Thursday, August 27, 2009

Djenne Manuscript dealing with the subject of Magic.

Have someone put a bad spell on me?
I am becoming an old witch. I walk around scowling most of the time, and people avoid me because they fear a tantrum. And why am I so angry ? Well, because everything is so shoddy, hopeless and ramshackle. Everywhere I turn the bad quality Chinese things that I buy (because I have no choice) are being mended by my staff in a haphazard African sort of way, because they fear telling me that once again the staff bicycles (wheel barrows, plastic buckets, watering hose etc etc) which were thoroughly mended last week only are now once more broken. They dare not tell me so they cut up an old inner tube and wind it around the tyre (watering hose or…) which has perished once more. The bicycle brakes that have been mended will last for about a day. This is not a problem for an African- things like brakes are for fainthearted toubabs. Why should one want to slow down the progress of something which is actually working for once ?
And in the MaliMali studio I find first of all that my patterns, painstakingly cut out of recycled old cement sacks, have been eaten up by termites in the last three days because the person who is in charge of the sweeping and cleaning has gone missing. Then I notice a jar containing all the brushes that I brought out from England. They are thickly encrusted with oil based low-grade enamel paint… This provokes an uncontrollable fit in me, and I scream at the top of my volume control :
MERDE ! I brought these brushes from England in order that we would be able to move one step up on the development ladder in our bogolan production! We no longer have to use tooth brushes! And now I find that Petit Baba has gone and painted his Goddam BICYCLE with them !!! I don’t want to be here any more!! I have had just about enough of you lot! DO YOU HEAR !
And I wander off, the old witch of Djenne Djenno, quite literally tearing my hair out and mumbling incoherantly. Fortunately it is coming up towards sunset time and I escape onto my roof, where I sit for an hour or two, alone, gazing into the distance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Tripadvisor ( reviews are coming in thick and fast, and even yesterday there was a new one, just after my posting the last blog! Considering that we have had many fewer guests than usual because of the recent electricity problems, it would appear that most people who have been here in the last month have written reviews! And they are all giving top marks, so this important part of my life is certainly running successfully even in the face of hardship. Tonight even, still without electricity, there are 4 Spanish couples staying at the hotel. We all had dinner together, although the couple had never met each other before. It was a lovely evening.
Here is the last review from London:
24 août 2009
We stayed in this hotel and very much enjoyed the atmosphere. The hotel was built fairly recently, adopting the style and materials of the traditional local architecture. Sophie, the owner, made us feel comfortable right from our arrival. She showed us two rooms to choose from. Both were charming and very nicely decorated.
The hotel is located just outside Djenne, within 5 minutes of walking distance. This means it is quiet and peaceful, and from the terrace you have amazing views over citadel.

We had dinner at the hotel, and did not regret it. The “menu du jour” was delicious. Tables were laid outside in the courtyard with candles, and Sophie had invited a group of Malian musicians. The setting was very romantic.

In the morning we asked Sophie if she could recommend a knowledgeable and reliable guide for a cultural visit of Djenne. She put us in touch with Tapo. He was the most honest, reliable and interesting guide we could hope for, and our visit of Djenne was fascinating. Tapo is well known so do ask for him at the Djenne Djenno or at Baba Restaurant if you are looking for a knowledgeable and honest guide.

Overall, we felt this hotel offered very good value for money. It is clean, comfortable, quite and well decorated. Sophie and her staff are polite, considerate and helpful. Well worth a stay !

Monday, August 24, 2009

Crepissage at Hotel Djenne Djenno. More mud is applied to smooth away the ravages of the last storms.

And here is something to gladden my heart: Not one but FOUR new trip advisor reports. All very good; We now have 11 reviews!

