Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Last Time

Sometimes we are not aware when something happens for the last time. Circumstances change without our intervention; we take leave of someone quite casually and we don’t know that we will never see them again;  decisions are made over which we have no power which have  sudden and deep consequences in  our lives. But a few times  only  there is a conscious choice to end something of major importance.  Last night when I was sitting with my sunset cocktail over- looking the mosque, I knew that this daily ritual was happening for the very last time. I was regaled with a blue cloudless sky and a clear  sunset and I hung on to the very last dying ember of light as it descended on the horizon to the right of the Great Mosque. Then I had dinner on the roof alone under a clear bejewelled Malian sky.

The night before was the final party: a ‘family affair’ for those that have served at the hotel: a lovely evening complete  with Diao, our faithful Fulani  milkman who arrived  with his son; our griots came and sang mine and Keita’s praises.

They  sang of those that have gone, of Beigna and Pudiogou and of Fatou, but also of Papa, Baba and Maman, and of course of the lovely Elisabet, my film-making cousin.  

We feasted on the goat that we bought in Madiama market a few days ago, and Papa was respendent in his white hatted chef outfit.

For days the contents of the hotel have been quietly leaving.  Mattress by mattress, air conditioner by air conditioner, the hotel has trickled away until it stood quite bare, and only Maman, Baba and Papa were left this morning, dividing the last spoils between themselves. There has been a change of state: this hotel which I created no longer exists.

December 12, 2006:
“Tomorrow it will be just a week before Hotel Djenné Djenno is officially open. In two weeks time my Christmas guests will already be leaving. But today the site was still just as usual, full of workmen, and full of wheel barrows and mud. But the clearing up has begun. Something major is about to happen- a change of state.
In just over a week I will no longer be building a hotel, it will actually exist, and I will be running a hotel. My reality is about to change. Today I looked at all the space of the hotel which is about to be born. I thought of all the unknown things which will happen in this space, and which are now resting here like embryos. It is all about to begin to unfold. I thought of all the people who will one day come here, and laugh, have fun and make love here, although today they don’t even know it. And yet, by some mysterious workings they will come here ...
So Maestro, soon soon, let the play begin..”

And it did, and the players were many. And last night they all finally left the stage, sweeping the floor with their feathered  hats as they took  their final bow...

 ( this is the last message from Djenne Djenno. There will be more about other places and other adventures, inshallah.   Should you wish to follow me there, please look in here now and then. You will be directed to another blog  soon.  Thank you to all you who have looked in over these 11 years and followed my life and adventures in Djenné. It has been, so far, the best years of my life.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Swedish Hostage

The Swedish hostage Johan Gustavsson has been released. He was taken hostage in November 2011 in Timbuktu  together with a Dutch national and a South African National. That event marked the beginning of the end for the happy Mali I had known during the first years of my life here.
The Dutchman has been released some time ago: the Barkane forces (the French military contingent still present in the Sahel) stumbled across him by accident when they were "cleaning up" a terrorist encampment in the northern desert. It appears that he had been severely brainwashed, had converted to Islam and his reunion with his wife was not a success. Let us hope that Gustavsson has fared better. The circumstances of Gustavson's release are still unknown. I am about to call Eva to see if she has some news...he has apparently just landed at Arlanda in Stockholm. More later...

And apart from this joyful news, there has of course been Eid Al-Fitr. I went with Elisabet and Henri to the place of communal prayer behind the hospital. This is where the Djennenké men pray twice a year- now and at Tabaski- because the place in front of the Great Mosque is too small to hold them all. Yelpha officiated for the first time.
 Towards sunset I had a visitor on the terrace: Babou Touré from the library, resplendent  in Grand Boubou wishing me 'Sambe Sambe', the traditional greeting both now and at Tabaski.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wrapping Up

Back in Djenné for some time now,  deep in what I knew would be a difficult time: the final wrapping up of Hotel Djenné Djenno.
People are coming and going, arguing about the prices of mattresses, hoping for a bargain. Some are hoping to pick things up for free, ‘for old time’s sake,’ but I am driving a hard bargain. Actually, I have now decided I am going to leave it all to Maman and Baba, and I have explained to them it is in their interest to sell the stuff for a good price: they are the ones who will benefit since I intend to split the proceeds between the four remaining staff members: Baba Papa, Maman and old Boubakar.

