Sunday, March 01, 2009

There has been a black cat with burning charcoal eyes slinking around the hotel for the last few days, making a lot of noise. I was quite pleased at first, thinking he would help sort out our mouse problem.
‘Give him something to eat!’ I said. ‘We’ll have a Hotel Cat, that might be fun!’
But Oh, no.
‘Don’t touch him- don’t even look at him!’ was the unanimous reply from my staff. ‘But why?’ I asked, puzzled.
‘Because he is evil. He is not even a cat but something far worse. You must ignore him, he wants evil here. Ask any Marabout, they will tell you what it is!’
‘What nonsense!’ I replied, cheerfully.
But I wondered quietly what it is that makes black cats hated and feared universally? How did this superstition spread? Why do we cross ourselves when a black cat crosses the road? Why did I as a little girl in Sweden paint witches, broomsticks and black cats at Easter time to celebrate a bizarre tradition the distant roots of which are mixed up with the German Walpurgisnacht?
Why did Mephistopheles take the shape of a black cat when he prowled around Faust’s study?
And there are plenty of signs that there are strange powers at foot here, trying to destoy what has been created at our hotel in the last two years.
The hotel has had its best month ever. The figures are soaring and we are more or less fully booked all the time. We were featured in Air France in-flight magazine in February as one of the ‘must go stay’ places of Mali. The staff are behaving themselves- perhaps out of loyalty- they know I am under great stress because of Keita. Even Beigna is exemplary.
But there are great difficulties:
Keita’s wife, to start with seemingly so calm and understanding, has now made her position clear: she doesn’t want me at the hospital. In fact she doesn’t want me around at all. Of course I understand her perfectly- God knows I would react the same way! It is only something of a puzzle- I had been under the impression, naively, that she was perfectly OK with the situation. It had been an arranged marriage, they had never lived together etc. Therefore, in my naivety, I had thought it wasn’t really a marriage, in our sense of the word. I had underestimated her feelings for Keita.
One part of me wants to withdraw now- she is his wife, she has made her position clear, I should withdraw gracefully.
However, what does Keita want? It is after all he who is desperately ill. Boucoum said the other day when I wanted to pull out: ‘If you do I give Keita one week, no more. Don’t leave him please!’.
Meanwhile Keita’s mother sends me messages: I must be patient and of good cheer- all will sort itself out’.
And my own mother sends me messages: ‘Close the hotel down or put it under management and come home and rest- leave!’ She is also completely horrified that I am spilling all the beans of my private life and that of Keita’s on the web like this. Up until now I would have completely agreed with her- why open oneself up like this for all and sundry to know what is going on? I find this sort of ‘Princess Diana syndrome’ which has changed at least the British public in the last ten years or so into either voyeurs or those prepared to open themselves up indiscriminately something despicable. I don’t want to be a soap opera! But now, since I have started, I will finish. The wheels are in motion. I am alone here and very isolated, this is my way to remain in touch.

Meanwhile the hotel grows. I am building a wall around the new land that I have bought. I am not leaving. I am not to be stopped. Djenne Djenno will continue to flourish with the help of God, and hopefully Keita will be able to be here to enjoy the fruits of our labours. And all the black cats in West Africa can congregate, they will not deter me au nom de Dieu.
(However, I make sure to sprinkle a bit of Monsigneur’s Holy Water around my bedroom at night just to be on the safe side…)


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