Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keita and I left Djenne early Thursday morning heading for Bamako courtesy of the Mission Culturelle’s driver and car: the result of his tests were ready. A large pale orange sun, more like a rising full moon illuminated the austere Sahel landscape as we arrived at the Bani Crossing. The water stands low now. As we crossed the short distance I asked Keita: ‘isn’t is beautiful?’ I knew what his answer would be: ‘Ca c’est pour les toubabs’.
And we laughed as usual. That is a standing joke between us. Sunsets and sunrises and anything to do with nature appreciation is for toubabs. Only once, when we passed the spectacular rock formation La Main de Fatima in the Hombori Mountains did he reply differently: ‘And that, Keita? Is that for toubabs too? ‘Non, ca c’est pour tout le monde’.
We sped through the familiar Malian landscape dotted with its fantastical baobab trees which seem to me the embodiment of West Africa: its strangeness, its earthiness, its mysteriousness, its humour and its ancient wisdom. All the while my mind kept racing and repeating, involuntarily, the opening lines of 'A Hundred Years of Solitude':

‘Many years later, facing the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia would remember the day his father took him to see ice’.

We finally arrived in Bamako towards sunset on a still, beautiful evening and crossed the Pont des Martyrs: the water was blank as a mirror.
A diminutive Dr. Toure received us at the Point G Hospital and asked us to sit down. He then put on a pair of spectacles and read lengthily through the voluminous assembled test results in total silence while we sat quietly too like good school children and looked intently at his impassive face.
Finally he cleared his throat and said breezily: well, yes, it is what we have suspected. It is the bone disease Multiple Myeloma. (The word cancer was politely avoided, although that is what it is) Then he went directly into what will happen now. Chemotherapy is to start immediately. (The word chemotherapy was never uttered either, since it does not form part of established bed-side manner vocabulary.)
On Monday an injection will be given to strengthen Keita’s bones, which have deteriorated spectacularly fast, making it quite difficult for him to even stand up now.

I am now writing this a few days later, we are still in Bamako. Keita has not had any bad reaction to the Chemotherapy at all. He is in good spirits, we play cards, watch TV, plan things for the hotel, talk to Birgit who is holding the fort in Djenne, I look after hotel bookings; we have take-aways from Amandine’s and tomorrow we will go for the injection at the Point G. Keita is a very practical person and now, once we have started doing something and the enemy has been named, he is ready to fight.


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