Saturday, March 31, 2007

This magnificent lady is Baji, my potter, who made the sinks in the bathrooms and the 'ostrich eggs' that goes on top of the four poster beds. She is here wearing a locally made traditional bogolan outfit, woven and painted in Djenné. In my opinion this outfit could grace the catwalk of John Galliano, i.e. the best the West has to offer as far as fashion goes. It is my intention that eventually, perhaps even next season, we will have little fashion shows at Hotel Djenné Djenno, with pieces like these and some of the things we make ourselves.
Apart from my excitement over Baji's elegance not much happened yesterday. It is the fin de saison, which even in this exotic location gives exactly the same gentle nostalgia as if I were sitting at the end of Brighton pier looking at a closed down ice-cream stand. Suddely I feel really alone and deserted and the idea of going 'home' to Europe for a few weeks seems perfect...but until then, let's have a look at the garden where our first aubergine harvest is nearly ready: Posted by Picasa
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Flowers are hardly seen in Djenné at all- everything that grows in this parched land is destined to be eaten. So I have mostly used the same principle when planting the garden; apart from one or two little patches such as the one above even the ornamental patches outside the bedrooms have been planted with edible plants such as courgettes and melons which give a green covering at the same time as being useful. It is a very utilitarian plan, and one of which the Bauhaus design group would have approved: form subjugated to function, and nothing existing for the frivolous reason of beauty and decoration alone. Posted by Picasa
and a watermelon is developing , nestling close to the date palm, illustrating the same bauhaus principles. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A long time ago, in Rwanda and Burundi, I used to get irritated by our ex-pat neighbours on the lonely tea plantation where we lived who used to invite us for drinks at night and spend all evening complaining about the natives. Then I lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and yet again the topic of conversation over the pink gins at sunset on the verandah tended to be the appalling lack of manners/education/understanding etc of the natives.
Here in Djenne I am the only expat around, and although a Frenchman, a Dutchman and an American all own houses here, they only visit now and then- I don't even know them. Therefore one would have thought that the topic of conversation may have differed- not a bit however.
Diawoye, the manager of the Maffir, one of the two other good hotels here, comes along at night and we sit on the roof in the sunset bar and what do we do? yes, we complain about the natives, although Diawoye is of course a native himself. 'Ah, you just can't find the staff here- it isn't like Bamako, complains Diawoye. ' You give them an inch and they take a mile- and you turn your back and there they are, asleep in their chair, as if they hadn't a care in the world!'
Baba the waiter was trained by Diawoye, who later 'gave' him to me as a Christmas present when I started the hotel. Baba worked in the bar for a few days when Beigna had been given the sack, and here is the sleepy little native, hard at work in the bar, a living proof of Diawoye's theories.... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This building, ladies and gentlemen, is the CLIC (Centre Local d'Information et de Communications) from which I write my bulletins.
And today I rode here on Xaloc for the first time!
In the foreground you can just glimpse Dolly too, and Ibrahim took the picture- the two of them came along to hold my hand, so to speak. Xaloc behaved himself quite well as we rode through the centre of town, but got very excited and danced around, neighing, when we encountered other horses, particularly of the female variety- but then he is a young boy, of course. Ibrahim is looking after him outside under an acacia tree. There are very scant facilities here for the tying up of horses, I think the CLIC management expect its clients to arrive on more up-to-date transport- must rush, speak soon! Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 26, 2007

Most important new from Djenné Djenno today is that I have started to ride Xaloc! My old motorcycle helmet has once more found a use because it is not yet straight forward as you can probably see from this rather bad quality picture, and just in case... But Ibrahim and I went riding last night, me on Xaloc, he on Dolly, all the way to the archeological site of Djenne Djenno, from which the hotel takes its name. Posted by Picasa
Other news from Hotel Djenné Djenno:
Behind the bar you see a much chastised Beigna, once more de retour.
I was being continually pestered by seemingly the whole of Djenné, interceding on behalf of him, pleading with me to show mercy and take him back: ' He is only a child, he doesn't know better', 'be patient with him, he will improve' etc.
He himself had gone back to Keita as his 'petit' once again and spent all day by his side at the laboratory, quietly making him tea and being useful, not saying a word. Finally Keita too softened and took pity on him. 'Take him back, Sophie, he has suffered enough'. So even I relented in the end, and after a rather stiff formal interview took him back... So far the bar is spotless and so far he is a marvel of efficiency. Perhaps he has learned. But maybe a little suffering out in the cold did him good? Will keep you posted. Posted by Picasa
Deep in new bogolan production- the World of Interiors, no less, have kindly asked me for samples when I get back in April, they want to do a little spread about my bogolans! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Of Mango Rain, Bad Spirits and Democracy.

Malians have a habit of speaking for the entire nation: ‘in Mali we do this and we don’t do that’: there seems to be but little personal choice, and much behaviour is ruled by tradition.