Elisabet and Henri are here for the last bit, filming me. We decided to rough it and go up to Djenné on the local bus, which broke down of course, although it was quickly mended again. I thought it would be good for them to see a vignette of ‘real Mali’, which is always encountered on this bus trip. It is good to have them here in Djenné. I think I would have been even sadder without them. I now have someone to drink my last sunset cocktails with...Their presence also causes some friction, since this is not really a happy time for me. In fact it is quite stressful, since I am also trying to organize the Timbuktu project which is proving quite a difficult puzzle to put into place.

Last night was the night of Destiny: one of the last night’s of Ramadan, when the Angel of Destiny walks across the heavens and picks out the souls he will gather up in the following year. Keita and I sat under the stars just two years ago and listened to the chanting which drifted across from Djenné’s fifty Koran Schools. (see July 14, 2015).  Keita was ill already, but we put our fingers up to the Angel in defiance and told him to get lost. Then we started planning for our next holiday to see Ann in Guinea. Alas, the Angel did take Keita after all, and he nearly caught me too...

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Making of the Cake

Today was Swedish National Day: lots of flags fluttering cheerfully in the summer  breeze in idyllic Torekov where I am spending my last days in Sweden before flying back to Mali on Sunday.
 I am working non stop  trying to finalize my re-submission of the  proposal to the British Library for the new manuscript project with the three libraries  in Timbuktu who asked me to help them. London is  proving quite difficult this time around, although I think they do want to do it. They are just quite embarrassed about the fact that I am not an Arabist and a scholar in this field I think, and they wish I were someone else 'more suitable' doing the job, rather than an ex inn-keeper. It would  look better on paper. The fact is that knowledge of Arabic is not really necessary to be the project manager for this, and in any case noone else has had the idea and presented themselves...

 Emails are flying backwards and forwards across the ether between me in Torekov, the powers that be in the British Library in London and Father Columba, the Benedictine friar in Minnesota whose institution the Hills Museum and Manuscript Library will be the largest sponsor of the project.
It is like putting the ingredients into a complicated and difficult cake mixture: will it rise? Well, yes, it looks like it will, with or without London:  Fr. Columba has assured me they will go ahead, and beginning August. There was one important proviso still missing  though,  without which nothing could happen: the go-ahead from UNESCO and the MINUSMA (the UN forces in Mali) in Bamako. They have to endorse the project and it is they that have to arrange the flights and the transport of  material to Timbuktu with the UN flights. And yesterday I received a message of blessing from Hervé the UNESCO boss in Bamako:  the most important ingredient has  now been added to this cake mixture!

Therefore, it looks as if my withdrawal from Mali will be done in a much gentler way than I was fearing: I am writing into the project that I will return every three months to Mali to oversee progress of the work in Timbuktu. At that time I will also be able to pop into Djenné and check the  work which is still happening at the Library there where our Malian manuscript expert Saadou is working on a catalogue of the Djenne Manuscript Library's collection. The hotel will be closed but I still have my land where the studio and my house stands. And otherwise there is always the Campement Hotel...
 Perhaps the MaliMali studio could  still be up and running? I am able to take 43 kg back to London every three months: that is a lot of fabric and clothes with free transport to Europe. Perhaps I can sell it in London?
I will meet Elisabet and Henri the documentary film makers again in Bamako. They are hoping to catch my closing of the hotel and the wrapping up of my Malian life.Here they are in Bollnas, Sweden a week ago, where they were filming me and my mother. I am still quite mystified about why...
We will travel to Djenné on the local bus together Thursday week. That should keep Henri the cameraman happy filming all day...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Nobel Prize Winners

Jeremiah does, as always, come up with the best invitations in town. What follows may seem like both name and place dropping (if there is such a thing?) but I can happily steam ahead with my tale without undue misplaced modesty, because all of this is only because of him, and I am just a hanger on. Last night we started with drinks at the Reform Club where the French Ambassador Sylvie Berman was celebrating her new book ‘China in Deep Waters’.

 We were rather overdressed for this occasion– Jeremiah in black tie- because we were unable to stay for the dinner, having invitations for the Science Museum’s annual gala Dinner. This turned out to be much fun and I was seated next to Sir Paul Nurse, who I discovered, to my extreme delight, to be the Nobel prize winner of medicine in 2001! Now, being a Swede, this really did impress me (going to the Nobel ball has always been a dream of mine). We chatted about his time in Stockholm receiving the prize and we discussed Bob Dylan’s literature prize. Sir Paul thought Dylan had behaved badly by not going to the ceremony. I wanted a picture of us together and he agreed to this, but then he took off rather suddenly before the dessert! I was quite disappointed, and I told my next companion as much:

