Friday, July 25, 2008

Astonishment is not the word.
I don't quite know how to celebrate this epoch making event.
I am writing this from my bed at Hotel Djenne Djenno! And not only writing it but sending it off too, what is more important. The Orange Thingy I aquired in Bamako finally decided to work and I am overjoyed!
The other very jolly thing (I did say that Africa is a land of extremes, didn't I? I spend days complaining about everything and then suddenly two causes for celebration in one day!) yes, the other thing is that I came upon a band of Peulh cowboys just beyond the Djenne Djeno archaeological site this evening as I rode past on Napoleon. We have tried for two years to get some milk delivered to the hotel, but the Peulh (French for Fulani)have great problems parting with any thing or part or produce from their beloved cows. But this evening the very milk you see being milked out of this cow (shared with the calf) was delivered to Hotel Djenne Djenno, and the young boy that delivered it said he would be back tomorrow with more! So is this the beginning of yoghurts and cheeses, let alone just good milk with the breakfast at Hotel Djenne Djenno? Let's see- I really hope he will be back!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I watch BBC World every night, courtesy of our satellite disc. The other night I was annoyed by a self-righteous English pratt(1) who was banging on about Malawi and cigarettes. His problem was that in Malawi it is possible to buy cigarettes in single units, and he had scoured all Malawi and found some offending posters where the price of one cigarette was listed. These posters he dragged back to England with him, and presented triumphantly, as evidence of gross misconduct, to the British American Tobacco Company. He styled himself as a sort of guerrilla journalist, hounding down innocent people who had just attended the yearly board meeting and attacking them on their way to their cars. To their credit they all replied politely to his verbal attacks which went something like this: were they aware, and were they not ashamed, that in Africa cigarettes are sold in single units, therefore, (to his mind), aimed at children?
The problem with all this is of course that individual shop owners and anyone else who wants to earn a few pennies do not have to wait for a go-ahead from the British American Tobacco Company before opening a packet of cigarettes and selling them on one by one. In Mali most people buy cigarettes this way, because they are too poor to buy a packet of cigarettes. I have not noticed, at least here in Mali, any great number of children smoking, but can of course not speak for Malawi. Above we have Monsieur Sekou Sarmoye Soukoro, shop keeper of Djenne, with a selection of such offending opened cigarette packets. He confirms my suspicion that it is adults who buy these cigarettes, and two thirds of his cigarette trade is done this way, just as everywhere else in Africa, at least in the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, where Monsieur Soukoro worked earlier.

The programme was unbelievably badly conceived, because the Pratt then interviewed some homeless Malawi children of about twelve, who had also had the idea of buying a packet of cigarettes, opening it and selling the cigarettes on one by one. They were in fact making a living doing just that. Now, this, to my mind, although not an ideal means of making a living, is better than nothing! Then, to further compound the confusion and mixed messages, he interviewed some Malawi tobacco farmers who confirmed that tobacco was their biggest crop and without this cash-crop things would look grim indeed. So it was not clear what the programme was advocating: surely not an immediate cessation of smoking on behalf of everyone? In the long run tobacco crops should of course ideally be replaced with food crops, but in the short term tobacco is providing a living for the poor farmers of Malawi. Meanwhile, surely there are more pressing problems in Malawi, non??

From the BBC Press Office:
New evidence reveals that marketing tactics used by the London-based British American Tobacco Company in Africa clearly breach their own marketing code and are attracting young smokers.
In an investigation carried out for BBC Two's This World, Dragons' Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne uncovers clear evidence of breaches of the code in relation to marketing to young people.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Update on the staff situation:
The lovely but troublesome Beigna has left us- sacked for the forth and final time. He finally left in a cloud of revolutionary glory, a sort of people’s hero, the Thomas Sankara of Djenne Djenno, fighting for the downtrodden staff. It is too longwinded to go into here but involved, amongst other things, a row about food left uncovered in the kitchen, and the rubbish not being disposed off in the proper manner. Like a good democratic Scandinavian I wanted to talk sensibly and explain things to the staff to quell the rebellion, but Keita told me to shut up and keep out of it: ‘You talk too much!’ Then Keita went into Frightening Mood, an impressive state only brought out once a year or so and the incipient revolution was nipped in the bud. Beigna was sacked and the rest told that if they didn’t like things they could leave. They all stayed.

Instead we have Ernest (above) as our new barman/manager. He has already been with us for a few months. We took him on when he was sacked from the Campement allegedly for stealing. He had been there many years and both Keita and I knew him very well. We chose not to believe the rumour and took him on immediately, to the great cheer of the many who also thought the Campement were in the wrong. Ernest knows everybody in the tourism industry in Mali, all the guides know him and respect him. He has a very soothing manner and immense tact. He understands something Beigna never understood: He know that whatever I say I am right, and he always agrees with me. Here he is taking the initiative to put some flowers in the Peulh suite for today’s family who will soon be arriving. I am pleased with him and don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t like the colour combination.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I am running around getting involved in far too many schemes and initiating yet more.
I have just become ‘marraine’ (sponsor, godmother literally) for the Djenne branch of something called La Jeune Chambre International – haven’t had time to find out what its about really, but accepted the position as godmother, since I am never able to refuse anything which might give me an occasion to wear a big hat.

