Sunday, March 30, 2008

I seem to have acquired a rebellious teen age daughter. Fatumata and I have actually known each other since my very beginning in Djenne, two years ago. We have quite a history, which includes being ‘rivals‘- that is to say Fatumata was very angry with me, and very jealous when I disappeared to the bar of the Campement Hotel two years ago with the Algerian poet she had considered her own catch. The said poet told her gently that she was too young to drink in bars and that she should go home to bed.

(I quote from blog entry 2nd May 2006: Yesterday I spent some time with a French/Algerian poet and author who was out here doing research on a 15th c. Algerian scholar and builder of great mosques. We ended up at the Campement at night drinking lots of beer- the staff, normally so friendly towards me had suddenly become decidedly frosty. I realize they thought I was cheating on Keita, and it was not the done thing for me to be seen with the toubab. But I really enjoyed myself and I realize how much I enjoy the company of people from my own culture now and then. -although in this case the man was three quarter Algerian. But, like Vikram, he has transcended the confines of his own culture through a western education. )

Anyway, since then my relationship with the young Fatumata, which seems to be Bambara for Lolita, has been rocky.
Of course, I was once a very rebellious teenager. Whatever my mother said was naturally rejected as a matter of course and even of honour. Since I never had any children of my own, I thought I might have escaped the irksome situation of having to cope with a hormone propelled little replica of myself at fourteen, but here it is, the situation has presented itself, and I have acquired a teenage daughter.

Tourists can do a lot of harm without realizing it. Fatumata is about fourteen years old, but she can’t read or write. She is supposed to go to school, but turns up rarely, because she is too busy hanging out with tourists. She says she is a ‘guide’, and she wants to take tourists around Djenne to earn money. She is a beautiful precocious teenager, and all she wants is for tourists to buy her Coca Cola, give her credits for her mobile phone and give her money. People are stupid enough to think that by giving her money they are doing something good. In fact they are ruining her life. Why bother to go to school and learn to read and write when she could be gainfully employed hanging out with tourists? Why bother to actually learn anything? It isn’t necessary, just looking cute is going to give her plenty of money. Every time I see her surrounded by the well-meaning but wholly misguided tourists I am enraged and I have started to feel responsible for this little brat for some reason. It is not her fault, after all. Especially since she is an orphan and lives with an old uncle who takes minimal care of her.

Enter Sophie, stage left.
Oh, Gawd. What have I let myself in for??

I have invited her to come and be a bogolan apprentice. I want her off the streets, I want her to learn something and to go to school in the mornings. If she does that, she can come here in the afternoon, and we will make her some clothes even, from the fabric she makes. She started off quite well yesterday, and today she showed that she has got quite a good hand and line if she only applies herself a bit. But weekend is creeping up on us and weekend=tourists.
She said : tomorrow it is Sunday- I have to go and see the tourists, I have to earn some money by guiding them. I said: OK, I will be your client tomorrow, you can take me around Djenne and show me what you know. She doesn’t want to- she knows that I am going to be trop exigeante.
So things have come to a little crisis. I said she had to be here tomorrow morning at ten, and forget her tourists to finish her bogolan, which she started very well this morning. Will she turn up???

This little creature was given to me by Bob, my tailor/horse trainer over fifteen months ago, as a present on opening the hotel. I say ‘creature‘, since I am not sure whether it is a turtle or a tortoise. I am still not sure. It is quite indestructible, and may be very old.
I put it in a bucket of muddy water when Bob first gave it to me. It splashed about making a lot of commotion. The following morning the water was still. First I thought it had drowned, but it had actually disappeared, managing somehow to scale the slippery slopes of the bucket.
A couple of weeks later we found it in the banana plantation. Ibrahim the gardener made a hole in its shell and attached it to a palm tree with a metal wire which the creature promptly chewed through. This was repeated a few times until everyone forgot about it, and I believed it had finally disappeared.
But no! I went on a cleaning rampage the other day, making everyone pick up rubbish. Boubakar cleaned out the circular cement hole used for the pumping out of the water last September which saved our skin during the floods. And there was the little thing once more, nestling amongst old cigarette packets! How on earth it had survived I do not know.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bogolan production has been frenetic in the new studio, and Dembele and I went to the Bani with Max and the carriage to wash off the mud yesterday. As always I ended the washing session with a refreshing swim (fully clothed of course).