The Mango season is beginning and mangoes have started to appear at the market again. We have already made a delicious mango jam for our hotel breakfasts. But until yesterday Keita had not yet eaten a mango. Why? Because he was waiting for the mango rain, before which one doesn't eat mangoes in Mali. The mango rain is just a few drops of rain around the middle of March, when the weather changes and the great heat begins. Two days ago the mango rain came, and when I returned from a short trip to Segou there was a whole basket of mangoes waiting for me, which Keita had bought in the market. Posted by Picasa

And then there is the business about sleeping out on the roof.
It is getting hot here now, and I want to move out onto the roof and sleep under the stars . But it is not yet allowed, because it has to be announced at the mosque. ' What on earth have they got to do with people's sleeping habits?' I ask, with some irritation. And I am told that if one attempts to sleep out before the ritual benedictions have taken place it is not safe and one is likely to encounter bad spirits.

(Let me digress for a moment concerning the bad spirits of Djenne, which come in the shape of dwarfs apparently, and have their feet turned the wrong direction pointing backwards. They seem to resemble leprichorns, but they are more dangerous and mustn't be trifled with, because they carry lethal arrows. During the day they seem hilarious and rather endearing to me, especially when I am told that they really like guavas and often hide in the shade of guava trees. I have a vision of a sort of jolly English garden gnome. But when I am alone at night and the generator is turned off I don't like the idea much and wouldn't like to meet one lurking in my bathroom for instance, so just to be on the safe side I recite the 91st psalm:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord 'He is my
refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'.
Surely he will save you from the
fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart .
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday....
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thosand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you...

then I fall asleep, peacefully.

Djenne has always been troubled by such phenomena , it seems. At the foundation of the town of Djenne bad spirits were causing the buildings to collapse. According to oral tradition a young Bozo girl named Pama Kayamtao had to be sacrificed in order for the town to be built. Her tomb, the tomb of Tapama, (our mother Pama) is still visited as one of the tourist attractions of Djenne.)

So do people really believe in these sort of things? I don't know, but I do know that Malians believe in tradition in a much more serious way than we do in the West. While we are likely to ask why , Malians are likely to accept things as they are. ‘In Mali we do things like this, or like that’, as if there is no individual freedom of choice at all. Individualism is of course something relatively recent in the West too, epitomised in the American ethos, so obsessed with individual freedom. That freedom of individual expression, so precious to an American does not really mean all that much to an African, if I am not mistaken, and therefore democracy, the great defender of this perceived human right to say, think and do whatever we like within the limits of the law is often not really seen as that important. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It was my birthday a couple of days ago. The normally pragmatic and unsentimental Keita did something quite out of character and really quite inspired: he asked for a table and two chairs to be placed in the middle of the sunset bar, and our dinner to be served up there, in the light of candles. We sat under the stars, gazing down at the garden where my Woolworth's Charlie Dimmock solar lanterns (see entries 23 July and 6 Oct) glimmered all around, echoing the stars above. Keita giggled, saying: this is just too Toubab...but even he seemed to enjoy it . We talked of how much has happened in much less than a year and how amazing it is that we are sitting in the middle of all this.
This romantic idyll didn' t last of course.
Very soon Abdraman, a friend of Keita's, arrived. When he saw the two of us sitting high above, alone in the candlelight , he ordered a chair to be brought up and placed next to us. He had nothing in particular to communicate, but instead he inexplicably chose this moment to bring out his mobile phone and start to erase old messages, thereby making a horrible sound and illuminating himself in the light of the mobile phone. I was dumbfounded by this gross lack of understanding and tact, but Keita thought it was perfectly normal behaviour. Here the idea of privacy and romantic dinners does't exist. Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 19, 2007

I have been gathering animal skins to put on the floor in all the rooms as decorations and to fulfil the function of carpets. This has become a source of daily irritation, however, because every day when I check the rooms, the 'chamber maids' Ali and Segu have put the skins back on the floor facing the wrong direction- and every day I put them back the way I want them, grinding my teeth and swearing under my breath, wondering why on earth such a simple instruction is seemingly impossible to follow, damn it!
Until today, when I finally relized that my 'chambermaids' are putting the skins to face Mecca!
Here such skins are used for prayer... Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 16, 2007

I have a very bad tailor called Bob.
He is so bad in fact, that I have given up and bought myself a sewing machine. It is called Butterfly and is a new Chinese copy of a Singer sewing machine of ca 1870, with a foot pedal- perfect for here with my temperamental generator.
The problem is that I really like Bob- I have known him from the very start here. He is badly off and I have tried to give him work. But finally I decided the quality was just too bad. Posted by Picasa
My stroppy young Xaloc is still trying to bite me, but help is at hand... Posted by Picasa
Bob may be a bad tailor but he is a born horse trainer, and that is exactly what I need right now! I am so relieved- once Bob had done half an hour of lunging with Xaloc (a rope still connecting the two right hooves). I led him back to his stable and he was good as gold. Apparently we can take off the rope in a week or so, but not before. It seems a bit cruel to me, but Bob tells me this is how its done here. He was appalled that I gone walking alone with his hooves unbound yesterday, and was surprised I hadn't lost him. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 15, 2007

