Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Last night I sat on the President of America.

We are upholstering the restaurant chairs with their customary bright African wax-cloth. Yesterday I trawled Djenne market for fun fabrics.
Barak Obama is of course a big hero here so what better likeness than his to adorn the chairs?

It is encourageing that in all the confusion which arises when two cultures meet (and I sometimes feel as alien here as if I had landed on Mars) there are many meeting points. Last night when I sat down on the face of Barack Obama was just one such heartwarming moment. Everyone present laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks, and Beigna said:' I am sure there are CIA satellites up there somewhere, recording this sort of misdemeanour!

Other things to gladden the heart is that today was the official start of the MaliMali weaving studio.

On Sunday afternoon we had a ceremony to hand out he diplomas to the students who had taken part in last month's weaving course.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It is always a good idea to fear the worst. If things do not turn out as expected, then one has a reason for celebration.
Djenne Djenno smiled on me on my arrival. The staff where all there, busy attending to their various jobs. The bogainvillea had flourished in my absence and even needed propping up.
Papa had made at least fifty jars of delicious mango and ginger jam.
The little gecko that used to sleep in my bathroom window all last year, but disappeared about the same time as Keita fell ill, had once more returned, and I take this as a good omen.(He sleeps behind the metal mesh and the wooden shutters, so is safely tucked away, dear prospective hotel guest)
My old friend Haidara arrived to greet me, dashing as ever, on the beautiful Xaloc who danced around looking dangerous and impressive, which is his duty as the horse of a Malian Marabout. I was able to tell Haidara about the death of Napoleon in Bambara and he actually understood what I said. We both cried a bit and agreed that
‘So ye tun kanie kosobe’. ( It was a splendid horse).
Haidara will take me to the horse market at Sofara soon, to help me chose a replacement for Napo. Then he turned and left in a very slow and controlled canter, nearly on the spot, with a grace which would be the envy of the Spanish Riding School.

The arrival of municipal electricity to the hotel is imminent- within a week perhaps; with all that brings of possibilities: the making of ice cream; buying a whole cow to store in the freezers; watching a DVDs at nght if suffering from insomnia; enjoying the airconditioning or at least a fan at night; (at the moment Djenne is a furnace and because there is noone here apart from me I switch of the generator about ten pm)

The rains are yet to begin. The large number of frogs which will start their nightly chorus of celebration once the rains arrive have already congregated, and they are now crying out spasmodically; calling for the rains to start, says Beigna.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I have swam the last 20 lengths in the hotel pool.
We have had our last sardine and salad picnic lunch in our room.
We have walked down the hill from the Clinique Littorale to the ocean for the last time, buying our last sweets from the young girl in the wheelchair half way down the hill.
We are enacting the routine of our daily existence in Casablanca for the last time with something which feels close to regret. At ten minutes past midnight we will take off for Bamako, for perhaps a difficult and uncertain future. Life in Casablanca has been beautifully simple, focussed on Keita’s radiotherapy and on retrieving his ability to walk. I, at the same time have tried to improve my Bambara. Nothing has disturbed us from trying to attain these goals and now this cocoon of peace has to be abandoned...

Keita can now walk very slowly if holding onto a rail. I promised his old mother to try and bring him back walking and I will nearly have accomplished this. I will ‘hand him over’ to his family tomorrow in Bamako, where he is to continue physiotherapy for some time to try and regain more movement. He will then go onto Segou where he will stay with his mother, his other wife and his children for some time- how long it is not decided and I must now withdraw on a certain level.

I will go onto Djenne from Bamako almost immediately. Hotel Djenne Djenno, which for the last six months has been relegated to second place because of Keita’s illness, must once more become my focus. I am full of foreboding- what will I find when I get to Djenne? The dreaded rainy season is about to start with all it means of muddy hardships. I will no longer have Keita by my side, and my beloved Napoleon is no more. It is as if the colour had gone out of Djenne and I am about to go back to a town in black and white.

Ala ka hine aw la.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I never thought that I would see this- Keita is walking! faltering, slowly, holding on the rail either side, and taking 5 minutes to walk back and forth on his little runway, but HE IS WALKING!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Like Samarkand and Timbuktu, Casablanca is surely one of the most evocative placenames in the world. ‘Casablanca’ cunjurs up an idealised, palm fringed world of gentle exotism where be-fezzed waiters attend to mysterious beautiful people in dark glasses- probably spies- smoking hubbly bubblies at street cafes.

So what is Casablanca really like? How do we spend our time here during in our little interlude in this legandary city?