apropos textiles, I went to easter Mass in Sévaré where a large proportion of the congregation was sporting this year's easter fabric in various shapes- shirts, boubous headscarves and dresses, as they danced down the isle to the joyous sound of the choir and drums.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The party is over, and it was a success I believe. Nearly two hundred people came, including Monsieur le maire, the Commandant de la Brigade, Monsieur le Prefet and many others familiar to readers of this blog, such as Hadjira the Marabout and last horseman of Djenne; Kadija the jeweller; Baji the potter and I since I had decided it would be politic to bury any hatchets I invited even the ugly M. le Directeur de l’INPS, who turned up and behaved as if he was my best friend.
After the inaugural mass at sunset in my new textile studio the party proper kicked off about 7.30 with the arrival of the hunters of Djenne, shooting blanks and making way for the balafon orchestra. The buffets were brimming over with roast lamb and various local fare.
But I don’t even have one picture to show to my great annoyance!

The following morning the demolition crew arrived and attacked the hangar, to make way for the structure described in the last entry, and finally, this morning, my mud architect Boucoum and I started to trace the positions of the pillars.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Of Geometry and God.
I saw last night on BBC World- courtesy of our newly installed satellite disc an interview with Michael Heller, the distinguised phycisist and Jesuit Priest. I qoute Wikipedia:
'In March of 2008, Heller was awarded the $1.6 million USD (£820,000) Templeton Prize for his extensive philosophical and scientific probing of "big questions." His works have sought to reconcile the often contradictory "known scientific world with the unknowable dimensions of God." He has published nearly 200 scientific papers not only in general relativity and relativistic cosmology, but also in philosophy and the history of science and science and theology and is the author of more than 20 books. In his most recent volume, Is Physics an Art? (Biblos, 1998), he writes about mathematics as the language of science and also explores such humanistic issues as beauty as a criterion of truth, creativity, and transcendence.
In commenting on this award of the Templeton Prize, Heller said:
"If we ask about the cause of the universe we should ask about the cause of mathematical laws. By doing so we are back in the great blueprint of God’s thinking about the universe, the question on ultimate causality: why is there something rather than nothing? When asking this question, we are not asking about a cause like all other causes. We are asking about the root of all possible causes. Science is but a collective effort of the human mind to read the mind of God from question marks out of which we and the world around us seem to be made.”

The interwiever on BBC World asked whether it was true that Heller had tried to prove the existence of God through mathematics. Heller of course said that it is not, and will never be possible to prove the existence of God. But he said that God has a mathematical mind. With that he meant, I believe, that the more he studied physics and mathematics the more he understood the mind of God ( or something like that…)

And what does all this have to do with Hotel Djenné Djenno?
Well, I am working on our new hangar, the restaurant area by the bar. We are taking down the grass cover which will be replaced with a new mud structure. This new building will house not only seating below, but a whole expanse above where people will dine under the stars. It is quite an ambitious plan and it needs many pillars for support, between which will be placed the roniers, or the strong, straight beams made from coconut palms.
The floor shape will remain the same: it is a section of a circle, the centre of which lies in the reception, in the circular building behind the bar.
While sketching and measuring and trying to understand how this structure should be made it slowly became quite clear that the building itself wanted to do something. The answer lay in the building itself. The number of pillars is given by the measurement needed between them, and the pattern of the roof beams suddenly revealed itself as a series of hexagons. Once I saw this, there was no other answer possible. The building itself had spoken. Or, one might say that this is the design of God?

Secondly I thought it may be a good moment to introduce a theme of religion. Monsigneur Fonghoro, The Bishop of Mopti, has kindly agreed once more to come to Djenné and celebrate mass at the Hotel, and this time on St. Patrick’s Day, this Monday. (See entry mid December 2006 for his previous visit).
The mass will be in inauguration of the new textile studio, and the brand new great hand loom which is arriving from Segou today. More of this later...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

' Oh, Alec, do let's be sensible!'
Now and then I curl up chez moi at night and watch an old European movie.
It is hard to imagine anything further removed from my life here in Djenné than the 1940's small town middle class England of Brief Encounter. But then, the appeal of this beautiful film is that it is universal. Here too, the same emotions exist and similar things happen of course albeit in slightly different ways...

