Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sitting in the sunset bar waiting for another imminent arrival of The Beast. All is in order, have checked all the rooms.
The plain which separates the hotel from the town of Djenné has once more returned to dust and the boys of Djenné are playing football where fishermen were recently plying the waters in their pirogues.
Events are following one upon another like flotsam carried by a fast flowing stream. Much is noteworthy, and I try and catch the individual strands of matter in order to weave it into some cohesion, but before I have grasped them they are gone: a face smiles at me, I pull it into focus, we have a long conversation perhaps on my sunset roof with a Djenne Djenno cocktail in our hands. As sure as night follows day The Question will soon pop up: ’What brought you to this alien place?’ I pick different responses according to what I feel like. I am tempted to use the splendid dialogue of Casablanca:

Claude Raines:’Why did you end up in Casablanca, Rick?’
Bogart: ‘I came for the waters’.
‘But there is no water in Casablanca!‘
‘Well, I was misinformed‘.

On nights with elderly German tourists I say I went because I saw an opportunity in tourism.
On nights with the Spanish I sometimes I say: I went to Africa as a Protest against Life, Love and God and Whatever; with some idea that this may be appropriate for the Spanish Flamenco temperament.
One favourite for the French is is ’I joined the Foreign Legion., or rather ‘I invented my own Foreign Legion.’

And then the face of my inquisitive guest is gone, carried away by the rapids. But another face is already there which will be gone in its turn before I even have time to pull it into focus, and then another and another…

A couple of people have written to me, wondering what is going on. Am I OK? Why so quiet on the Djenne front?
Am I OK?
I don’t know.
I know that Africa is very hard, and Africa is rough- Africa wears one down like the dripping of water slowly hollows a stone- there is no escape. I see people coming here, all glowing with ideas and ideals and good intentions like I was two years ago.

But it is now that the chaff is sifted from the wheat- two years into the wearing-down process.

My friends Neville and Birgit left this morning- last night we took a pirogue (a canoe or sort of gondola) trip around Djenné. I was vaguely investigating whether it might be a good idea to offer tourists at the hotel. It most definitely isn’t. Djenné is not only the most beautiful city of the Sahel- and I believe that is true- but it is also undoubtedly the filthiest. Djenné, seen from a pirogue, is quite literally a gigantic heap of rubbish. This gem of a town sits on enormous mounds of old plastic bags- the scourge of Africa.
Some do-gooding tubabs are trying to set up schemes to make things out of the old plastic bags in an attempt to clean the rubbish up by paying people by the kilo for bringing it in.
But as a clear thinking Frenchman quite sensibly pointed out, that just compounds the problem, and gives no incentive to stop throwing bags out, quite the contrary.

I have a very exciting scheme bubbling, -about which more later if I can muster the strength- and it needs the support of the town of Djenné, and perhaps the donation of some land. I therefore had to write a letter to Monsieur le Maire of Djenné the other day.
Keita read it first and said: if you need the support of the town of Djenné for your idea you need to offer something to interest them- such as for instance 20% of the proceeds of your scheme to go to the cleaning up of the town of Djenné. I immediately thought it was a very good idea- and it is, in order to get the support I need. But it won’t be successful. The cleaning up of Djenné - or of any town- can only be accomplished when the people of Djenné sees the rubbish which surrounds them. Until then do-gooding toubabs will be knocking their heads against the wall.
But then we realized something as we glided gently past the filth, piloted by our two gondoliers, sipping our sunset cocktails: The rubbish mountains of Djenné, however disgusting, are of course not even a fraction as harmful as the amount of rubbish our toubab nations spew out every day, so who the hell are we to get on our high horses, just because it spoils the aesthetics of our sunset cocktail experience???

Africa is, in the phrase used by my friend Birgit, a rollercoaster of emotions. It is full of extremes and contradictions: either one feels in the depths of despair or one is elated- it doesn't perhaps bear too much scrutiny- one has to walk the tight rope. It works, somehow, if only one doesn't look down at ones feet...
This morning I woke up and went into my lovely garden where petit Baba were helping old Boubakar with the watering wearing his new outfit (see above). Napoleon neighed when he saw me, and Papa was already in the kitchen preparing food for the full house tonight. Twelve labourers were at work building the new weaving and bogolan studio and beyond them the new land I have just bought lay shimmering in the dusty morning light like a unopened sketchbook full of blank pages. I have set something in motion here, and it will continue- it has almost got a momentum of its own which is bigger than me. I just need to remember not to look too closely at my feet.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A few days ago an unprecedented number of children descended on Hotel Djenne Djenno. Children of all ages and nationalities, belonging to at least five different families on various aid schemes in Burkina Faso, the Niger and Ghana as well as one or two university professors in Bamako. The hotel was not a pre-arranged meeting spot; the families didn’t actually know each other but were brought together by a kindly disposed providence in order to furnish enough children to make it worth while playing hide and seek, murder in the dark, football, etc. A young American boy even found time to beat me at chess. The hotel was abuzz with laughter and the thump-thump-thump of little feet.

Igor and Baba were enchanted- just as we find black babies irresistible, they melted and spent most of the days carrying the babies around and putting them to work on various schemes such as brushing the horses or watering the garden

After breakfast one of the days we counted fourteen children. We put them all in the cart and Dolly pulled them around town to the delight of the population of Djenne.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lots of things are happening- in fact the events are piled one on top of the other in a -mostly- pleasant cavalcade which leaves me little time to write. We have had a more or less constant invasion of the BEAST, but mainly well-behaved and non-complaining, writing enthusiastic messages in my new guest book: my favourite:
..’if you also had 2-3 milking cows outside….’Out of Africa revisited..’ love Bruna (from Holland Park)
The other night, inspired by the presence of the two gorgeous young friends above- a Dutchman and an Englishman- we instigated a new dimension to our sunset drinks with horse races at sunset at Djenno Djenno, viewed from on high in the sunset bar.

Here we see Beigna, our barman who doubled up as conferencier, extolling the merits of the respective jockeys and their two mounts, while petit Baba, favourite jockey on Max, and Sekou on the favourite horse Napoleon parade for inspection, limbering up before the race.

By the time the first race was over with Napoleon as the clear winner bursting across the finishing line in a cloud of dust as the great red disc set we had already consumed two cocktails Djenne Djenno each in the excitement.