Monday, February 29, 2016


Last Saturday  I photographed the new MaliMali collection in Bamako with the help of the lovely Djenneba, seen with Keita above in the garden at the Swedish Embassy residence.
We have yet again spent ten days in the capital as guests of Eva, and once more this has been dramatic and difficult for health reasons. Although he looks happy and smiling in the picture the papers he hold in his hand tell a different story: they are his last  laboratory results.

Keita has not been able to start his new medication although it arrived in Bamako almost two weeks ago. His blood count is too low and he has been given concentrated red blood cells and plasma for over a week but there has been no increase in his blood count and his body seems unable to absorb and benefit from the transfusions. He is getting weaker and weaker. On Sunday he stayed in bed and did not even want to eat. Tomorrow he will once more take a blood test and if it is once more showing no change in his blood count there is only one more possibility left: he will be given something called growth factors , injections of a sort of hormone that stimulates blood production. 

Every time Keita has been hovering between life and death for the last seven years there has always been a solution: a new drug, a stem cell transplant; radio therapy sessions. We have always found a solution.Will we ride out this last crisis too?

I left Keita and Bamako reluctantly this morning for one week in Djenné where I have to work in the studio for a couple of important orders. Keita will now be looked after by his sister in Bamako. The next few days are crucial. 
I don't want to be here but I am grateful there is so much to do.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be

John Lennon’s Liverpool in the fifties and sixties is far removed from today's  streets of Bamako... 

But when I travel through the capital  in the comfort of my car I can hear the melody and haunting refrain and reflect that to be a Working Class Malian is certainly something to be admired. 

 For every economic migrant that reaches the shores of Europe after unimaginable hardships on the way there are thousands that stay and attempt to scratch a living in the streets of Bamako to support their families.

They pull  carts ladened by all sorts of goods through the pollution and searing heat of the Bamako noon;

 they risk their lives running after cars in traffic jams selling cowboy hats and prayer mats; pirated CDs; cheap torches and bath loofas:

 They wait by empty push-push carts hoping to get a load to push to earn a few francs and they continue until well after night has fallen since they may not have earned enough to go home. 

 John Lennon was not the only one of course.. Keith Richards sang The Salt of the Earth:  

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let's drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

(from  Beggars Banquet )

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Spirit of Enterprise

The cosmic malfunction which has hovered over the Indian medicine delivery has finally been unblocked  and I have had confirmation this afternoon that the drug is winging its way to Bamako courtesy of FEDEX. Hopefully it will be arriving about the same time as Keita and I do so he can start his treatment.
I am celebrating this breakthrough by showing a funny picture from happier times here in Djenné: it is a sign that I painted many years ago and put up  in the centre of Djenné to advertise trips with Max and the beautiful carriage I had specially made and installed with sunshade and cushioned seats for tourist trips to Diabolo and Sirimo and other villages in the surrounding country side. I used to ride with Napoleon or Maobi and we would have picnics under a great tree somewhere on the plains.
It was only yesterday that I noticed that some enterprising competitor for similar trips  has exchanged the hotel  telephone number in the bottom left hand corner for his own! Oh, well, that was a long time ago- such trips have not been on the agenda here for years..
Oh, and there is some development on the goat front. Boubakar and I caught two of the little pests today munching away at the millet in Petit Bandit's stable while he was lying down on his hay having his afternoon nap apparently  oblivious to the fact that his provisions were being depleated! We  tied them up in the garden again, but this time our neighbour did not turn up straight away... The goats were bleating away under the flambuoyant tree until well after dinner when Andrea and I had repaired to my place to watch a film. Then he dared coming and just walked into the garden and untied them said Boubakar indignantly when he came to knock on my door to report the incident.
It has to be said, it is impossible to imagine a guardian  less suited to inspire fear and trembling than Boubakar...

Monday, February 15, 2016

New trials

Well, last Sunday all seemed golden, but matters have a tendency to switch around here with frightening speed... Since last Tuesday I am in the middle of a new health crisis with Keita’s blood (haemoglobin) count suddenly plummeting to a very worrying 3 – normal value is 12! This means he has to have immediate blood transfusions and he has had some, but not enough. He is in Segou at the moment.
 I am leaving Djenné Thursday for Bamako and will meet him on the way in Segou.  We will stay with Eva again and I am going to photograph the new MaliMali collection. But it looks as if health matters will once more take over...After Keita's crisis in the autumn when he responded so well to the treatment with the drug Velcade we thought all was going to be well for a little while at least, but the Enemy has been quick to return...
Keita needs to change his medicine regime to try and ‘fool’ the cancer. Therefore I have been trying to buy something called Lenalimide from India for the last month, but the procedure is long and labyrinthine: the Indian invoice has had  to be scanned and delivered to the airport in Bamako  together with  a request from his doctor for an import licence which then has to be sent to India.  

First we could not get hold of Keita’s doctor for weeks, then the person at the airport who signs and stamps the document was away on holiday for another few days, during which time the money transfer from the UK to India also  got lost but  finally turned up. Meanwhile Keita’s health is deteriorating every day!
This morning everything finally seemed to be in order and I could not imagine that anything else could possibly be required but the long awaited confirmation from New Delhi was not forthcoming. So I wrote another email asking what was happening and was given the response that the drug company now needed a scanned copy of Keita’s passport before they were able to send the drugs! Now this is when I lost my temper: why on earth did they not tell me that before! We could have organized that during the time we were waiting for all the other things to fall into place!