Anyway, the first meeting was last Saturday, and I thought I would find out exactly what it was about, but instead I found myself in a lecture about ‘leadership’ and the qualities needed, which are listed below. I may possess some of the physical attributes listed on the left(height etc) but find myself woefully short of those on the right (tact, patience..) so the lecture was probably very good for me.
Otherwise there is the MaliMali workshop which is not yet off the ground for various practical reasons; there is the scheme to clean up Djenne’s plastic bag problem; there is the Djenne Manuscripts Library (see blog beginning April). I went to the British Library Conference on the Endangered Libraries of Africa in London on the 10 June. There is a real possibility that the British Library will finance a project here…more later.
And then the latest scheme: I want to try and get a wind-power turbine for Djenne somehow…(Donna Quichotte de Djenne?) and then …and then…

...and then I just sent off an article to the LANCET (!!!) on the malaria situation in Djenne. Yes, yes, I know, I have no medical expertise whatsoever of course, but I was encouraged by my pal the psychiatrist Yonatani who thought that a word from the grass roots as it were might be interesting for an international medical conference in Bamako in November on the subject of health and inequality…This article has of course more or less zilch possibility of being accepted, but I couldn’t help myself I just had to do it- would love to see my brother’s face (an eye surgeon) if I had an article published in the LANCET! (The article is called ‘Money can’t buy you love but it can prevent death from malaria).
All this is exciting of course, but it is exhausting and I am quite aware that nothing may come of anything. I am also painfully aware that I am irritated by more or less everything here in my daily life: by the slow pace, by the carefree attitudes, the forgetfulness and the lack of responsibility and the more or less total lack of community spirit all around me.
So, am I joining the ranks of the many who ‘love humanity’ as a whole and want to ‘help people’ but can’t stand the individual representatives of the human race?
If so I am going to have to leave and admit defeat. That is my greatest challenge here in Africa.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Conforming to the Law that all things must be difficult and incomprhensible here in West Africa, the long-awaited New Loom did arrive the day before yesterday, but only part of it. The gentle and knowledgeable M. Sega, master weaver, arrived from Segou with the said loom, but had forgotten a large part of it, so he will have to return next week with the rest...

And for the well-wishers who are concerned about Napoleon's health after his 'operation', thank you! as you can see, he is still thin, but helping himself to the fresh new grass (and mangoes, millet etc) with a healthy appetite, so the treatment from the medicin man did him no harm at least. The building to the right in the background is the new weaving and bogolan studio.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Last night, towards sunset, Napo had a run-in with a big handsome pie-bald stranger, ridden by a farmer from a neighboring village who came by to say hello. African stallions are hardly ever neutered, and they are all big show-offs and like to prance around looking impressive. This is of course encouraged by their riders, who bask in some of this glory, just like, say, driver of Jaguar E-types chez nous. Napo is the most macho of them all and although only little he thinks he is very big and dangerous and can take on anyone.

It was more excitement and bravado than real aggression between the two stallions and in the end we all went off on a sunset ride to Sanouna, by the Bani crossing. Max came too, ridden by Petit Baba, and we galloped all the way back, thundering through the muddy fields and splashing through the puddles. When we arrived back at Djenne Djenno it was nearly dark and everyone was covered with mud, horses and riders alike.

Tomorrow my new loom arrives from Segou. We were going to start a weaving course for a month, with about six pupils. However it is now the rainy season and people disappear into la brousse to prepare their fields and sow, and I was advised to wait with the course until the rains are over. But I am eager to start something, so thought we would start with the plastic bag idea (see blog entry May) so here is Amadou from the Djenne handicapped association, ‘spinning’ plastic bags and joining them by heating with coals. It is a fairly slow process so far, but with a little team and with some practice we might get somewhere- the idea is to weave seats for my new chairs for the new restaurant to start with. They will be a sort of neo-Mies van der Rohe lever chair, wich is now in development with Bamye, my metal worker. If this works, well then who knows?

Friday, July 04, 2008

My month of assiduous Bambara studies while tucked away in the forests of central Sweden with my mother and MNL has yielded some results, and although I still speak French to my staff when I am in a hurry or when I am angry- in other words most of the time- there are also moments when I make an effort and say things like: Boubakar, na, an be fileriw turu! (Boubakar, come here, we are going to plant some flowers!) This provokes inordinate delight in the staff, who clutch their stomachs and fall over, yelping with laughter.
But Bambara, like everything else in West Africa, is confusing and seemingly illogical. I was feeling very pleased with myself because I am now able to count in Bambara, which I assumed would be helpful if I wanted to go shopping in the market for instance. But no, of course not! It turns out that the numbers used for counting ordinary things do not apply to money. If I give 1500 francs CFA in order to buy a torch for example, I want to say: Ba kelen ani keme duuru, which means, literally translated, 1500. But while this phrase is correct if I am talking about 1500 cows, say, or 1500 bicycles, it doesn’t apply to 1500 francs, which instead is called keme saba, literally 300!

I am not the first to find this curious. Even when money was represented by cowrie shells the same thing applied and Mungo Park wrote in 1795:
‘it is curious that in counting the cowries, they call eighty a hundred. Sixty is called a Manding hundred'...