From a solo traveller from Santa Cruz California on the 9th of August :
'I second other reviewers by saying this was the nicest hotel I stayed in while in Mali. I especially enjoyed the owner's choice of interior design and traditional architecture. The water pressure provided a good shower - rare during my two week trip in Mali. The food was excellent and the cocktails the hostess offers on the roof top was such a treat overlooking the mosque and city at sunset - very beautiful - a trip highlight for me'

From Glasgow on 19th of July :
'Very good hotel and restaurant in the outskirts of Djenne - the owner is very nice and helpful and knows a lot of things about the area. Try the cocktail and stay for dinner as you won't find a better restaurant in Djenne. Perhaps is not the cheapest option in Djenne, but I would not try to save money in a place like that!'

From a French visitor on the 3rd of August :
'très bon hotel, architecture à l'image de Djenne
Super coucher de soleil sur la mosquée sur la terrasse de l'hotel'

From a Belgian guest in June :
'Une addresse incontournable'
Quel plaisir de connaître une étape dans cet hotel à Djenne. A la sortie de la ville, au calme, se trouve ce bel établissement d'architecture locale, de tout confort, avec des chambres assez petites mais de caractère local. Un service très cordial, une bonne table, des plantes et des fleurs à profusion, voilà un hotel a conseiller sans aucun doute

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The beginning of the month if Ramadan is celebrated here with a picure from Egypt’s Red Sea Coast, where my friend Gilliane has a built a villa (which can be rented :
I copy here below what she just wrote :
Dearest Sophie,
As an avid reader of your diary ( I hate the word BLOG it sounds really ugly; like blocked bog ) I am starved of information. I know you must be VERY BUSY. Today, as the first day of Ramadan probably involves your staff praying more than usual.
My thoughts are with you.
Gilliane x
P.S. View of the Mosque from the villa's roof.

