Friday, September 30, 2016

The Mitsubishi

The dismantling of my life here has started, if only at snail’s pace. Today I sold the venerable old Mitsubishi Keita and I bought in 2006 from the late ‘Bozo’, may he rest in peace, charming scoundrel that he was. Neither Keita nor I had ever bought a car before, so we were blissfully unaware of small details such as the ‘Carte Grise’, the registration /ownership papers which should always accompany a purchase of a car. Bozo said he ‘acted as agent’ for an absent  friend of his and gave us a piece of paper on which it said that  this friend was happy to part with his vehicle and that we were now the new owners. There was also a complicated and impressive signature and an official looking stamp which on closer scrutiny turned out to be from a Djenné hardware store with no connection to the  transaction whatsoever.

 But to start with we never knew there was a problem with the car and it served us well for several trips to Bamako where it was loaded up with air conditioners, pillows, and other necessities for the opening of our mud hotel. We must have been on some sort of special dispensation and accompanied by a friendly  angel guard because no one ever asked us for any owner ship papers at any of the checkpoints on the road and that is unheard of...
The Mitsubishi was subsequently used on innumerable trips to Mopti where it was filled up with beer and other liquid goodies not available in Djenné. By this time we had realized that we had bought a dodgy car, probably stolen. But it ran marvellously well and there is always some way around these problems in Mali. This time the solution came in the shape of Keita’s brother-in-law who conveniently happened to be the chief of police in Mopti.  All we needed to do was to call him on the morning of our Mopti trips and he would let the check-point gendarmes know that we were coming. As a thank-you for this favour we always remembered  to bring a couple of sacks of charcoal for the brother-in-law. 

The last time the trusty old banger was used to great advantage was in December 2014 when I served my stint as a haulage contractor: it was used for a couple of months to ferry  twenty labourers back and forth to the work site where they were clearing up the debris from a tree planting scheme that went wrong: see blog. 

Now the old Mitsubishi has finally left me and found a new home with Djenné’s best car mechanic who is aware of all the problems but who knows the car well and has looked after it for many years. There were two potential buyers. It turns out that the first ones that were interested went to see the above car mechanic to ask his opinion on the vehicle. And he said, helpfully,  that the car is  a wreck and not worth buying. Then he turned up soon afterwards himself with the required money in cash...

And what else? My days are long and uneventful here now- the most exciting things to report is that the Southern Red Bishop is back again- is it the same one as last season? He has become  my delightful chubby little friend which trundles around my garden like an over sized  red bumble-bee.

And that is not all: we have a little chicken that have adopted us. It seems to have no family of its own so it hangs around the studio and even stays with Petit Bandit in his stable.  
And Petit Bandit follows me around as usual hoping for a piece of bread or a melon peel...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Siege of Djenné

Djenné is supposed to be a dangerous place today according to all the world's foreign office's travel advice, and should be approached only with great caution if at all. But as we also know, there has in fact been no disturbances of any  major type in Djenné since the arrival of the French in 1893. Djenné has not always been such a peaceful place as it is today however and it was  probably not a very comfortable place during the siege of Sekou (Cheikou) Amadou in 1818 when his troops arrived to subjugate the town to his Empire Peul de Macina under his war-lord Amirou Mangal:

Djenné, 1818,  just before the rainy season
Cheikou Amadou  had to resort to armed force against the town of Djenné,  which had been so hostile towards him when he lived in Roundé Sirou. Some months after the battle of Noukouma and  before the water had risen he dispatched  Amirou Mangal with his cavalry to lay claim to the town which  proved itself  intent on  resisting and neither the Fulani horsemen, nor the Rimaybé infantry were able to breach  the city wall which was very high and solidly constructed.
After several days of skirmishes, Amirou Mangal decided to besiege the town.  He occupied all the surrounding villages. He requisitioned all the canoes in the area and put them under the command of Samba Abou with the task of intercepting all who were intending to leave the town or trying to enter it. Cut off in this way, Djenné was unable to receive any supplies. At the end of nine months the starving population gave up without combat and swore allegiance to Cheikou Amadou who left the command of the town in the hands of the traditional chief already in place, Bilmahamane, but he also added  a marabout , Alfa Gouro Modi, chosen for his piety and his wisdom.
It did not take long for the Songhay to find Alfa Gouro Modi’s surveillance unbearable. The presence of the marabout obliged them to go to prayer regularly; not to drink hydromel, a drink to which they were accustomed and to abstain from all practices forbidden by Islamic law. The representative of Cheikou Amadou was intransigent on all these points. They therefore tried to enlist the help of the Bambara of Saro and of Segou  to get rid of Alfa Gouro Modi.  Bilmahamane got wind of his compatriots’ schemes and advised against putting them into practise, warning them of the reprisals that Cheikou Amadou  would undoubtedly carry out if the town rebelled. The Songhai, suspicious of their leader, decided to act on their own. A conspiracy was formed,  instigated by  a certain Kombé Al Hakoum. Assassins broke down the door of Alfa Gouro Modi and killed him. The next day his corpse was dragged through the streets of Djenné before being abandoned  on the market square.