A very elegant man of Asian origin now sat down next to me in the place of Sir Paul and we started to chat. I lamented that I never got a picture with the  Nobel prize winner. “ Oh, dear, that is a great shame “ commiserated my new companion. Then I said: “But never mind, you will have to do. Can I have a picture with you instead?” And the charming man agreed. So here we are, above.
Then, after some time he took his leave. And someone said to me: “Do you speak exclusively to Nobel Prize winners or could I get a word in? “ And I found out that I had just been sitting next to Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, who received the Nobel prize for  chemistry in  2009....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Carrier Pigeons

So many things are happening, or just about to happen, and I am waiting.
“What are you going to do now, if you leave Mali?” is the question everyone is asking me. And I don’t know how to answer. I have had ideas and wishes and have sent out my requests for my future in letters and prayers like carrier pigeons in various directions with various meanings and intents. Now the mysterious and finely woven network of people, events and the ineffable which weaves our future is considering these requests and in  meetings on grey afternoons down corridors someone will say no, and someone else will say: but wait a minute, I disagree, let’s look at it again. And other requests have been sent out  in other directions with just a prayer or a hope which is less visible than the written word. But no replies are back yet, so I am waiting. And that is not all of course. At the same time there are requests and ides sent to me too; awaiting  my decisions, and they are perhaps the weft of the loom, while mine are the warp and together they will weave this nebulous and unknowable substance we call the future.
 And while all this invisible stuff is quietly developing and maturing I have some nice things to report; last night I was invited for dinner at David and Jeremiah’s place and there I met my cyber friend Susan who has commented so often in this journal. Here are the three Cyber friends united in the flesh!
Feeling quite well but decided that I deserved a weekend at Champneys, Bedfordshire, after my operation which seems to have taken more out of me than I first thought. So managed to pick up a very good last minute deal and spent three days of rest, steam, swim and jacuzzi once more, not really speaking to anyone but quietly enjoying the peace.

I am in touch with the hotel of course: 12 Koreans had lunch at the hotel on Sunday and one person stayed over the weekend for the second instalment of the crepissage. There are still some efforts by the hotel staff to try and keep the hotel without me at the end of June, perhaps with the help of Dra, who is both the manager of the Campement Hotel and  the new deputy Maire of Djenné. He was also Keita’s best friend.

And soon I will be back in Sweden again, and there I will meet up with Elisabet and the documentary film crew who were in Mali in March again for some more talking about myself... before Mali again in mid June, and that will undoubtedly be quite an intense time for a multitude of reasons.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


The old is coming to an end, for sure. The new is about to be formed around me. Or will I shape it myself? How does it work?   I am feeling as if I will appear in another form, soon. I am hanging on a branch, like a multicoloured question mark. It is not very worrying, although it should perhaps be. But it is not the first time I have hung on this branch...

I am in London now; and have just had my little heart operation, finally, in the Hammersmith hospital above. I am feeling well and it seems as though my broken heart, which started to beat strangely on the day of Keita’s funeral last year, has been mended, at least technically. I am staying with friends, first of all dear  David (the most frequent commentator in this journal) and Jeremiah,  who looked after me in the first few days while I was recuperating. Below a picture of me as 'The Wild Woman of Wonga' their nickname for me first thing in the morning...
After their expert tender loving care I moved on to Nicholas and Amanda's:  “you can stay as long as you like. The last time someone came to stay for a week they stayed for three years!” generous and reassuring words, but I am unlikely to repeat that, lovely though it is here. I do have my own flat around the corner in Ladbroke Grove and soon the contract with my tenant will let me give him notice so that I can move in. But before that I will be back in Sweden and in Mali- in Sweden I will catch up with the documentary film makers again and then, back in Djenné,  I will pack up and close up the hotel during the last two weeks of June.

Baba has just sold my old Yamaha DT he tells me; we have sold Keita’s beloved old Mercedes; the Mitsubishi is long gone; Petit Bandit has been collected by Haidara the marabout. Little by little the old is dismantled.
 But the past weekend was a major one for the hotel: we were full: Paul, the American ambassador with his wife (centre above) and embassy entourage; also accompanied by Winnie (in orange), the Danish ambassador (both nice people who I know through Eva) spent the weekend at Hotel Djenné Djenno for the first time. It was the crepissage again, the mud plastering of the Great Mosque. I was in constant touch with Baba at the hotel and it all seems to have gone well. The new Imam Yelpha presented Paul with a replica of the Djenné Mosque!