Yes, indeed, it’s been a long time since I made a ‘diary’entry. This is partly due to lack of time, but mostly to a reluctance to communicate what is difficult and painful. So let’s just get those bits out of the way first, then perhaps there will be a little space for something brighter :
I have returned from Bamako, where I have spent three days with Keita in a hotel where we used to stay during happier times. This time the family released him to me without even putting up a struggle, and that must be seen as a sort of minor victory and something positive to hold on to in my stormy present existance...He is recuperating from his infected hand, but the wound is deep and difficult, and needs to be treated at the hospital every third day. He is severely anemic, and will have to have more blood transfusions next week. But he does still walk, if he is supported. So the wheelchair is hardly used now, and that fact is held on to proudly, polished and held up as a trophy and a source of joy…
I am writing this at the Campement Hotel, Djenne, where I have installed myself for the better part of today, working courtesy of their electrical plug and extention lead which is charging all my electrical appliances. I am taking advantage of their bar facilities without too much shame, since I have just given them all my bookings for today : 12 air conditioned rooms. The hotel was fully booked, but the electricity once again blew up at 3 am two nights ago, when I was sleeping next to Keita in Bamako…It has not been possible to mend it, and our electricity problem is now seemingly a major one, which will involve sending expert electricians from Bamako to rewire the hotel.
So, what can I add to cheer up this dismal diary entry ?
Well, last night, apparently, I was seen on Malian TV wearing a big stripey MaliMali hat, MaliMali earrings and sporting a very red lipstick.(In other words undoubtedly quite unsuitably dressed in a strict Muslim setting.) Nevertheless, it appears I was speaking fairly coherently about the British Library Project at the Djenne Manuscript Library. I did not see this myself, because I was stuck on the road from Bamako with a broken down bus- nevermind, I have been told by enough people to believe that it was OK . It was Malian TV doing a news item about the launching of the Library Project last Sunday the 16th. Abdel Kader Haidara was there from Timbuktu, and he also gave an address to the assembled Djenne dignitaries. I was seen giggling and hobnobbing with the Maire and the Prefect and the son of the Imam. Shame that Tatler society pages don’t reach this far...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DUNIA KA GELEN (Life is difficult, Bambara)
The Black Cats are slinking around the hotel again, in powerful destuctive union with the termites which are munching their way through the hotel causing much damage. This time they attacked this picture, a page from Monsieur Daire’s photo album. Monsieur Daire was a teacher in Djenne during the French Colonial rule in the 1930’s. His son visited Djenne Djenno a couple of years ago, then presented me with a scanned version of his father’s photo album. These pictures adorn the walls of the more expensive rooms.
The termites ravage the very fibre and walls of the hotel , while in a parallel even more destuctive Keita’s cancer is silently eating away at his bones.
It is written somewhere that we will not be given trials greater than we can cope with. I feel flattered if that is the case : the powers above seem to have decided I am able to cope with a lot…
But everything develops so fast here that I must first of all give an update on the recent trials involving Keita’s family, because those trials are now over – at least for the moment. The Family, represented by Baji, Keita’s cousin, ‘delivered’ him to me last Friday at my friend Ann’s place in Bamako. He was given 24 hours with me, a decision arrived at by the Family Council who did recognize, finally, that I too have a right to be by his side, since I am also his wife. At the same time Baji explained that they wanted him back again sooner than I had hoped, because they were worried about his state of health and the old Auntie was not at ease until he came back again. I accepted this condition reluctantly, at the same time I considered Keita’s arrival at Ann’s as a not insignificant victory for me in the Titan struggle I had had put up in order to be able to be next to him for a little while.
Keita’ Auntie was right in being worried about him, it transpired. It was not just an infected hand, as I had been led to believe, but also a lack of blood circulation in his shoulders, arms and hands, which had more or less made him lame in his upper limbs. It is not irreversible, and it is getting better, but nevertheless this seems a particularly cruel fate since he was regaining movement in his legs and was even able to walk again, but needed to use his hands and arms to support him.
We had a restful time together : phoned friends ; had take- away Steak au Roquefort from Amandines ; watched movies- Keita saw Pulp Fiction for the first time. But if one area of life is receiving a little respite, seemingly the pressure needs to build up elsewhere…
And those Black Cats are slinking around the Hotel again, as I said, lying in wait for my return to Djenne…
The generator is still not working, even though a Bamako mechanic has now spent nearly a week here giving it first of all a general maintenance ; then arranging for umpteen new parts to be delivered from Bamako, including a new piston. The electrical system has been rewired several times , with the only result that it once again blows up, and yet another delivery has to be made to Bamako for yet another electrical part. This is of course costing a fortune, and at the same time we are losing half our guests at a time when the hotel is more or less fully booked and when we need to recoupe the great expenditure we have had for many reasons – one of them indeed the generator ! But to keep about half the guests without being able to offer electricity is in fact quite a feat. It is amazing that so many decide to stay for what we are still billing as our ‘African Adventure’. Last night and the night before the roof top bar was full of Italians drinking Djenne Djenno cocktails as a treat on the house. The balafonist played and the garden was glittering with lamps.
But this arrangement is of course very difficult to maintain, especially as it is rainy season, and the people who chose to sleep in their mosquito net tents last night had to go to their rooms about 6 am since it started to rain. Then Adama, the night watchman was supposed to remove all the sheets, bogolan blankets, pillows and mosquito net tents from the roof. This he eventually did, but only after the bogolan dye of the blankets had well and truly destroyed all the sheets. The Chinese mosquito net tents recently delivered from Bamako were summarily torn away from the roof and thrown down from the roof top onto the muddy ground in a big heap with the new mattresses. The delicate Chinese mosquiteo net tents were thoroughly ripped apart.
The generator part is now winging its way here, courtesy of Bittar Transport. It will be fitted this afternoon, but the generator will not be operational until we have tested it, and who knows what that will do to it- the last three tests have meant that it has once again blown up …
But to finish on two lighter notes : a nice French couple has just arrived. I have given them the Peul suite and explained the situation to them. They said they would take a trip into town and have a look at the Campement Hotel, which is where they could find an air conditioned room. They came straight back ! I am flattered that they preferred Djenne Djenno even without electricity.
And finally, tomorrow morning is the meeting to arrange the Big Feast for the launch of the Djenne Manuscript project. The feast will take place next Sunday the 16th and already on the Saturday we have Abdel Kader Haidara arriving from Timbuktu .

