Monday, April 20, 2009

No sooner had I basked for a moment in the glory of the glowing Trip Advisor review posted in the last blog, than I am brought back crashing down to earth again with our first awful review on the same Trip Advisor Website! It was written in Italian, but my friend Cressida kindly translated it for me. Having read it I phoned up Beigna, in charge at the moment, and ranted and raved of course. Then I phoned Keita, who also phoned Beigna and continued the verbal attack.

Hotel Djenne Djenno is a new building which enjoys a tranquil position just outside the city of Djenne.

The rooms are of two types; standard, with two tiny single beds, and superior, bigger - with a double bed and a porch : both are furnished with care, have a bath with shower and an excellent mosquito net.

The garden is well cared for and the structure of the complex is very pleasant.

The one problem we encountered was the service: it was non-existent.

On arrival there was almost no-one there to meet us, we were given a different room from the one we had booked, we asked for something to eat, anything to eat ( it was 2 in the afternoon) and were told that it was impossible and during the entire stay there was nobody present in charge – we always had to go and search for someone. To order a coca-cola ( which ran out on the second day ), to find out how dinner worked ( a surprise menu ), to obtain toilet paper ( no-one had checked the room to see what was needed), to get information on the things we needed: why the first night the generator was broken ( we never did have light in the hotel, though they said there would be ), and the following evening it was pitch dark… oil lamps at dinner and in the rooms. We should add that during the two days of our stay the proprietress was not there and we tend to believe the absolute lack of service depended on the fact that when the cats are away, the mice will play !

Breakfast and dinner were more than satisfactory, but, for example, in our room there were objects abandoned by thousands of other people…. battery chargers, a personal diary, a rucksack on top of the cupboard, boxes with stuff inside, and the sheets ( blue) were without doubt clean but had bleach stains the size of a house..

The hotel is very charming… but the cat I fear cannot be allowed to go on holiday !

Oh Dear Oh Dear.
BUT, in our defence, let me say the following:
There are certain things mentioned here that cannot simply be helped. Djenne is extremely primitive. There are absolutely no shops, no plumbers, no electricians and no modern day equipment or services at all. The hotel does not have connection to electricity. We have to generate our own. This caused no problem normally but a generator can break down, and in the last few weeks this has happened a couple of times. When this occurs there are two things to do: people can either go to another hotel or stay. The couple in question clearly chose to stay, so therefore should not perhaps have complained.
IF people choose to stay, they are given the option of sleeping in a mosquito net tent on the roof under the stars, which is a lovely experience.
The dinner is always eaten in the light of oil lamps under the stars- current or no current.
The sheets this lady talks about were brought from Ikea in London. As soon as they arrived Igor washed them with bleach and 'ruined' them, i.e. they have white stains on them. This in my view is not a major problem in the middle of darkest Africa. There are no shops to replace such sheets- that will have to wait until I get back from Europe again! Had the sheets had brown stains on them- yes OK!
Some people should perhaps stay in more 'civilized' countries for their holidays?
On the other hand, there can of course be no excuse for the alleged lack of service, and that is the most worrying thing in the review. Beigna wrote me an email and said that I must trust him- he is sorry about the review but he is doing his best.
I have no choice now, I will be back in May only. The generator is being mended as we speak.
Oh dear Oh dear.

Friday, April 17, 2009

All too soon the rainy season will once more come and wreak havoc on my fragile mud hotel, at first with dust storms like the one above, then with wild onslaughts of torrential rain. But today this is still a few weeks away, and today I just want to celebrate our latest review in Trip Advisor (below)!

hong kong
6 févr. 2009
was in Mali recently for 8 days 7 nights & stayed in 6 hotels, my favorite two hotels were La Maison Rouge (in Mopti) and this hotel Djenne Djenno, I couldn't decide at first which I hotel I liked more but finally decided it is Djenne Djenno

the hotel is right outside the town Djenne (a must see in Mali), and very very unique (just like Djenne's famous mosque, built with mud)

