Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Far from reaching a conclusion, things reach ever more intricate levels of complications.
Yesterday I went to see Keita again at the hospital. We were talking about arranging a meeting between his wife and me when events were precipitated and the door opened. A young woman entered carrying a baby on her back- it was Keita’s wife. I jumped to my feet and greeted her. We both took a seat at the bedside. She has a gentle soft face with a deep sadness etched on it – I didn’t know whether because of me or Keita’s illness. She said Keita had told her everything. Then she reached over and let me hold the baby daughter Nene, (who started crying of course). We talked about the children – I said I had seen pictures of them and thought them very lovely. Then I said that I hoped we could all work together for the rehabilitation of Keita, because we all loved him and that I hoped that she and I could be friends.
Then later that day I got a phone call from Keita’s big sister the formidable Djenneba:.
‘It is all arranged. I took some time off work and went to Segou to see ‘La Vieille’. (Their mother.) She has agreed and the marriage will take place next week. ‘Oh, thanks Denneba, but I don’t think Keita wants to do it now, he wants to wait until he gets better’.
‘What nonsense.’ Of course he wants to. In any case it doesn’t matter, it will all work out, don’t worry. ‘But Djenneba, please, I can’t marry someone if they don’t want to marry me!’ Don’t worry Sophie, just trust me’.
Then this morning I went to see Keita and asked him if he was aware of what was going on. Did he know that Djenneba had been to Segou to see his mother? Yes, he did. Had he spoken to his mother? No he hadn’t. But haven’t you told them that we have decided to NOT get married? No, he hadn’t. But why? ‘Oh, we just have to leave them now. Seemingly we no longer have a say in the matter!
Djenneba had told me too: it is more a question of her deciding than Keita now- did she like me? Yes- then we will marry! The African family customs are hard to grasp to say the least. They don’t seem to cater for individual tastes or wishes. One the friends and family has launched the idea, it is an unstoppable train, and Keita and I are seemingly unimportant now. In this case it is a conspiracy including my unlikely friend Dra, Ace, Djenneba and Boucoum. I have no idea what will happen next. My friend Kathy wrote the following email, and I will listen and take heed:

It is beyond belief the twists and turns that you are dealing with. It is so hard for you to keep perspective in this almost surreal world you are living in. I think it is so hard to keep a hold on everything when you connection with Keita is being stretched and 'controlled' by external forces.
I thinking there is nothing better to do than let everyone else run round trying to control things while you sit and wait - like what happened with Dra becoming friends- and all the time keeping your focus on your feelings for Keita and his for you - that is what has to survive from this time!
Make Haste Slowly. [Lat., Festina lente.]
Author: Augustus Caesar
Source: quoting a Greek proverb, according to Aullus Gellius (X, 11, 5)

Oh, and yes, I managed to squeeze in a visit by the Minister of Tourism (below being shown around the place) this afternoon. Above is the Prefet de Djenne at the bar.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I have talked to Birgit a lot on the phone in the last few days. Always a master of the apt phrase, she described the recent events here as ‘the Square Root of Emotional Roller Coasters’. Indeed. Keita and I had reached a sort of impasse over the last two days and had nearly broken up. His wife did not leave after all, and I lost my cool – not so much about his wife being there, that I could understand, but about me still not being able to even see him. In a bizarre turn of events Dra, who had earlier cursed me became an unlikely ally. He arrived at the hotel one night, as I was sitting alone in a corner, brooding and drinking a glass of red wine. ‘What do you want?’ I snapped unpleasantly. To his credit he kept his cool, then. amazingly, he said he wanted to apologize for the day when Keita left for the hospital. Not only that, but he said that he and Ace had decided to speak to Keita, to pave the way for me to be able to go the hospital and see him.
Then a farcical course of events were unleashed which involved my ex-enemy Dra, Keita’s sister Djenneba, Ace and Boucoum running around in circles trying to arrange a quick marriage and meanwhile Keita, to my great dismay, refusing to get married to me, saying that we would get married when he got better. Apparently it just isn’t done here in Mali- noone gets marred when they are ill. But the whole point of the marriage was of course exactly because he was ill! During all these three years marriage had not been a necessity because there was no need for me to be in contact with his family. This situation quickly became a sort of witches’ brew, with layers and layers of misunderstandings, including my being accused of not understanding or wanting to conform to Malian culture. But that was exactly what I was trying to do, even to the point of entering into a bigamous marriage in order to be accepted by his family!

