Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Djenne Djenno at night, on the one rare occasion when the new illumination worked.
Ah! 'twas a wonder to behold: visible from wide and far away Baba's Great Gate beckoned like the entrance to some fairytale city.

Alas the very expensive bulbs blew more or less immediately, and we must now wait until we are finally connected to the town's electricity supply, and no longer at the mercy of our two temperamental Chinese generators... Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lots of creativity going on at Hotel Djenné Djenno. Tristan Ra, our adorable resident French painter painted a portrait of the beautiful Fatou, our sou-chef. Posted by Picasa
Bogolans for the soon- to- be Djenné Djenno shop Posted by Picasa
Tristan then started in the bar- he is unstoppable! Posted by Picasa
And then I started on the walls too... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pia and I went into town with Dolly yesterday, causing traffic jams with the other carts, and general hilarity. It was something of a struggle, since I am not an experienced donkey driver. 'Where are you going like that ? asked everyone, laughing and waving. 'We are on the way to the internet café'.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel....
We had yet another staff meeting this morning, this time called by me when I heard loud African quarrelling from the kitchen, where I found the whole staff gesticulating and arguing with the plumber and the plumber's mate, here on a trip from Mopti. It appeared that the staff were asking the plumber and his mate to judiciate various difficulties and grievances they experied at hotel Djenno Djenno, like for instance, why did Ali have to work yesterday afternoon when Seku was allowed to go home?
'Right Everybody. In the Reception NOW!'
1. What the Hell is the plumber and his mate doing in the kitchen?
2. What do you mean by discussing hotel business with outsiders?

After this opening salvo I decided it was time to create an hierachical structure in this hotel. So I gave Beigna, the barman overall responsibility if I am not at the hotel, and in effect made him my deputy. Papa, the chef, was given the title of 'Chef the Cuisine', and Baba became 'Chef de Service' which means he is in charge of the soap, washing powder, bleach as well as all the bits needed for breakfast such as jam etc.
This made an enormous difference. Everyone is walking around with a new spring in their step and looking unbelievably important. But the most disturbing and hilarious thing is Beigna, who has taken to speaking French to the staff, (even to those who don't speak French), walking around and saying things like' What is that bucket doing on the drive? How many times do I have to tell you to sweep the floor before it is done? etc. i.e. he is modelling himself exactly on me! Oh, dear.. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sophie being reborn.
I have a confession to make. The last esoteric and literary entry was written months ago, and has been waiting for a moment to be used. It is not in any way a fair representation of what is going on here at the moment... As if I had time to linger romantically on the roof with a rum at sunset reciting Rimbaud to myself!
Au contraire, things can be rather stressful, so when the lovely Graham, an English guest and practitioner of the therapy Rebirth suggested that I might benefit from a session, I accepted. He said that I needed to keep at least one hour free and undisturbed, then he changed his mind and suggested that in my case perhaps two would be more appropriate.
So I told my staff to leave us alone for two hours and disappeared into my bedroom with the toubab, causing some raised eyebrows, no doubt, especially since deep breathing was heard within a few minutes, it being a vital part of the rebirth therapy.
And did it work? Perhaps. I feel good today, but that might have more to do with the reservation I just received from the Dutch Ambassador to Mali... Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 22, 2007

(Lest any reader that may stray across my blog will think that what follows is showing off, let me make it clear that whatever language skills I once possessed have now entirely left me, and Bambara is still, after on and off a year here, uncharted territory.)

De temps en temps when I feel far from home I go and sit on the roof at night alone with a dark rum and ice and try to hold on to Europe. I recite the few poems I know by heart which to me represent l'Europe aux anciens parapets.. Yes, Rimbaud's Bateau Ivre, but I still don't know the whole marvellous stark crazy poem by heart, only a third or so. To me the water in the poem has become the river Niger, although it always was, ever since I first started learning it last winter, when we floated down from Djenne to Mopti punted by our piroguiers...
....comme je descendis les fleuves impassibles je ne me sentis plus guidee par les haleurs/ les peaux-rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles, les ayant cloues nus aux poteaux de couleurs./ J'etais insoucieux de tous les equipages/ les porteurs de ble flamand ou de coton Anglais/ quand des haleurs ont fini ces tapages, les fleuves m'ont laisse descendre ou je voulais./Dans les clapotements furieux des marees, moi, l'autre hiver, plus sourd que les cerveaux d'enfants je courus/ et les peninsules demarres n'ont pas subi tohu-bohu plus triomphant...

