Friday, July 07, 2006

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Thank God for 0%-interest credit cards and for my irresponsible habit of moving my debts around while at the same time keeping all the cards.
When , one month ago, I found myself in Mali and decided to start a hotel I was armed with 8 clean credit cards and therefore able to lay my hands on enough cash to buy the lease of a 50x40m square piece of Sahel dust bowl.

As I am writing this my gardener Ibrahim is planting paw-paw trees and my architect Boucoum is instructing the local mason who will be putting the flourishes on the intricate mud facade. At least that is what I am led to believe...I am writing this back in Notting Hill where I have returned to raise the cash necessary for this venture (and to repay the credit cards) through the remortgaging of my flat.
My hotel is opening at Christmas time, (Inshallah).

The attached picture is taken on the roof of my hotel-to-be in Djenné, Mali. I am wearing a dress I dyed with the leaves of a tree and printed with mud from the great river Niger in an ancient West-African textile technique called Bogolan. Alongside the normal hotel activities I intend to offer short residental Bogolan courses - it is, as my friend Michelle says: the funnest thing!

In the distance, on the horizon, the great mosque of Djenné can just be seen. The largest adobe structure in the world, it is a miraculous mud-pie of a building and the crowning glory of Djenné, a Unesco World Heritage site with a glorious past rivalling Timbuktu as a city of trade and Islamic learning. Today the area suffers in the front guard of climate change with ever-shortening rains, failing harvests and an uncertain future. So whatever could have induced a Ladbroke Grove dweller to have joined - some might say- such a sinking ship? Let's back-pedal:
Last January I spent some time in Mali with 8 friends - an assorted European bunch including a Frenchman, an Austrian, three Swedes and three Englishmen. A great holiday which took us, amongst many great destinations, to the ancient city of Djenné where we spent one night sleeping on the roof of Baba's guesthouse.
It is to Djenné that I decided to return in March. I wanted to live there for a couple of months to see if I could get involved in something - development, hotel, design/crafts- whatever. I didn't want to live in London anymore, but wanted to immerse myself in something totally alien and overwhelming. Mali in April and May is HOT- temperatures can reach 45. It would offer a drastic enough exchange for London's bleak late winter- it would suit my frame of mind perfectly. Mali would sear away the old and bring forth the new in some sort of rebirth ceremony, the nature of which was yet unknown to me.


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