But today finally I think a solution has been found – a solution of breathtaking simplicity. I went to the local pastor’s place this morning. The tiny little Christian community of Djenne meet on his verandah every Sunday morning; sing hymns and pray. There is a broken light fitting which accidentally forms the cross, although I think I am the only one aware of that detail, otherwise there is no religious accoutrements at all.
‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life’ was the message.

After the meeting I went to see Keita at the hospital for the second time. And this was when the solution was found.
We are NOT going to get married! That is simply not done when people are ill here. But at the same time, Keita will introduce me to his family and his mother etc, and give me a sort of ‘second wife’ status. I will travel to Bamako with him in a couple of weeks, we will meet La grande Famille and I do not have to hide any more. I will probably meet his wife in a couple of days- she has agreed to do so.
If this all works out there is of course no need to marry at all! Keita says we will do it when he gets better, but then reason for the marriage will have lost its urgency.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It is nearly two weeks ago since I saw Keita. Tomorrow his wife returns to Segou. And what will happen now? I do not know. The idea that he just returns here as if nothing has happened seems wrong somehow...I feel tense about his friends- what will happen? How can I stomach them here at the hotel again after how they behaved? But then I remember that this really is about Keita and not about how I feel about his immature friends- they do not matter. He is the one who is desperately ill and who is suffering.
A few days ago he sent his elder sister to meet me at the hotel, possibly as a preamble to our marrying- but we have not even talked about it of course. She was a warm and motherly sort of woman who hugged me immediately and called me 'Cherie'- whether this was sincere or not is of course impossible to know.
The hotel has been more or less full the whole time. Today I finally managed to put together the application to the British Library for funding for the Djenne Manuscript project. The deadline is the 28th of February, but I have no idea what tomorrow brings and if I will have any time to do such things again for a long time.
I have been sleeping on the roof under a mosquito net several nights running because I gave up my rooms for hotel guests. I lay awake listening to the hum of the airconditioners.
Sometimes in soppy American films about happy families mummy and daddy go and look at their sleeping children at night- this invariably means that all is well and they feel close.
Keita and I used to go up on the roof and listen to the airconditioners.
Now I don't know if he will ever do that again.

Friday, February 13, 2009

'Un Peuple; Un But; Une Foi'.
(Malian motto which appears on all official documents of any kind).

Things are difficult here to say the least. And yesterday morning my big pal Birgit left for Sikasso and eventually Burkina Faso and the South. I am left alone here, feeling isolated. Lots of guests at the hotel, but I have not too much idea what is going on at the Djenne Hospital where Keita is. I haven't seen him for nearly a week. His big sister and other family members are here. I am beginning to loose my cool. How long will this carry on? What is going on? One or two of the old friends are surfacing to put an appearance in here, but the vast majority have dispersed- I do not care but I would like to know what is going on. Keita seems to be besieged by hundreds of people every day, and is unable to get a moment of rest.
Birgit called me from her flea-bitten hotel in Sikasso, fondly reminiscing about the Djenne Djenno bed linen. I told her I am getting fed up. She sent me a text message later:
(French is not her most fluent language...)

" Courage my dear! And Patience...after all, remember u r dealing with a people who grew up with the motto:

"One Country; One Ass; One Liver".

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What did the Bishop say?

Well, his pronouncement was a masterpiece of diplomacy. With one hand he excommunicated me, whilst with the other he gave me his blessing.
That is to say: if I marry Keita I would be putting myself into a highly 'irregular' situation; in this case, I would be committing bigamy, and it is impossible for the church to condone it. Therefore I would not be able to continue to take communion, as long as Keita was alive.
However, at the same time, the Bishop said that in this case he saw a core of real love here, a love which continued until the end regardless of circumstances. This was the sort of love found in the gospel he said, and Christ would not judge me adversely. Therefore he said he would be prepared to give a ceremony of blessing for Keita and me should we require him to do so...

I feel I need to write a whole novel to try and put into some order the momentous events of the last ten days or so.
Keita and I arrived back to Djenne last Wednesday- a week ago tomorrow. As we arrived into the court yard of the hotel there were at least 20 of Keita’s friends waiting and watching as he was taken out of the car and put into the wheelchair for the short journey to my rooms. This was of course a difficult moment for him- when he left here three weeks ago he was still walking.
His friends crowded around and pushed their way into our rooms wanting to talk and to see him. I was irritated and would have preferred some peace. One of the reasons Keita had wanted to go to the hotel was because he also wanted some peace- this proved an impossible dream. During the next few days I were to make many enemies while attempting to keep not only his friends away, but hoards of well-wishers, a large number of whom only came out of curiosity to see Keita in a wheel chair. The African tradition is always to visit the sick- the idea of privacy or that someone might need rest is not very current.
This coming and going created high tension and meanwhile the hotel was pretty much full. Fortunately Birgit is still here, but she was supposed to hand over the responsibility to me once I came back. She, just as I have so many times, had found Beigna more or less impossible to get on with so in our absence he had been suspended. Once I came back I recalled him, and within a day or so he was at daggers drawn with Birgit again.