Then I bring out the other volume from my little virtual library: Goethe's Faust, and start making sure I haven't forgotten the Zueignung:
' Ihr naht euch wieder schwankende Gestalten, die fruh sich einst dem truben blick gezeigt/ Versuch ich wohl euch diesmahl festzuhalten? Fuhl ich mein Herz noch jenem Wahn geneigt?/ Ihr drangt euch zu, nun gut, so mogt Ihr walten, wie Ihr aus Dunst und Nebel um mich steigt./ Mein Herz, es fuhlt sich jugendlich erschuttert, vom Zauberhauch, der eurem Zug umwittert./ Ihr bringt mit euch die Bilder froher Tage/ un d manche liebe Schatten steigen auf:/ Gleich einer alten, halbverklungnen Sage, kommt ersten Lieb' und Freundschaft mit herauf...
culminating in some of the most sublime words I know:
'was ich besitze seh ich wie im Weiten, und was verschwand wird mir zu Wirklichkeiten'. (What I possess I see as if at a great distance, and what disappeared becomes my reality'.)

And then, well on my way by now, I return to the virtual library, making sure there is some English too, I bring out the Milton from my O-levels:
'Weep no more woeful shepherds, weep no more: for Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead./ Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor, so sinks each day the day-star in the ocean bed,/ and yet anon repairs his drooping head, and tricks his beams and with new-spangled ore/ flames in the forehead of the morning sky./ So Lycidas sank low but mounted high, through the dear might of Him that walked the waves.

II don't quite know what links these three fragments. The first two have an element of abandonment ? The first and the last are triumphant.

Those are some of the dearest of my European treasures- and they will continue to be brought out, admired, polished, and used to recharge the mysterious glands where hope, joy and dreams recide and their potency will never fade. Then they will be put back in the virtual safe until needed again. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Idea to Finished Product:
My friend Pia is lovely and encouraging. She has a very fresh way to look at things. Last night she said to me that we were sitting in a giant painting that I had painted. I had an idea and transformed it into something real. 'For instance', she said, 'you thought of that door over there, and now it exists and someone just walked through it!' Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Being a hotelière is very tiring.
I spend most of my days being grumpy and angry. 'What is that bucket doing in the middle of the drive?' 'What are those sheets doing still hanging on the line? They were dry hours ago!' 'Have you cleaned the Malenke suite yet? Why not! The new guests are arriving in half an hour!'
'there are three cigarrette butts in that ashtray. I know, because I counted them this morning, and I have been waiting to see when they would be removed!'
This sort of thing is exhausting, and I hate the grumpy sound of my own voice.
And then, today, when I took some time off, my staff decided to surprise me, thinking that I would be pleased. Twelve Dutch people arrived at about 2.30, asking if they could have lunch. My cook decided he could handle it and told them ' yes, of course, please be seated. I was in town and noone called me. So he gave them cucumber salad followed by omelette and chips and finished with a slice of pawpaw. Then he charged them the full price of the menu: 5000 FCFA! And bless them, the Dutch payed up without complaining, so when I arrived we were 70-80 000 francs better off. My staff was beaming proudly at me when I arrived. And what do I do? I get ANGRY!
I try calmly to explain that I cannot have people leaving here being given a sub standard meal for that amount of money. At the same time I have to admit that in a way my staff did of course do a great job. Oh, dear, it is all too stressful. My friends who just arrived said: but that's great economics. You give people a meal which costs you 500 francs to produce and charge people 5000. It is perfect! Posted by Picasa
A couple of adorable young Frenchmen just stayed- on their way around the world in a 2-CV. Posted by Picasa
HURRAH! My big pals Andrew and Pia have arrived. We were here almost exactly a year ago, a group of 8 toubabs on a 3 week's holiday in Mali. Then I came back, and now I have a hotel! They will stay with me a few days. I took a little holiday yeaterday, and wandered through town with them. Posted by Picasa
We had lunch in the market, and picked out the fish for our delicious fish sandwiches amongst this catch. The fish was deep-fried there and then, so it is really quite safe, but Keita thinks it is very dangerous to eat in the market... Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 15, 2007

