certainly keen and energetic: all tests possible have been taken and a CT
scan is booked for tomorrow. Emma called
me the day after my consultation and told me that they had found a parasite: entamoeba, (which means that I have amoebic
dysentery) so I am now yet again being treated with more or less the same sort
of antibiotics that I was treated with when I was told I had guiardia. Oh well, I do think I am in good hands and
that they will get to the bottom of it, if anyone will. And all of this is for
free! God Bless the National Health Service. I get very upset with people who
complain about it...
Meanwhile Keita is still doing well, going to Bamako again in a day or so for his
third cycle of Velcade treatments. The hotel has actually got some guests and all to do with activities at the manuscript
library: an American conservation expert has flown out for four days of
intensive training of the staff as part of the new project- I am trying to let
all this happen without worrying.
Is a good place in Bamako as in so many cities around the world- Keita and I have happy memories from Dakar last January for instance. In Bamako the Institute has a concert venue and a good restaurant and is the centre of many interesting cultural activities. I am a fan of
L’Institut, although just now we have had a little malentendu:
I have what seems like mountains to climb before my
departure, and thankfully I am feeling strong enough for at least a couple of
hours in the morning to try and achieve what is necessary. My tasks have to do
with the library or sometimes also the hotel which will remain open in my absence.
My very dear –and kind- cousin Pelle once gave me a book called ‘The Art of
Being Kind”. I have tried to study this book and to learn from it, but to no
avail. I am chronically unable to be kind and patient. The book argues from a
utilitarian point of view: one gets better results by being kind. I am afraid
experience has told me that in certain cases this is just not true. Just take
my quarrel with L’Institut Français
in the last few days as a pertinent example:
Français was co-sponsors of the recent conference in Djenné which was held
in the Djenné Museum. (picture last blog post) . The speakers at the conference
stayed at Hotel Djenné Djenno and were supposed to pay their bill as they left
the hotel with money that they had been given by the Institut. One of the speakers stayed for two days and when he
left he did not pay his bill saying that he had not had any money yet and that the
Institut would pay the hotel
directly. Meanwhile I had left for Bamako and left all business in the hands of
Samake and Baba- emails winged their way backwards and forwards and a promise
was obtained from the Institut that
they would be paying the bill the next day through telephone money transfer to
Baba at the hotel, if the bill was scanned and sent- this was duly done.
Something was now wrong with the bill- no problem, they sent another with the correct wording, but no
money was forthcoming.
This was a few days ago: last night Baba had still not had
any money. I now sent an email asking them politely to send immediately the
money as per the agreement. I received a long and complicated response back
about how it was after all not possible for them to pay the bill since the
conference speaker had already been give some of his money etc etc. And he
would have to pay the bill himself. Now, I am leaving for London on Monday. Baba
is in need of money at the hotel. I cannot be kind and patient and wait for
something to happen here. Therefore I wrote an irate email informing the accountancy
staff at the Institut that I was thoroughly
fed up with this situation and that I was arriving the following morning to
collect the money in person.
When I arrived this morning I was in a combative mood but
started out nevertheless with a smile on my face as I explained to the lady in
charge of the Institut that I had
come for my money. This lady told me that she had found my attitude in last
night’s email ‘très desagréable’. ’Madame’,
I countered, ‘it is très simple’: If
people pay their bills I am charm personified.
However, if people don’t pay their bills I do indeed become very disagreeable.’
She took me to the accountancy department where I explained
the situation to the employee in charge of the case. This lady started giving
me a long winded explanation about the impossibility of giving me the money. I replied that I was not interested in hearing
what she was saying but that I was simply interested in picking my money up in
cash there and then. I added that I had no intention of moving from my chair until the money arrived,
and that I had no other tasks for the day.
If they had any objections to my plan they could call in the Gendarmes to have
Now, this actually worked. Within 3 minutes an older French
lady (who I assumed to be the big accountancy boss)
arrived and asked me simply the amount I needed. Then she returned immediately
with an envelope with the cash for which I was asked to sign. It was as simple as that! So Pelle, sorry, if
I had been kind and patient I would not have been able to send the money to
Baba this morning- he would not be able to start the all important repair work
necessary at the hotel: sometimes only
martial tactics work!
Well, as the above indicates, I am perhaps already well on
my way to becoming a monster as feared in my previous entry. But I have no
regrets about my behaviour at all!
And what else?
tests from Germany have finally come back and this morning I had a consultation
with the Professor at the private clinic here
where they looked after me for a few days in September. He thinks I should
definitely go back to Europe and try to regain my hea1th: it seems that I have
something called Chron’s disease.
Meanwhile Keita has just had his last treatment this time
around (more to follow in a couple of weeks) and he is going from strength to
strength. This makes it easier for me to leave of course for a two month