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I am having problems with stroppy young males at the moment: one of them human one of them equine.
Yesterday I sacked Beigna, my barman, in a fit of rage. He had been annoying me for quite some time. For instance, if I said something like: 'Beigna, please do empty the ashtrays. Why do I have to keep asking you? It is your job!', he actually answered back: ' I don't like it when you talk to me like that!' I mean, really!
On the other hand, I am genuinely sad to let him go, because he was with us from the beginning and he had many good qualities too. He was scrupulously honest with the bar money, he was good at doing barman chatting, i.e. he would entertain our house regulars with ' have you heard the one about ...' etc.
But I spent all my days being angry with him, and that is no good.
As far as Xaloc goes, it is a bit the same sort of problem: he is young and tries to get the upper hand. Yesterday we went for another walk and I nearly lost him- he is quite strong. So now I am looking for a trainer to help me. The problem is the local people are extremely harsh with their horses. Is it necessary?
I have an English book called 100 ways to improve your horses schooling.
It tells me to talk to the horse a lot, amongst other things. So at the moment I am talking to Xaloc, but I have a really strong impression that he is looking at me with utter contempt, thinking: 'what is that stupid toubab woman talking about! What a load of namby-pamby crap! As if I care, I am a Farafin horse!'
Oh, dear. And poor Dolly is not at all happy either with the new addition, and kicks him whenever possible. Next week we are going to give them separate stables, and I will take the rope off their feet (an African custom) because their pens will be enclosed.
Does anyone out there know if one should hit a stroppy horse, or just keep talking??? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Of Horses and Minstrels.
I went on a trip yesterday on the back of my friend Barry's motorcycle to inspect a couple of horses he had found for me. (Readers of this blog will have become bored by now by my endless talk and no action regarding this horse business. )We crossed the Bani river in a pirogue, then we went off cross country way into the 'brousse', so far, in fact, that the children were crying when they saw me, thinking I was a demon since they had never seen a toubab before. It was a very West African trip, full of local colour on the way. Posted by Picasa
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There were Bozo fishermen with their bamboo traps, closing in on the remaining fish in the ponds where the last water still lingers before the searing heat of the dry season mops up the last drops on the flood plains of the Niger Delta; Posted by Picasa
there was a village with a little band of newly circumcised boys dressed in their traditional blue, worn for two weeks, shaking their rattles made of calebashes, hoping to solicit a few coins from passers-by. Posted by Picasa
Last but not least there were the Dogon Griots with their two young stallions, just brought in from the Dogon country, one of which is now munching hay in a little make-shift stable next to Dolly.
But allow me to digress today on the fascinating subject of Griots, before waxing lyrical about my new equine friend.
A Griot is, as far as I can understand, almost exactly what we would have called a minstrel. The title of Griot is inherited. Every good family has a Griot, whose function it is to record the events of the family and to make sure its history is known and carried on into the next generation. This is done in song and in poems, recited on important occasions such as weddings and baptisms etc. It is also the function of the Griot to act as a sort of bearer of tidings, both good and bad, and the Griot is sent by his family to ask the hand of a young girl in marriage, for instance.
My friend Mohammed (see August 19 entry) had a friend who left to try and reach Europe illegally, one of the many who cross the Sahara to Morocco and then attempt to reach Spain on an over ladened boat. Mohammed's friend didn't make it. One day an official turned up at the village. He knew that Mohammed was a friend of the family, so he gave him the irksome task of telling them that the young man's body had been washed ashore on the Spanish coast. Mohammed found it impossible to tell the young man's mother, so he went and commissioned the family Griot to do the deed. The Griot would then gave turned up at the home of the young man's family and for quite some time it would have been impossible to tell the reason for his visit. It is not possible to hurry a Griot, one has to patiently sit down and listen to the ceremonial preamble, which is the same whether the errand is happy or sad . Thus, a Keita, for instance would have to sit and listen to something like the following:
'O, noble descendant of the father of us all, the Great Sundiatta Keita, whose glory still shines on you and your family. (This would continue for some time, listing anyone noteworthy with the name Keita in the last thousand years). Then, eventually, even a Griot whould have to come to the point, and this would be done something like the following:
'The mercy and goodness of the Lord has shone upon you and your family, but the same God who has given you plenty can also take away, and who has the right to question the actions of God?
And finally, the truth can be uttered.
The Dogon Griots we visited are great horsemen and dress both themselves and their horses up to perform their ceremonial duties. Their saddles and tackle are magnificent. Posted by Picasa
XALOC-my new horse!
He was given his name by a Spanish visitor. Xeloc is one of the nine winds in Catalan- the others that he remembered are Tramuntana, Gregal, Mestral, Llevant. The Xeloc is a mild southern wind- let's hope that my Xeloc takes on its gentle qualities, although this morning he was nothing but mild when we went for a little walk- quite stoppy in fact, rearing up all over the place and trying to bite me! But we will soon become friends... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

after three days of digging by hand and raising the earth out with buckets the labourers have hit the water level in the well on the new land But that was by far the least interesting thing that happened yesterday... But can't speak now, must rush, more later! Posted by Picasa