Monday, July 10, 2006


4 April
I seem to have extricated myself unscathed, inshallah, from yesterday’s tricky situation. When I realized that I would most probably be sitting at Baba’s all afternoon and no helpers would be forthcoming, I just picked up my luggage myself and staggered out of Baba’s courtyard unaided, having at first said a cheerful ‘au revoir, a demain!’ To Baba. Once outside Baba’s domain Marechal mysteriously surfaced and together we walked the short distance to my new abode.
We were joined by Osman, the owner of la Fleuve, a little restaurant by the mosque. Osman is my new landlord, a tall, sinewy Fulani in his fifties with kind eyes and a modest and courteous demeanour.
It had been agreed the day before that the flat would be thoroughly cleaned before I arrived at lunchtime, I would have a mosquito net and a sheet. It was now three o’clock pm and when we arrived at my new flat nothing had been done. This is when I came over all memsaab-y. I had feared this, and I know that one of the dangers for me in Africa is to appear too imperious, thus potentially alienating people and creating enemies. As it now happened, I found myself walking around saying ‘This has not been cleaned. I want everything to be spotless. And I mean properly washed, not just swept. I thought this was understood. I will return in a couple of hours.’ And I walked around for a bit, feeling miserable, thinking I had now ruined everything. I got accosted again at the market by a young man who asked me out of the blue to go to his house and drink tea. He insisted that we had spoken yesterday- I remembered vaguely. But I said: ‘That is very kind of you but I don’t know you. I will stay here in Djenne for some time. Perhaps when we know each other a little better, I will come for tea.’ The young man looked insulted. Oh, dear. Am I creating enemies all over Djenne already?
Once back at my flat the place had been turned upside down and every square inch had been scrubbed. Osman had even brought along a locksmith to fix the lock to my terrace; he had fixed the light on the roof where I would sleep. Dambele, a nineteen -year old accountancy student who also acts as the caretaker and
sleeps downstairs had bought a mat to place under my mattress and a new mosquito net impregnated according to W.H.O. directives. I was very pleased and said, smiling, in a conciliatory manner, to Osman: ‘I hope you don’t find me too hard’. He said ’not at all, you are quite right’. So perhaps not too much harm done after all.
My new flat has two rooms- a bed room with two double beds and a wardrobe and a ‘salon’ , with a deep fifties -style three-piece sofa and armchairs, another wardrobe with a mirror, and a sideboard. The room is decorated with a poster of Amadou Toumani Toure, the current president , dating from the 2002 presidential election campaign. In addition there are several pictures of Osman’s family, in particular his illustrious father, formerly the agricultural minister of Mali. There is also a large picture of a group of men and boys dressed in traditional white robes, posing in a school-photograph formation by the side of the river Bani. This, I am told, is a photograph celebrating the circumcision ceremony of all the boys on the picture. Circumcision is very important in Mali, unfortunately not just for the boys, but 90% of Malian girls are also
obliged by tradition to undergo an operation which , in their case, will prevent their full enjoyment of sex, since their clitoris is removed, and in some cases, known as ‘infibulation’, the entire external genitalia is removed.

I am aware I have to get going on my projects- and what exactly are they? Well, it is slowly becoming clearer- or is it? I really don't think I want to start a hotel. Entertaining rich toubabs seems such a silly, irrelevant thing to be doing- there is nothing for people to do here- surely tourism is not the only answer? I want to check out the textile possibilities and learn the ancient mud dyeing and printing technique which is practised all over Mali. Perhaps I could start a bed-linen project? I am on the look-out for wide enough plain cotton, which will most probably be imported, since the cotton produced and woven here is too rustic for a demanding European market. It is good for cushions, even curtains and some clothing and has a handmade artisan charm. In the case of bed-linen however, the texture needs to be smoother. But I am keen to try and utilise the bold African patterns and beautiful colours which will print on any cotton. I am hoping this could become a possible source of income here, if I could manage to set up the production and the distribution perhaps through Oxfam or even the Joliba Trust. But the first step is to produce the samples, and first of all to assertain how dye fast the bogolan dye method is: sheets must be capable of being washed many times over in a washing machine. Posted by Picasa


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