Thursday, July 30, 2009

I was going to write a lighthearted little blog about the sex life of lizards, a subject on on which I think I can pronounce with some authority, having observed them closely for the last couple of weeks, during what I think must be their mating season. They do nothing but shag all day long.
Male lizards (see one above, post-coital, resting for a moment) are fairly passive until they suddenly pounce on one of their females, of which there are quite a few. Lizard society seems to mirror human society in Mali in that it is polygamous. Female lizards are unashamedly lascivious and are easily aroused in the presence of the male, it appears, At least that is how I interpret the curving of their backs and their turning their posterior towards him in quite a brazen hussy sort of way, somewhat lacking in subtlety perhaps. This behaviour is not, apparently mirrored in their humal Malian sisters, if I am to believe what Malian men tells me on the subject. A Malian woman never lets on that she is aroused, even if she is dying for it.
I was going to write a blog about the sex life of lizards I said, but... and here I am, doing it anyway, Oh well, that brings me some light relief and prevents me from describing what is really going on here..
What did I write on the 14th of October last year?

« Notwendigkeit ist da, der Zweifel flieht,
Nacht musst es sein wo Friedland’s Sterne strahlen.
(Doubt flees in the face of necessity: it must be night for Friedland’s stars to shine.)

Things have to be grim when I bring out Wallenstein. (Schiller’s grandiose play about the 30-Year War.) The words above have followed me through life and have been brought out of their hiding place and polished to be used many times when things have been seemingly impossible. When Wallenstein’s stars are shining, I pick up and continue, sticking two fingers up at life. After all, what else is there to do? Where else is there to go? I am not going to give up and go back to Ladbroke Grove, am I?? »

That is what I wrote on 14 October last year.
What on earth did I know about hardship then? It now seems risible to have brought out Wallenstein. He must have been turning in his grave to have been disturbed on such unimportant matters. What problems did I have then? I can't even recall now. It was still raining? Papa had put too much pepper in the sauce?
October last year now seems like the Halcyon days before the fall, before the expulsion from Paradise. Keita was still well and the generator was working
And there we have the two matters that are now too grim to contemplate and enduces me to spend the last 2 days escaping into the sex life of lizards.
Keita is languishing in Bamako under constant and costly medical care, and the generator has once more broken down, on the eve of the arrival of a flood of guests. I am waking up and finally shaking myself out of the pleasant lizard reverie, something must be done. The seriousness of the situation is dawning on me and descending on me like a big chill. These guests are simply going to have to stay. They MUST be enticed by some scheme charming enough to keep them at the hotel, even without electricity.
SO; While the generator parts are already on their way to Bamako, I trawl the market with Beigna on the hunt for Mosquito tents. These will be placed on the roof, and have mattresses and good sheets and pillows prepared, just like in the rooms. The rooms will be given in combination with a mosquito tent on the roof. It will be presented as an African Adventure. If it starts raining, the guests will simply go down to their room, and the guardian will pick up the mattresses sheets etc. If it rains the heat will have gone out of the air anyway so the rooms will be cooler. There will be oil lamps everywhere in the garden, on the steps to the roof etc. The hotel and garden will be magnificent. So this is what we will try. The first guests are arriving this afternoon... More later.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Now Djenne smiles on me.

Exceptionally, I get on with the staff. Last night we all danced to the little balafon orchestra which played for the first time this season. There are plenty of guests in the hotel. We have developed a spectacular new dessert in the kitchen: Mousse de Sesame. There are hundreds of little firefinches singing in the flambouyant trees and the first pomegranates are forming.
The MaliMali studio is bustling with activity with the rythmic sound of the looms providing the aural backdrop to the visual explosion of colour and patterns being produced at the bogolan tables. In the MaliMali shop people are busy buying our produce. The great rains have yet to begin, and we are getting pleasant little showers at the moment only.
I have just taken a ride around Djenne with Max and the carriage, driven by Petit Baba. We passed by Bamoye’s metal workshop where my new Mies Van der Rohe copy chairs are being made.
But going to Bamoye’s workshop takes us past the hospital and Keita’s laboratory, where someone else is now working. I cannot bring myself to go in and I find it hard even to pass it.
Perhaps a kindly Providence has decided to give some harmony and peace in the other areas of my life to compensate for the underlying great sadness of Keita’s absence and illness. He is still in Bamako, where he has remained since our return from Casablanca. He is battling against a series of unrelated infections which are the curse of his desease. He has remained on antibiotics and is quite weak. He has been given a morphine derivative against a painful hand, and has not been able to go to Segou to stay with his mother to rest and continue to train his walking which is what we had wanted.
I cannot do anything.
I must now look after the hotel. Keita is being looked after by his other wife, and however difficult the situation is, if he didn’t have another wife I would have to close the hotel and go to Bamako to nurse him. For the moment at least I must stay here and it feels almost as if Djenne is claiming me.
Rather than the town in black and white, devoid of all life and colour that I had expected it to be without Keita, Djenne is claiming me with many coloured nuances.
This is where I must be.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Today was a significant day for the British Library Pilot Project with
reference no: EAP269:
“Preliminary survey of Arabic manuscripts in
Djenne, Mali, with a view to a major project of preservation, digitisation and