 From l'Empire Peul de Macina  by Amadou Hampaté Ba and J. Gadet , Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines 1962, (translated by Sophie).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bridges and Marabouts

The villagers come from far and wide to Djenné for the Monday market: it has been so for many centuries. There are several entry points to the island town of Djenné for those arriving with horse and cart, but the main one is across the small bridge to which one arrives when one comes from Sanouna and the Bani crossing. This is the one used by the trucks and lorries, buses and private cars.
The horses and carts have normally not crossed into the town but parked themselves close to the hotel. This Monday they  were not alone in staying this side of the bridge: all motorized vehicles apart from mopeds have been forbidden to cross the bridge which is collapsing.

Built in 1975 it has had little or no maintenance and now  it has been condemned by the authorities. I am in Bamako  still and these pictures are courtesy of my friend Sidy Traoré in Djenné. What will happen now? Are there any emergency funds for this sort of thing? Who knows. I can only imagine the havoc this is causing.  The Pousse-Pousse owners are happy of course and apparently the going price for a cart to be pushed into Djenné with merchandise to sell was a minimum of 1000FCFA this morning.  But other consequences are more dire: it will be impossible for the ambulance to cross from the hospital for one thing...

Meanwhile I have begun to lend a hand to the Mission Culturelle who are finally intending to open the Musée de Djenné, and I am responsible for a photography exhibition in one of the halls. This morning I received a message from the anthropologist Geert Mommersteeg who spent a a lot of time in Djenné in the late eighties and wrote 'In the City of the Marabouts' with the excellent news that I was allowed to use the marvellous portraits of the Djenné Marabouts from this book  taken by the photographer Martin Stoop for the exhibition. The picture below is of the father of Dr Guida Landouré; known to readers of this journal.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

High Water

 Yes, it was as we had expected yesterday: the road on both sides of the river Bani has flooded for some distance, and I was grateful to be in the Mission Culturelle's 4X4.

 The school at Sanouna, built by the Dutch film maker Ton Van der Lee is once more' threatened , as is the mud houses on both sides of the river.

It is not the first time this happens of course, so the village at Sanouna will perhaps survive this time too, inshallah...
I am now in Bamako for Tabaski, staying once more at Eva's.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Waiting for the Rain

We are waiting for the rain. It is impossible that the rainy season is over already. But it has not rained for ten days. The clouds gather and the heat and humidity rise to unbearable levels, but there is no release- we are sweltering and it is becoming impossible to sleep or even to work. The water is rising all around us. The fierce  Sahel sun is beating down on the expanse of water causing it to  rise  in hot condensation. This mass of water has not surrounded us because of  rains here in Djenné- it has arrived from the highlands of Guinea whence  the Bani and the Niger  are  bringing it down in torrents.


Moussa, Keita’s fifteen year old son has just spent part of his summer holidays with me here in Djenné. When we arrived on the 20th of August the water stood high at the little Bozo village Sanouna, the place where one boards the ‘Bac’, the ferry across the Bani. Now the river has burst its banks and the road is no longer visible. There is a means of controlling the flow of the water now: the Soala Dam close by Djenné has been constructed in order to irrigate in the area. But this causes tension of course: The Bozo fishermen in Sanouna, however much water is their native element, do not want to have their mud houses destroyed by the floods so they now need the water to be redirected. Meanwhile all those that have sowed their rice, millet or corn need their crops to rise higher before the fields are inundated otherwise they will lose their harvest. 

And then there is the road. I am leaving for Bamako tomorrow. I dare not travel in the Mercedes but am given a lift with the new Chef de Mission Culturelle. Only 4X4s can now travel on the flooded road by the Sanouna crossing.  We are nearly cut off here now. 
 It is beautiful here in the rainy season. The shea butter trees are adorning the landscape like great oaks in the parkland of a country estate. 
All is emerald green, apart from the Acacias who have chosen this time of excess to pretend that they are dead.  Apparently  lifeless, the  Thorn trees are standing there grey, sullen  and spiky like great Memento Moris in the midst of fatness and plenty.  Instead they will spring to life during the great heat of April and May when all else dies.  This is undoubtedly a parable of something hopeful Anyway, I approve of their contrariness.