This morning over breakfast I noticed that a couple of little birds had installed themseves on the top of one of my calebash lights above the bar. I approached to photograph them... Posted by Picasa
I frightened them and they took flight... Posted by Picasa
...but they didn't travel far- they installed themselves on the second calebash light over the bar. I want to plant lemon trees all around the restaurant and bar. They attract birds, and around sunset time the air is filled with bird song. I used to love going to have a beer at the Campement under their lemon tree just to hear the birds and look at the multitude of little nests in the branches. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Fatou and I made orange marmelade this morning, and it turned out really well- it has set without problems! I am intending to pass it off as a Djenné Djenno invention and speciality, although I found it on the internet: 'traditional Seville Orange Marmalade from Delia Online'. I should be ashamed of myself... Posted by Picasa
Struggling top make the above drawing into labels for Best Djenné Djenno Orange Marmalade to stick on my jars. Beset by technological gremlins in the internet cafe- photoshop is not available. If I succeed I will take a picture of the jar... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Of Marabouts, Toothache and Cement.
Last night Youssouf X, Grand Marabout de Djenné, made a visit to the hotel. He was receiving a high ranking official from Bamako, a relative, as a guest for a couple of days, and he wanted to accommodate him in a suitable manner. He asked me for a reduction in the price of the room, in exchange for his professional benediction on the hotel. I declined his offer as politely as I could. I had an uneasy feeling that he wanted to impose a sort of 'protection' in the time-honoured manner of Al Capone, and if I refused, his offer of benediction may well turn to malediction.
However, since we are neighbours, and since I want to stay on friendly terms with him, I offered him to throw the breakfast in for free for his guest, and he accepted.
The Marabouts of Djenné are an interesting but somewhat motley crew of assorted Islamic characters, ranging from a few genuinely devout and wise men, who are well versed not only in the intricacies of the Koran, but more importantly, in the intricacies of the human heart; and who are able to give generous and helpful advice to those who seek them out; and the other extreme who are almost indistinguishable from the old-fashioned African medecin men of the animists. The latter excert a strong and lucrative hold over the population of Djenné.
This morning, for example, one of my workmen who are cementing the floor of the restaurant complained of a tooth ache and wanted me to give him a pain killer. I did, of course, but at the same time I told him that the effects would soon wear off and what was he going to do then? I asked if there were any dentists in Djenné. He looked at me clearly not understanding. 'DENTIST' I said, slowly and loudly, pointing to my teeth. 'DOCTEUR DE DENTS'. I added, helpfully. 'Ah, oui, Madame' he replied, finally. 'We go to the Marabout who specializes in teeth. He puts three large nails into the ground, then he taps them in a certain order, we pay him a fee, then he tells us to go away and three days later the pain will be gone.'

My tailor Bob lost his mobile phone the other day. He went to see his Marabout, who told him to sacrifice some cola nuts ( and to pay him a certain sum), and the mobile phone would be returned . Bob complied with the requirements, and lo and behold, the mobile phone turned up the next day! In my opinion this miracle was less due to the faith of Bob or the magical skills of the marabout than to the fact that Bob had told all and sundry, and had also phoned his mobile. When it rang in the house of a juvenile whose father knew his offspring had no mobile and that Bob's had disappeared, the father simply took his little brat by the ear and marched him to Bob's workshop with the stolen mobile. Posted by Picasa
this morning we had a staff meeting, to discuss various complaints that have arisen- it turned out mostly to have to do with authority. Fatou is the only woman here apart from me, and noone wants to listen to her for this reason. My staff asked me to agree that whenever she had something to say she should adress herself first to Beigna, who would then speak on her behalf!!
I said that here, at the hotel, Fatou had as much right to speak as anyone else, and I was having nothing to do with their Malian customs as far as the running of the hotel was concerned.
Otherwise, as you can see from the above snapshot, the staff get on very well: Beigna the barman and Baba the serveur are the best of friends, but tease each other and everyone else continuously. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 12, 2007

Some intensive gardening going on this week, before the beast arrives again... Posted by Picasa
A bit worried about my tender little tomato seedlings we planted out last night from the nursery- and cross with Bubakar and Ibrahim for blasting them with high pressure hose pipe! Posted by Picasa
But look at the beginning of my first courgettes! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 11, 2007

This morning the article below appeared on the internet site:
which will also appear in the Malian magazine les echos with the picture above in a few days. Since I am very vain I can't possible let this opportunity slip...