Here I am seen in the midst of the Djenne notables who make up the Djenne Library Committe, and you will just glimpse Abdel Kader Haidara from Timbuktu peeking out behind me. This potentially great project can be said to have been launched today. More about this later of course.
But at the moment Hotel Djenne Djenno, where Haidara is staying, has turned into a crossroads for Djenne Islamic dignitaries who file past, studiously avoiding the bar area, reminiscent of the Wise Kings of the East, wearing their great boubous and bearing gifts of legs of mutton, chickens etc for the great Malian manuscript expert of Timbuktu.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The other evening two young Fulani shepherds walked past with an orphaned lamb. We could not resist this little creature so we bought it for the hotel I gave him the name Barou to the delight of the staff: Keita is called Oumar Keita, but only his mother calls him Oumar. All Oumars of Mali are called Barou, just as all Modibos are called Van for reasons far beyond my comprehension.

We sent for a baby bottle from the pharmacy and Beigna adapted to the new task as surrogate mother with aplomb.

And a final picture from the Forum des Peuples in Bandiagara last week: The splendid horsemen of Bandiagara waiting for the speeches to end to parade in front of the assembled dignitaries. The Dogon people have a reputation for good horsemanship and still raise and train fine horses while in Djenne only my friend Haidara the Marabout still continue the equestrian tradition.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Moving on swiftly (because things move swiftly as well as at snails pace here, that is one of the contradictions of Africa.).
Having spent two days visiting Bamako and Keita, who is recuperating after a severe cold which has left him weak for the moment, alas. I left the capital the day before yesterday bound for
Bandiagara and a FORUM of African nations uniting at the same time at the G8summit.
This is somewhat unchartered territory for me, and I strayed into it quite innocently, believing I was going to a sort of African Nation trade fair, which I thought might be useful for MaliMali.

I left in the company of Keita’s big sister Djenneba (see above, with her pal Mai nestling in her lap)
Djenneba is a very popular woman, involved in millions of things, one of which is an Association to do with health care. I made a snap decision to send off Marriatt from Djenne with some MaliMali garments and other products to show in the ‘people’s market’, a display area for various producers. We were to meet up in Bandiagara later that day.
But that turned out to be wishful thinking as I waited with Djenneba and several hundreds of others in Bamako to form the convoy which was supposed to leave Bamako at six am but which finally got on the road at 3pm... We were waiting for contingents arriving from various other countries, such as the busloads of big jolly women arriving from Guinea Conacry, who, when they got off the bus all shouted in unison with their Bamako sisters: SO- SO -SO , SOLIDARITE- SOLIDARITE DES FEMMES DU MONDE!
There were also some Bader-Meinhof looking toubabs slouching around, who didn’t deign to say hello, probably because I was wearing a dress with the left over Barack Obama fabric. Oh dear, Quelle faux pas in this revolutionary setting...
However much a hero he might be here to the majority of the population, it was not the done thing to be sporting American-friendly garments. Hmmm, nevermind.
During the long hot day I spoke lengthily with a M. Diarra who has an agricultural produce organisation. He is very anti the idea of writing off third world debt, and believes that it is actually doing harm, removing all responsibility from people. He is in a minority though, to which I also belong.
The revolutionary convoy finally trundled into Bandiagara at 4 am this morning...I slunk off to an air conditioned room at Le Cheval Blanc I am afraid, not possessing what it takes to be a revolutionary...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