Monday, March 10, 2008

This beautiful creature came to visit me at my breakfast table this morning…

Other happenings of interest at Hotel Djenné Djenno:
Beigna, our stroppy young barman is in trouble once more. This time because of lack of ice as well as lack of respect. ‘Beigna, why is there no ice?’ I asked when my Djenné Djenno sunset cocktail arrived the other night.
‘It is finished’ Beigna replied.
‘But why is it finished, Beigna?’ I responded, somewhat irritably. ‘The freezers have run all night and there is space to make an enormous quantity of ice! It is your job to make sure there is ice here!’
Beigna just looked at me and folded his arms across his chest. Then he said. ‘I am telling you, it is finished, that’s it!’
‘You what!!’ I only just managed to refrain from slapping him.
Things went from bad to worse. The next day he didn’t turn up, and only called one hour after he was supposed to be at work, complaining that he didn’t feel well.
The staff is supposed to send a message or call well before their due time of arrival in case of illness. Then they are supposed to go to the hospital to get a medical certificate- they can see Keita for this. Beigna hadn’t bothered- or dared- because he knew Keita would not be sympathetic. In fact Keita was so angry when he heard the latest catalogue of offences that he wanted to sack Beigna yet again. Only this time it is harder, because he now has a proper official contract and we have entered into the labyrinthine bureaucracy which is the legacy of the French here. Oh, well, the first stage has been accomplished- a formal letter of warning which was delivered to the miscreant yesterday…
Meanwhile we have now taken on Ernest, the former barman at the Campement Hotel, a very experienced hotel employe, who may put some order amongst my delinquent children. Ernest left the Campement under a cloud of controversy himself a couple of weeks ago- in fact he was sacked, ostensibly for stealing, a very grave offence of course, but we prefer to give Ernest the benefit of the doubt. Keita has known him for many years and has great respect for him. He believes that the Campement are in the wrong. Let’s see...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It is a good idea not to have too many enemies in Djenne. While the population is gentle and agreeable for the most part, and as good Muslims they resign themselves to the will of Allah, there are also those who are not adverse to indulging in a little magic in order to get their way. There is a flourishing trade in potions and elixirs, spells and gri-gris or talismans imbued with power for good or ill.
This trade is largely the monopoly of the marabouts, ostensibly holy men, well versed in the intricacies of the Koran, which they teach to the talibés, the little beggar boys in their charge at the numerous Koran schools of Djenne. Often marabouts make a lucrative side-line as purveyors of magic potions.
There are potions for all ills- physical and metaphysical. There are potions to make people love you, and to make them stop loving someone else for instance. Such means of persuasion are not the prerogative of Africans, but plenty of westerners avail themselves of these ancient African methods. A very handsome young Canadian I met when I first arrived in Djenne whose girlfriend had dumped him went to a marabout to make her love him again. Since the girl was in Bamako the use of potions on her was not a practical option but that did not present a problem- there are gri-gris that can be applied at a distance.
I am not certain of the outcome for the love-lorn Canadian, but I have just heard a chilling story which bears all the marks of veracity and was reported on national radio:

A young wife went to a marabout to obtain a potion to give to her husband in order to prevent him from taking a second wife. The marabout liked the look of her and decided he wanted her for himself. He gave her a potion which she promptly dispensed to her husband, who fell ill of a mysterious decease and died within two days. The wife was hardly in a position to say anything. After the prescribed time of mourning the marabout made her a visit and was politely received. He began courting the young widow, who soon invited him for dinner one night. At the end of the evening he began to feel unwell. The widow said: ‘the potion you gave me was not used up- I gave you the remaining half in your dinner.’
The marabout died within two days. The reason we know this story is that he didn’t want to face Allah without making amends- he had the time to go to the gendarmerie to give himself up before he expired..