Birgit, meanwhile, had told me that she thought she was missing some money. She had been carrying a considerable amount of money in her bag including her own and the hotel’s. Often in the mad rush of things the bag had been left for a moment or so. She told me she was missing around 500E of her own money. I finally managed to sit down and do some accounts, and found out that the hotel accounts were missing in the region of 900E! An emergency meeting was called with the High Command , which now includes not only Keita and me but also Ace, who should have featured much more in this blog, since he has held an important position for a long time here- he is my right hand man at the hotel, the driver of our car and the overseer of the continual work on the upkeep of the hotel etc. He also loves Keita and is fiercely loyal to the hotel and to both me and Keita.
It was decided that it was appropriate to call in a Marabout for a bit of magic and maraboutage. I was not adverse to the idea, since last time it had worked marvels. I had lost my amber necklace. That time we didn’t actually get as far as calling in a Marabout, Keita just called a meeting to say that IF the necklace didn’t turn up within 24 hours he would call in a Marabout. Ali the chambermaid turned an interesting shade of grey and three hours later it mysteriously turned up in my room again, poking out under a cushion!
This time however, it was felt that more draconian measures were needed, and Ace said he would call in the Marabout Haidera, my riding companion and last horseman of Djenne, before whom the whole of Djenne trembles. (see blogsearch above for entries- often misspelt as Hadjira)
Haidera went to collect some earth in a special field some distance away from Djenne. A meeting was called at the hotel at ten this morning at which all staff including me and Birgit was present. Haidera’s earth was presented wrapped up in a handkerchief, opened up and put in the middle of a table, then each and everyone in turn had to put their hand on the earth and say the following: I swear by God that I never took the money and if I am lying then God will strike me down and show my shame before all men before the month is out’ Then the dirt was scattered around the hotel in a certain prescribed manner.
After this exotic morning interlude the hotel business continued as normal, or as normal as is possible these days.
For the above is but a fraction of goings on here at the moment, and a pretty unimportant fraction in the scheme of things…

It is not only Haidera who is providing exotic remedies. An old Medicin man from Diabolo has been called in by Ace to tackle Keita’s illness and to give him a month’s course of treatment. This involves giving a sort of steam bath with a pot of boiled roots and twigs where Keita is in the bathroom with a blanket over him, steam rising onto his legs. He also has to drink this concoction, and before going to bed there is an interesting mixture of shea butter, ashes and other unknown ingredients which has to be applied to his legs with stroking motion going downwards only. This is then repeated in the morning just before sunrise. (by me).
During his steam bath the other day his legs fell against the boiling hot pot and he burned himself badly. It may have been the effect of this which caused his high fever the following morning. Because of this I was even less inclined than usual to let the hoards of friends in that day. Therefore, when his buddies Dra and Barry arrived, I tried to stop them from going in, explaining that Keita really was not feeling well. ‘Please let him rest.’ Dra just looked at me with ill disguised aversion and just barged his way passed me with Barry in toe.