Djenné, perle des villes sahéliennes
Sophie Sarin est une belle Suédoise qui adore le Mali. Elle ne manque aucune occasion de revenir dans notre pays. Aux termes d’un séjour de trois semaines en compagnie de quelques amis, il y a un an, elle a décidé de s’installer à Djenné pour s’investir dans l’hôtellerie. Nous avons recueilli ses impressions.
Les Echos : Pouvez-vous vous présenter brièvement à nos lecteurs ? Sophie Sarin : Je suis Suédoise, mais j’ai passé ces vingt dernières années à Londres. Quand j’étais très jeune, j’ai fait un grand voyage en Afrique, dont un mois au Mali. Le pays m’a laissé de très bons souvenirs. Il y a un an, quand des amis m’ont proposé de les rejoindre pour un voyage de trois semaines de vacances au Mali, j’étais très contente de les accompagner. Je suis revenue pendant les mois d’avril et de mai, et j’ai pris un appartement à Djenné pour étudier la possibilité de construire un hôtel. A la fin de cette période, je me suis décidée de rester et de commencer la construction de l’hôtel Djenné-Djenno.
Les Echos : Pourquoi avez-vous choisi Djenné ? S. S. : Djenné me semblait une ville très prête à recevoir un nouvel hôtel. Il n’y avait pas ici un hôtel qui a vraiment exploité cette architecture si noble et si belle dans cette ville qui est peut-être la perle de toutes les villes sahéliennes. En plus, je savais qu’il manquait des lits ici pour les nombreux visiteurs pendant la saison touristique.
Les Echos : Les choses ont-elles été faciles pour vous ? S. S. : La construction de l’hôtel a été relativement facile. Je me suis fait entourer de professionnels qui m’ont aidé. C’est le cas de Gouro Bocoum, spécialiste des bâtiments traditionnels en banco. Il est le responsable technique de la restauration de toutes les belles maisons de Djenné. Mon ami Oumar Kéita et ses amis m’ont beaucoup assisté. Les gérants des autres hôtels de Djenné ont été très accueillants. J’ai été très bien accueillie dans cette ville. Je n’ai donc pas eu de problème au début. L’hôtel est maintenant ouvert. C’est un travail de 24 h/24. J’ai trouvé l’expérience complètement bouleversante au début, et nous étions très débordés pendant les fêtes de Noël et de Nouvel an.
Les Echos : Quel est la spécificité de votre hôtel ? S. S. : Je suis artiste et décoratrice de profession. L’esthétique est donc l’une des choses les plus importantes pour moi. Et j’espère donner surtout cette touche particulière à mon hôtel. Je rêve de créer un hôtel vraiment beau où les gens se sentent très à l’aise et où ils sont heureux. J’ai moi-même fait les bogolans pour les textiles de l’hôtel avec l’assistance d’un artiste de Djenné. La décoration de l’hôtel n’est pas encore finie, mais ça sera un travail continuel.
Les Echos : Quelle est votre impression sur l’évolution du tourisme à Djenné ? S. S. : J’ai un peu peur du tourisme des grands groupes qui viennent ici pour le marché du lundi et puis ils s’en vont. Ils n’apportent peut-être pas grand-chose à la ville.
Les Echos : Des propositions pour améliorer la fréquentation touristique... S. S. : Je pense qu’il faut essayer de garder les gens ici un peu plus longtemps. Je pense aussi qu’on peut essayer d’engager les touristes dans les projets intéressants. Ils ne doivent pas seulement être spectateurs, mais ils doivent entrer dans une expérience de partage. Pour le moment, ils viennent et ils regardent seulement la mosquée, le marché du lundi et repartent. Je voudrais essayer de les retenir en offrant des semaines de cours. Par exemple, je vais offrir une semaine de bogolan. Il est très facile et très amusant. En plus, je veux aussi essayer de faire des cours de peinture ou d’écriture. Les gens viennent au Mali, ils font une semaine de voyage, puis ils viennent à l’hôtel Djenné-Djenno pour écrire avec un professeur écrivain pour les guider. Ou bien, ils viennent ici pour faire une semaine de yoga ou peut être pour regarder les oiseaux. Il faut exploiter les intérêts divers des gens. Et il faut essayer de les engager dans une activité. Ainsi, Djenné deviendrait un beau cadre pour une expérience unique.
Propos recueillis par Lévy Dougnon (Radio Jamana)
11 janv 07vv Posted by Picasa
last night just before sunset my lovely gardening consultant Monsieur Tiecora had a big planting session: the tomatoes were moved from the nursery to their new plot, and lots of new bananas were planted in clumps between the verandahs on the long facade- bananas are the best of all plants for providing quick and lush greenery in this climate- not to speak of bananas of course. Posted by Picasa