I arrived in the afternoon after driving all day from Bamako (and this was after my 14 hour flight from Hong Kong to Paris followed by 6 hours Paris to Bamako) the owner wasn't there but her friend Birgett came out to greet us like we were long lost cousins

the hotel is small (12 rooms) but had all the essentials
~ the only good cocktails I had in Mali
~ the best food overall (not only was the dinner good & reasonably priced, i.e. all the other hotels served basically just bread and butter + jam for breakfast, here they served up piping hot local rice cakes and had the best coffee)
~ there' s a tiny cute little boutique showcasing original souvenirs
~ to catch a perfect sunrise/set you need only to hop on to the rooftop
~ my room was small but tastefully designed but most of all I think that the service made the difference, this was the most happy cheerful little place & you can sense that a lot of love/thought has been put into the hotel

the hotel is very basic and not right for anyone looking for i.e. marble bathrooms or a luxurious stay (actually please don't go to Mali then) but for people that love truly unique hotels with character, good service, good food & etc in Mali, this is it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I left the marvels of Italy yesterday (above, the Duomo of Orvieto.)
A train is speeding me through the forests of Central Sweden for a few days visit to my mother and MNL before spending next week in Stockholm researching possibilities for a spine operation for Keita.
I look out of the train window at the sober and cool Swedish countryside. This is the soil I sprung from. How and through what tortuous and mysterious paths did I arrive in Djenne? This is only a different version of the same question I am asked every day by passing tourists at the hotel. Today I myself wonder- I am not sure I know the answer.
A gentle mood of melancholia settles in, engendering contemplations of vanitas and tempus fugit and I am reminded of a favourite passage in W.G. Seibold's Rings of Saturn where he wrote about great families which do no even outlast the life of an oak tree.
The train just passed the little town of Sater, where I went to primary school. The red houses with their white gables stand there, looking exactly like they always did even to my childish eyes; bearing their testimony to an apparently stable and unchanging world. Lives come and go and bodies occupy the houses for a time. The facades remain aloof, occupying a different form of physical existence. And I am speeding past, much changed.
But in Djenne stands my hotel, another, more delicate type of edifice built of mud and as fragile and prone to decay as a human body. Will it outlast me?
Delicate, yet already something of a landmark: Djenne Djenno is beginning to take on the shape of a small fortress, its turrets and mud facades blending into the Sahel landscape with an ease which belies its recent construction- it occupies its space like an ancient birthright, as if it had always stood there. It already has more importance perhaps than I who simply gave birth to it.

There are extravagant, unreasonable plans for the hotel. It will rival the mosque as a Djenne tourist attraction.
This May the British Library will tell me if we have the grant for the Djenne manuscript project.
The dice have all been thrown. Djenne is my future, with or without friends- may God grant that Keita may be part of it too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Living a somewhat dreamlike interlude in the ravishing mountains of Lazio, Italy, where my old friend Cressida Bell celebrates her fiftieth birthday in a medieval Castello close to Orvieto. Flew here via Casablanca last Tuesday on my way to Sweden and England to show Keita's medical reports and scans, in order to find out whether anything can be done for him here in Europe.
But at the moment, I am caught up in a whirlwind of merrymaking...There are people here from all over the world with a large contingent from New Orleans: funloving party people in a ravishing location. This feels a little strange but it is Easter and nothing serious can be done anyway... flying out Tuesday for Stockholm.

Monday, April 06, 2009

While one’s world crumbles around one, it is always a good idea to keep at least one foot in every day activities and even to embark on some new ones. I therefore decided to arrange the long awaited weaving course in the MaliMali studio while I was back in Djenne. A weaver came from Segou and will stay for a whole month to instruct my three students: Maman the MaliMali ‘manager’, a young woman called Baji and my old friend the weaver Boubakar, who is a master weaver already, but who weaves only on the narrow width traditionally used here. Now he will be able to weave up to 1m 50 on my new loom.
I would have liked to have some more people- a few of the traditional Djenne weavers for instance. One of them came along but when he found out he would not be paid for the time he spent learning, but would only be given lunch, he decided to give it a miss.

I had decided, on principle, that I didn’t want to pay the students. There are too many freebies given in Africa , and it has created a situation in Djenne where people won’t even sweep their own streets because they are waiting for some toubab to come and pay for them to do it.
There are professional fee-takers here- people who find out what the next paid event is and who go along to make up the audience and be paid the 1500 fcfa or so (twice the amount of a labourer’s day wage) The event may be an Aids awareness film. There are enormous amounts of money pumped into Aids awareness. These films are always interesting and just a tiny bit erotic- girl meets boy etc. So there are plenty of people willing to go and be paid to watch a bit of mild titillation. Whether this has even the smallest effect on their sexual behaviour is of course impossible to say.

