Saturday, May 30, 2009

8 Days of treatment done 12 days to go...
Keita is retrieving a little more movement every day. We have left the clinic and are staying in a beach front hotel close by spending our time looking at the ocean doing leg exercises (Keita)and practising Bambara (me). All is well and the good news is that the British Library have decided to give the funding for the Djenne Manuscript project! More soon..

Monday, May 18, 2009

Exactly one week ago, Monday, I took the train from Marrakesh to Casablanca, since the powers above had decreed that my Sunday flight was cancelled and I therefore had a whole day to spare.
I visited not only the charming and 100% tourist free old town with its winding alleys and bustling ‘real Morocco’ feel, but more importantly, the Clinique Littorale, where radiotherapy is offered. A Professor of Oncology was available to look at the scans of Keita’s spine, and he said that he would most certainly benefit from radiotherapy, which would take four weeks. We could stay at the clinic during the treatment. I looked at the room we would potentially be staying in, visited the accounts department, got a quote and more or less decided this should be promoted as The Way Forward once I arrived back in Bamako on the following morning’s Royal Air Maroc flight.

Keita was looking much better than when I left, and he accepted the Casablanca plan without a moment’s hesitation, which propelled me on to Djenne the following morning (Wednesday), with the Bani bus, which dropped me off at the Djenne crossroads at about 3.30 pm.
Amadou’s old hatch-back was conveniently filled with enough passengers to start the last 35km journey to Djenne without any of the customary waiting time, and as always I marveled at this antique Peugeot: how on earth did it manage to carry us to the Bani crossing and even beyond onto Djenne? The picture above illustrates the inside of the door on the front passenger’s side.
The plan was to arrive at the hotel unannounced: what would I find?
There had been various worrying email reports that there was no one at the hotel to greet prospective guests of the hotel or at the bar.
And yes, indeed, that was in fact the case when I turned up. There was only Boubakar the gardener and Ali the ‘chambermaid’, engaged in the pumping of water from the well to water the garden. This was of course laudable, but it would be of no use for anyone wanting to book a room or have a drink! Beigna was nowhere to be seen, and did not surface until about two hours later.

I took the decision there and then to close the hotel until the 1st of July. So I wrapped everything up and ran around frantically, barking out orders to buy millet, salt and hay for my remaining horse Max and Dolly the donkey; to strip the beds; to wash the mosquito nets; to make at least 100 jars of mango and ginger jam; to give any exposed wooden beams and all windows an anti-termite treatment, etc etc.
Then, at sunset, I had a Djenne Djenne Cocktail in my rooftop bar with an Italian/ Indonesian girl working for the Aga Khan foundation on the restoration of the Djenne mosque.. We later dined in the garden under the stars and I worried about the newly installed electricity poles that loomed ominously behind the hotel, with their large neon lights which would be visible from everywhere in the hotel compound, promising to provide the hotel with garden lighting with an Auschwitz aesthetic, once the long-awaited municipal electricity finally arrives to our part of town.
I spent most of the hot night tossing around in bed trying to find a solution to this new impending disaster, and finally decided we would have to build a series of ‘mud shields, i.e. increase the height of the mud wall and add some turrets, thus creating the impression that the cold light behind was the full moon rising, rather than the neon street lighting. This would create a sort of continual dramatic stage set, all going to plan, and we would be turning a potential calamity into our advantage.
Then, at 7am on the Friday morning Baba took me back to the Djenne crossroads on his motorcycle and I trundled on back to Bamako, where meanwhile Keita had prepared for his departure.

On Sunday morning at 3.30 am we left for Casablanca, and Keita’s first time flight experience. Here is Keita on his way to the air plane courtesy of a sort of fork lift Royal Air Maroc provided for us and Keta’s wheelchair.

I now write this from our comfortable room in the Clinique Littorale, were Keita is actuellement starting his radio therapy.
One piece of tremendously good news is that after his last course of chemotherapy Keita has started to retrieve some movement in his legs and he can move his toes a tiny bit! The Professor even said when he saw him just now that there is hope that he will retrieve plenty more movement with the radiotherapy he is about to embark on. He has also suggested that we do a couple of sessions with a physiotherapist, and that after this initial training I might be able to do the physio on Keita myself. So today things look bright…
Later this afternoon we shall take a stroll to investigate what our Casablanca suburb has to offer in the line of street-side cafes and patisseries.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

was the theme of my old friend Biggles's 50th birthday bash in Marrakesh last night... and here we are looking the part I think? There were gallons of champagne; snake charmers and belly dancers galore under the full moon of a balmy Marrakesh night.
Below a picture in my hotel the lovely Riad Akka before leaving for the party.

But today is spent on the net trying to find somewhere to give Keita radiotherapy. The Multiple Myeloma specialist Dr. Kwee Yong who kindly saw me last week at the UCL in London took the scanned pictures of Keita's back to a radiologist, who agreed with the previous opinion that an operation would be impossible. Keita has tumours both on the outside and on the inside of his spine. These tumours are pressing on the nerves and causing his paralysis.
Dr. Kwee said that although it would be impossible to operate he would benefit from radiotherapy to shrink the tumours however- and if this was done quickly there may be a small chance of recuperating some movement!
There is only one place in the whole of West Africa which has the equipment- it is the Hopital Artistide le Dantec in Dakar. But this is a Senegalese state hospital, and it is unlikely they would take on patients from elsewhere.
Tomorrow I am taking the train to Casablanca where I will visit a private centre which might be an option. And then, tomorrow night the flight to Bamako: what will the future bring? When will I be back in Europe and under what circumstances? Life seems more precarious and unpredictable than it ever has before...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Spending ten days in a sunny springtime London, where lilac and wisteria adorn the gaily pastel painted houses of Notting Hill. At Djenne Djenno other plants are flourishing such as this baby banana stock.
I am wondering what developments the future holds...
Spending my days trying to find out what can be done for Keita, and if anything can be done, how to pay for it.
It appears that an operation is out of the question after all- the NHS expert I talked to told me that the paralysis cannot be reversed through an operation; that can only sometimes be attempted in the first days of paralysis- but Keita has been unable to walk since the 29th of January. This was a hard blow, and I do not know how I will tell him and his family- they are waiting for me to come back to Mali and tell them he can have an operation which will make him walk again...
I have got an appointment with a leading hematologist next week. She will advise on the best way forward as far as his cancer treatment goes- will she recommend a stemcell transplant with high level chemotherapy? This will have to be done in a hospital in Europe. It is a gruelling treatment which can achieve a remission of the cancer for several years, and greatly improve Keita's life. But it will be a life in a wheelchair...
I am leaving for Africa again next Friday, via another 50th birthday party in Marrakesh. Never let it be said that I let myself be bowed down by misfortune,
although my heart is heavy, it cannot be denied...
The hotel has meanwhile been languishing without electricity because of a continuing problem with the generator, over which I have no control of course until I get there to find out what can be done.
But let's end on a sunnier note:
On Tuesday two very jolly things happen. My big pal Birgit who ran the hotel most of last winter when I was in Bamako with Keita arrives from Amsterdam for a couple of days, and later that day I am having a drink with Dmitry Bondarev, an Arabic manuscript expert from SOAS, who has been giving me advice on the Djenne manuscript project and my application for the British Library Grant. I will know in a couple of week whether we have the grant or not. This project now seems essential for me in contemplating the future in Djenne...