There seems to be a strong instinct in the human race to create order and form patterns in our daily existance. Particularly if circumstances are potentially difficult or frightening, routine emerges as a comforting element.
Therefore, Keita’s month of radio therapy here in Casablanca has already become a life which we are living now as if it had always been like this and as if it will always continue.
In the morning I go for 10 lenghts in the pool while Keita is still snoozing. On my way back I pick up our breakfast- cafe au lait with pain au chocolat and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Before leaving for the radio therapy session at the clinic, we do half an hour’s physiotherapy which a professional taught me to do when we first arrived. Keita’s legs are retrieving a tiny bit more movement every day. It is my greatest wish that I will bring Keita back to his old mother in Mali with his ability to walk restored...
The taxi journey to the Clinic is always a potentially difficult situation. We arrive at the side of the road by the hotel and we wait for one of the little red Casablanca taxis to take us on the short journey up the hill to the Clinique Littorale.
To their credit the taxi drivers do not shy away from the wheelchair, and they stop easily. It is rather the opposite problem; people are almost too kind, the taxi drivers and the passers-by insist on giving us a hand to lift Keita into the cab. But a wheelchair has many parts that need to be dealt with in a certain sequence, at the same time Keita’s legs need to be put into the cab on the front passenger’s side BEFORE he is lifted in. I always break out in a cold sweat as I try to manage this situation without losing my temper. Keita is of course too kind to tell people to go away, although I know that he is by now quite capable of hoisting himself into the cab unaided. I try my best to defend him from the clumsy well-doers who only yesterday were responsible for causing a big rip in the new khaki combat trousers I bought for him at the GAP in London, thus ruining his day.
Finally, however, even the daily cab trial reaches a conclusion and we arrive, more or less intact, to the Clinique Littorale, where a cheerful, rotund young porter in red uniform and baby blue plastic hat and clogs takes charge and wheels Keita into the waiting area.
By now we know and greet the other patients, all Moroccan, mostly elderly, in traditional dress and accompanied by their spouses or children. A spirit of camaraderie reigns: smiles of encouragement and exchanges of a few words: ‘ how many sessions have you got left?’ ‘It will be OK, Inshallah’. ‘Amina’. A jolly middle aged woman, the daughter of a man suffering from prostate cancer, always flirts with Keita and jokes with me that I must leave him behind for her...

Keita’s actual treatment takes less than a minute but it may be an hour before he has been seen and he is once more wheeled out into the sunlight of this plush Casablanca neighbourhood for our daily promenade by foot back down the hill.
We pass manicured gardens where breathtaking displays of multicoloured bougainvillea jostle with hibiscus and begonias in a studied and intended chaos, next to mature and formal rows of magnificent palm trees lining the quiet roads and disappearing into the hazy distance where the horizon meets the sea.
On the way we may meet a mother walking a pram, and this I always find embarassing and a little painful- I think of Keita’s parallel position in his wheelchair.
We may also encounter tokens of ostentatious wealth in the form of the brand new Ferrari which passed us yesterday.

Once we reach the sea the gentility of this affluent neighbourhood gives way to the more democratic but also more flashy La Corniche, the sea front of all Casablanca, where we sometimes stop to eat whitebate and paella in a restaurant overlooking the great Atlantic with its waves crashing into the wide sandy beach where multitudes play beach ball amongst a myriad of parasols. A fine haze, like a piece of organza, often hangs across the sky softening the sun’s brilliance. This is the Coney Island, the Blackpool or the Copacabana of Morocco, with all it means of popular glamour and ice cream parlours. But La Corniche is receiving a face lift: the the whole ocean front has been recently planted with new palm trees- already 10 meters tall, I didn’t know it was possible to plant such size!- and there are new buildings popping up everywhere, mostly with the purpose of housing a new Mac Donalds or a new hotel. But hotels for whom? It must be mainly for Moroccans or perhaps tourists from other arab countries. There are very few ‘toubabs’ to be seen here, since they prefer the more’exotic’ charms of Marrakesh for instance.
These omnipresent constuction works seem to belie the universal economic crisis; and indeed a recent newspaper report told tales of woe regarding property prices and unemployment in all Morocco with the exception of Casablanca which seems to be enjoying a bubble of prosperity.
In the afternoon we often catch some sport on the big TV screen in Hotel Bellerive’s lobby or back in our room. We just caught the lovely Robin Soderling’s victory in the semi final of the Roland Garros -the French Open I believe- tennis tournament, which had the effect of making me come over ridiculously Swedish, to the point of even standing up and singing the Swedish national anthem.(This was in our room not the lobby...)
At night we mostly picnic in our room, since Keita, like all Malians, prefer to eat their main meal at lunch time. Alas, Keita is not enarmoured of Moroccan cuisine... it is particularly the all pervasive cummin which causes the trouble. The other Saturday night we went out, exceptionally, to dine at a smart Moroccan traditional style restaurant just around the corner, complete with belly dancers and waiters in fezzes. Alas, I had to go and get Keita a Mac Donalds cheese burger once we had returned back to the room- he was hardly able to eat a thing...
So, in conclusion: I do not know what sort of time we are having. It is possible that it is a happy time. We will only know later, when we compare it to times which will come. It is a hopeful time, and therefore it must surely be a happy time too...