I was pacing up and down waiting for them to leave the room and when they did I stopped them and tried to speak to them calmly: ‘Please Dra, do try and understand. If I tell you that Keita wants to be left in peace, it is because he himself has said so! It is not because I don’t want you to see him!’
Dra then more or less spat at me and said- ‘Don’t worry, I will never put my foot in this hotel again!’
I went in to see Keita, who was looking pained and upset. I tried to be calm, but told them how unreasonable I thought Dra’s behaviour was. ‘There is a crisis going on’ said Keita. ‘They came to tell me that my wife is on her way here on the bus from Segou. My mother has sent her to find out what is going on’.
Keita’s big mistake is that he has not told his family what is going on. Not only I but many others have been trying to make him go to Segou and see his family, but he has not wanted to- all the time thinking he will go when he gets better- and meanwhile he has deteriorated every day. Finally his mother ( who has lost her two other sons as well as two daughters) decided to take matters into her own hands and dispatched Keita’s wife to see for herself what is the matter with Keita. Now, it would not do for Keita to receive his wife in my hotel. Although the family has known about me for two years I am not his legal second wife, so according to the formalities of Africa he had to be moved to somewhere else.
This bombshell could not have come at a worse time. Keita’s temperature was sky rocketing. Within half an hour the fore court of the hotel was buzzing with people. Various guides and others tried to get in to see Keita, but I steadfastly refused to let them in, since I was worried about his frail condition. One by one they cursed me, suddenly seeming to let out some sort of pent-up rage against me. Especially one guide called Pygme- he swore at me and he too insisted he would never set his foot here again.
Ace and some others had come up with the idea that Keita should leave for the village Diabolo where there is now a recently built place used as tourist accommodation- it has good facilities and a proper toilet on ground level; by now essential for Keita’s well-being. The car was being prepared for his departure for Diabolo.
Keita agreed to this arrangement but said he wanted to rest first. I really didn’t like the way he looked so I borrowed Birgit’s thermometer and found that Keita was running a 40.2 fever. By this stage a sort of division had sprung up outside – there was the hoard of ‘enemies’, or those who has sworn at me circling around outside the great gate like a flock of buzzards, and then there were one or two of our most faithful friends sitting inside the hotel compound- these included Mohammed the gentle Barbara Cartland loving accountant and Boucoum my mud architect, as well as Ace of course. Mohammed and Boucoum had insults hurled at them by the buzzards and were treated as 'traitors’ for talking to me at all. A rumour was spreading around Djenne: I was keeping Keita captive and refusing to let him go to meet his wife!

I decided to call for a doctor- was it really a good idea to dispatch Keita in to the bush running that sort of fever, and taking high doses of a dangerous and new drug? Jammie, or Madame Dr. Cisse, one of my only female friends here arrived smartly. She decided Diabolo was out of the question and solved the problem by arranging for Keita to be taken to the Djenne Hospital- or the Centre de Sante where he himself has worked for 15 years.
So it was to this place that he we finally took him on Saturday afternoon. I followed in the car and helped installing him, and that included arranging to have sheets brought for his wife too, before I left by foot to go back to the hotel. Ace the driver of my car was still needed by Keita’s side. As I was leaving a whole group of the 'buzzards' had gathered outside his room. They saw me leave by foot. As I went through the group it felt like a wall of hatred either side. Not one of them offered to take me back to the hotel on one of their motorcycles. Some way down the road I met Mohammed who gave me a lift.

Since this day matters have taken a new turn. I have not seen Keita. We speak every morning. He told me he will make it clear that anyone who regards themselves as his friend will have to treat me with respect or lose his friendship. His wife is at the hospital and looking after him until tomorrow when she will go back to Segou making place for his older sister who is in turn arriving from Segou, again dispatched by his mother. What will happen now is not clear. A sort of nuclear explosion is taking place in Keita’s family, which is large and includes people in powerful positions in Bamako such as the Medecin de Chef of the military hospital at Kati, who immediately insisted on sending an ambulance to take him straight to Bamako and his hospital. Everyone has opinions and everyone thinks they have a claim on Keita. A large portion is furious with him for keeping his illness a secret.
What seems to be certain after this episode is that the situation cannot continue the way it is- either my relationship with Keita is over and he now goes Segou or his wife comes here to look after him, or else we have to marry and I become his second wife. In that way I am entitled to see his mother and his children, we can continue to live together here and I will look after him, with the help of his family and his first wife if it comes to that.
As it now stands I am now even allowed to go to his funeral, should that day come.

Boucoum our architect has been here today to talk to me about it. He talked to Keita last night. According to African custom Keita will now speak to his older sister and I will be introduced to her. If she likes me she will then talk to Keita’s mother and her other sister, then the deal is concluded.
Meanwhile from my side there are some complications too. Tomorrow morning I am going to Mopti to have lunch with Monsignor Fonghoro, Bishop of Mopti. Although some of my friends have been mystified by my seemingly being able to be a Catholic and a professed believer and at the same time always doing exactly what I want, I do have some scruples. I am a bit worried about what he will say. What if he says I can’t do it?

The situation is wildly different from another time that I sought the advice of a prelate: at that time I was about to leave my second husband. ‘I know exactly what you are going to say to me’ I said defiantly to Dom Placid, the Benedictine Abbot at Cockfosters. ‘If you know what I am going to tell you, why are you bothering to ask me?’ he wanted to know.
‘To try my resolve’ I replied. As it turned out, he said exactly the opposite of what I had expected.
I am now expecting Monsignor Fonghoro to tell me I can’t marry Keita. But who knows? This is Africa and the Catholic church is a pragmatic and elastic sort of thing really…