I naively hoped that my weaving course would have some students even in the absence of money.
I am in Bamako again now, and just had a drink with Ace at Amandine’s (he, as you may recall, was dispatched with the ailing generator part again). He explained that it really IS necessary to pay the Djenne weavers at least something- they just can’t afford to come for a month otherwise- they have families to feed. This put a new light on things. Somewhat shamed, I decided to root around in the coffers and see what we can do- at least the day- wage of a labourer should be possible.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Napoleon, my great, wonderful friend with the heart of a lion, is no more.
It is my great regret that this fine stallion died without knowing the joys of love- It was my next project to buy a mare for him...

Mellancollie and the Infinite Sadness
The title of an old Smashing Pumpkins album repeats itself in my mind: everywhere I go there seems to be but sadness.
I arrived back in Djenne Tuesday night. Early that morning Napoleon died, and later he was buried at the ancient burial ground at Djenne Djeno where we used to ride every night. All the staff made up the funeral cortege they told me, and Dolly pulled the cart to the burial site, close to where I used to stop to let him graze.

Petit Baba had taken him for a gallop beside the main road to the Bani Crossing towards evening on Monday. They had passed one of the numerous Monday equipages: a horse and cart carrying the market women on their way back to their village after the Djenne Monday market.
Baba rode Napo with a rope only attached around his mouth, not even a bit. The rope was too long and trailed behind- it got mixed up in the wheels of the passing cart and the wild gallop ended in disaster. Napoleon’s progress was stopped with a violent shock which threw him to the ground and broke all the bones of his body. Petit Baba was thrown five meters in the air and landed with a guardian angel cushioning his fall- he only got a slight bruise on one arm. Beigna’s mother commented that Napo had died instead of petit Baba- there had been an exchange taking place on some mysterious level where Napo had offered himself as the sacrifice demanded. This African interpretation of events is of course interesting, but if this is the truth, the offended divinity has not been appeased, because disasters continue to rain down on me.

The first night back, the newly repaired generator gave up the ghost again, and the stalwart Ace was once more dispatched to Bamako with the broken piece to be mended.
I remain here until Sunday morning to put everything in order for my journey back to Europe. The hotel is empty apart from Rene, a Swiss playwright who is working on a script and keeping me company. He has decided to stay even without the electricity and we dine under the stars with a couple of petrol lamps.
Le tout Djenne know of course that Keita and I are now married, but the hotel which used to be full of all Keita’s friends is deserted and only one person has passed to greet me. I do not quite understand what has provoked such antagonism- was it always there? Perhaps it was, but no one ever showed it when Keita was here to protect me.
The picture above shows the successful conclusion of a type of solitaire which my grandmother taught me. Keita and I played it all the time during our stay in Bamako this last winter, It is called, curiously, Napoleon’s Grave.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

C.S Lewis's Narnia tales have several ways of entering into Narnia- the Other World. Each instalment of the tales brings another method. Once the children stand looking at a picture in a frame: a picture of the ship The Dawn Treader. While looking at the picture it becomes more and more real, until all of a sudden they taste the salt of the sea, they feel the wind that fills the sails and they find themselves stending on the deck of the Dawn Treader.
This is something similar to my experience when I visited Keita's mother and two sons in Segou on my way to Djenne.
I have hundreds of pictures of Keita's two sons Moussa and Lassina and of his mother. Every time he went to Segou I asked him to take more photographs. I know the backdrops of his house and yard. I know everything but in stills only. To arrive into this world the day before yesterday was as if someone had switched on the animation-a change of state from a two dimentional still photography world into fully fledged three dimentional reality.
The meeting with Keita's mother was unforgettable and heart breaking. This fine old African woman has lost three of her sons and Keita, always her favourite son, is the only remaining son, the one she loved more than the others.
'If you take him to Europe, will he stay a very long time?' she wanted to know.'When he comes back, will he be able to walk again?' 'With the help of God he will' I replied. And we cried and embraced.
The boys were extremely polite and a little curious- although I felt I had known them for years they had never of course heard of me. We phoned Keita so they could talk to him.
'There is a toubab woman here daddy,' said Lassina. 'She is a friend of yours.'
'It is not his friend, it is his wife' said Keita's mother.