Keita is too weak to rush around to the cybercafé in Segou and he does not have a scanner at home. So he dispatched his friend Boubakar who now says he has scanned and sent it to me. However, I have not received it. Surely emails are instant are they not? I have a feeling that they have not managed to type the email address out properly for I have received nothing here. Therefore the medicine will not leave India. I can’t bear it.

And just to cheer me up, there are whole swarms of goats in the garden who have already managed to destroy the new mango tree seedling we planted with the money we received from the goat owner last time. The little seedling was standing in a bamboo protection surround. The goats must have performed an advanced piece of acrobatics to get to it, but they did. The next time we catch one of them we will take no prisoners, it will become a kebab.

P.S. Some nail biting time later: having overcome a sporadically malfunctioning internet connection I have now managed to send off the missing  identification to India. I would like to sit down on my sunset terrace with a large glass of whisky and ice, but of course I can't. It is lent and I am cutting out alcohol- is there going to be no end of today's trials?

Tuesday afternoon. 
Still no confirmation from India that the medicine has left. It is now well past Indian closing hours  and it must mean that it has not left. Why? Keita is sounding bad on the phone although as always he keeps up a positive front: 'ça va. ça commence à aller'...
I keep working in the studio in order to have something to do.

Monday, February 08, 2016

A Great Sunday

Yes, it really was. There were a couple of things I felt I had to do, and I was not too keen on doing them: instead  I felt like lazing around the hotel and reading a book under the flambuoyant tree. But I pulled myself up reluctantly and went to the library at nine after breakfast (breakfasts at the weekend are lovely affairs these days with Andrea’s butter-fried Djenné bread, delicious!)

We had been forewarned on Saturday that the minister of Culture and Tourism was to make a brief visit to Djenné and that she wanted to look in at the library. This in itself is quite a triumph, considering that the manuscript library is still in a prolonged feud with the Imam of Djenné and hence with the local authorities, and any previous ministerial visits had studiously ignored our existence, guided by the local authorities. Nevertheless we now have a powerful ally in the National Director of Heritage – Lassana Cissé- who may be unaware of any of these local problems: he had spoken glowingly about us and the minister insisted on a library visit. She turned out to be a charming and utterly cultivated woman of the type that one meets occasionally in Bamako and sees on the
television but very rarely in the provinces.

She wanted to know what I was doing in Djenné and spoke to me in perfect English having apparently been educated in Canada. I was then interviewed by the Malian TV team which formed part of her entourage on her request. It should be on tonight... I didn’t really expect that and I would have preferred the others to speak about the library- it looks better. But Babou was not there, he was otherwise occupied with a family wedding and that moves us on to the best part of the day: the big wedding and fatia in the Sakore Quarter of Djenné. Babou had made sure that I was invited to the fatia of the Tenentao family which was held in connection with his wedding.

I was not really that keen, feeling even lazier in the afternoon after the morning’s excitement at the library. However, it is a rare  honour to be invited to such an  event so I felt I should make an appearance. I did not regret it. A fatia in the Sankoré district of town is a squashed-in affair, much more intimate than the previous fatias I have attended: the event was held in one of the tiny streets with an awning spread across it and the men who take part in the Koran chanting take up most of the space, all dressed in
their most gorgeous boubous,

 flanked by the little boys, some of them beautifully dressed like little princes.
Then just after come the women where I was given a place of honour in one of the few chairs. There were the traditional sweet doughnuts carried around and distributed by the women as well as little bags of dates and sweets.

When a dignitary arrived he was shown a place by one of the Tenentao family.
As usual I allowed myself to enter into a gentle trance-like state, enjoying the monotone but charming sound of the chanting and feeling how very powerfully such an event binds the community together and forms its very identity. I also reflected that this is the real Malian Islam: far, far from the rigours of the extremist views of those who occupied the north and who are still a threat here. They would not approve of the unveiled women and this melodious and joyous way of declaiming the Koran.

Having stayed for some time at the melodious fatia I decided to take my leave but it was impossible to leave where I had entered so I found myself at first in the back road which was lined with women who had not been lucky enough to find a space under the awning.
Then I lost my way in the labyrinth which is the heart of Djenné...

but soon I came upon these five friends by the signpost for the sacred well of Wangara,
and just next to them sat Babou resplendent in white boubou in front of his house which boasts this sacred well in its courtyard.
He is a direct descendant of the Moroccans who conquered Djenné in 1594. Legend has it that the sacred well can communicate with another well in Timbuktu. Some marabouts have told me that during the Jihadist occupation of the north the well was used for this purpose...

The whole of the ancient Sankore Quarter seemed like an enchanted place last night towards sunset: around every corner I turned I saw a view even more wondrous than the last, with everyone enjoying the soft evening sitting on mats in the street talking laughing and drinking sweet tea.

Finally I arrived at the space which opens out enough for motorcycles to be parked and here I took my leave, passing by the market place where the women from the villages had already arrived with their calabashes ready for today’s market.