BACK IN DJENNE I mean really.
It always takes a week or so to arrive.
There is a sort of honeymoon experience which repeats itself for the first few days back in Djenne, when I am thrilled to be living in such an exotic and legendary location; when I am in awe of the beauty of my hotel; when the staff are behaving themselves; when all seems bright. This short phase is always accompanied by a lot of Bambara speaking on my behalf, which provokes unbridled mirth in the staff.
But this time has been different. All the above symptoms apply, but at the same time I have been loath to give up Casablanca in my mind, and I have spent a lot of my waking time, as well as most of my nights, tossing and turning under the mosquito net on my verandah in the hot Sahel night, reliving the recent days in Casablanca. I don’t want to let go. I am making a sort of DVD in my mind, complete with details such as the way the key turned to open our hotel room; the sequence of movements that achieved our final mastery of how to put the wheelchair into the miniscule lift; the way the waiters looked: the funny one that Keita called ‘le Chinois’; the shopkeeper that never stopped working where I bought our pic nic lunches. I am holding on to Casablanca, although it is gone.
I am now here in Djenne alone. That is not a tragedy by any means, but it is different.
Yesterday I arrived. Not only in Djenne, but in Black Africa. My arrival was linked to the connection to the municipal electricity grid, mentioned recently. Let me explain...

Kaba, the electrician who has carried out the electrical work on the hotel since the beginning, and who is an employee of the EDM ( Electricite du Mali) of Djenne has been working quietly behind the scenes for some time to get the hotel electricity connected. The rest of the neighbourhood, however, has to wait until the official inauguration which will take place at some undisclosed moment in the future, when some dignitary is supposed to come and switch the lights on, rather like the celebrities do for the Christmas lights on Oxford Street. The installation of the electricity is there already, waiting to go, including the street lights, as mentioned in a previous blog, which are hovering ominously over the hotel with their big neon bulbs.
Djenne Djenno was supposed to receive its electricity a couple of day’s ago. I understood this to be a privilege bestowed on us because of the fact that we are a hotel and will undoubtedly be the largest consumer of electricity by far in the neighbourhood.
Passports, land leases, govenmental permits to run a hotel, various signed letters etc. (all the paraphenalia which is the legacy of the French colonial administration’s unwieldy bureaucracy) had duly been presented at the Mairie and had received the official stamps needed to furnish the dossier for the switching on of our long-awaited electricity. All that was now required was to hand over the substantal wad of cash needed for the connection to Kaba at the EDM, and to get a receipt. By that very evening Djenne Djenno, after two and a half years of hardship and enormous expense, would have its electricity. Excited by this prospect I arrived at the EDM with the money which I handed over to Kaba who was waiting.
Through a door which was ajar I saw the Djenne EDM director – an ugly and particularly odious character- sitting at the desk in his office. Since the imminent electricity connection had bestowed on me a sort of general glow of benevolence which reached out even to him, I said to Kaba: ‘I am just going to say hello to your boss’. ‘OK fine’, said Kaba. Once in the Director’s office I shook hands with him and said how very pleased I was. ‘ What about?’ he enquired. ‘Why, because the hotel is finally going to get electricity’, I replied happily. ‘Well that is quite some time off in the future’ said the ugly Director, with a face as friendly as the Grand Canyon. ‘What do you mean?’ I ventured, suddenly full of foreboding. ‘ I have been led to believe we will have electricity by the evening?’ ‘Well you are misled and mistaken. Good day’, said the Director and turned his back on me.
I was supposed to understand, somehow, that the Director was not in the know! Kaba was horrified that I had said what I did. Not only was the connection now impossible, Kaba was in the bad books. He was arranging something for me, but this was not to be discussed, and certainly should not be mentioned to the director!
How was I supposed to know that this was a secret? How can something be a secret when papers are travelling backwards and forward to the Mairie all day receiving official stamps???
I have lamented to Anne my Belgian friend, where I am now staying for a couple of day’s visit to Bamako. ‘How on earth am I supposed to understand how to behave here in Africa? I am a SWEDE for God’s sake. We don’t understand corruption or underhandedness. Noone behaves like this. And you must feel the same, surely, Anne? How are we Europeans ever supposed to understand this sort of behavior?’
‘Well, Belgians are quite corrupt actually, we are known for it’, she said, smiling blithely.