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Since the last entry is too heavy to contemplate, (I am going to Bamako tomorrow and have no idea what will happen) I want to brighten things up by this picture of a smiling Djenne Djenno.
Lots of people stayed the other night for what I billed as The African Adventure: i.e. we had no electricity. I invited everyone on to the roof top bar for sunset cocktails, then we all ate in the garden under the stars. Some people stayed on the roof, others in the rooms- it was a great evening.

Monday, August 03, 2009

This picture has been used before, but it will serve well today too, as an illustration of the theological and moral dilemma in which I now find myself:

‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands , you will remain in my love’. John 15:9

I married Keita against the commands of the Christian church, since he was already married.
‘This is my command: love one another’. John 15:17

I married Keita for love and pity for him and in order to be able to continue to engage myself in his health care and to have the right to be beside him in his illness. Even the Bishop of Mopti, although he excommunicated me, simultaneously gave me his blessing.

(This reminds me of a story the lovely Sister Yvonne told me in London:
A parish priest went to see his bishop. He told him how there had been a group of Anglicans in his church the Sunday previously, and how they had come up to the altar to receive communion.
‘And what did you do?’ asked the bishop.
‘I did what Christ would have done’ replied the parish priest.
surely not!’ replied the bishop, shocked.)

But I digress.
The dilemma at hand is the following:
I am going to Bamako for a few days, partly on Djenne library business, but above all to spend some time with Keita, who is still suffering from an infected hand. He is staying with his old Auntie and his cousins with whom he spent his childhood. His other wife is looking after him.
Now, what will happen when I arrive? The solution should be simple: according to Muslim polygamous law I have as much right to stay by his side as his other wife. She, by all rights should now leave and go to Segou and look after her children for a few days and return later, when I have left. But the family is seemingly reluctant to put this arrangement into place. Keita has not much say in the matter it seems, and anyway he is very weak.

I entered into a polygamous marriage on the understanding that I would share Keita with his first wife. Instead I find myself in the same situation as before our marriage in that I seemingly have no rights at all! His family is not abiding by the laws of their own society.
I have been told that I am allowed to go and visit him. But his other wife will be sitting in the room, refusing to leave like last time, and she has all the weight of the family behind her.
Why does the family refuse? Is there perhaps really something here. some sort of divine right, recognized instinctively by even this Malian polygamous society? Mai was Keita’s wife. Did I really do something wrong when I married him? Am I getting my just rewards?
Be that as it may. I now find myself fighting tooth and nail, a Christian, for my rights as a Muslim wife.
Never let it be said that I lived a humdrum, simple life…
I am fighting all the more, because I can guess something of what the future holds. If I am not allowed to stay by his side now, I will not be allowed later either, when his illness deteriorates. Neither Keita, his mother or his sisters seem to understand, or want to believe in the seriousness of his disease, which is incurable.
Instead they all say, infuriatingly: ‘Why are you making such a fuss? It is only for a short time. When he gets better you can see each other as much as you like!’
But the more his illness progresses, the more time he will spend in Bamako at his Auntie’s house, close to medical care. Already now, he hasn’t left Bamako since our arrival from Casablanca.

The matter is now in the hands of Baji, the eldest cousin in the Aunties household. I called her last night to plead my case with her. She said she understood me: I have the right to be next to my husband for a few days. She is now going to speak to the other cousins and the Auntie and the Family Council will come to a decision. This is the African way, against which I have no power whatsoever. I will now pray that the Auntie as Head of the Council will be given the wisdom and insight to come to a wise and just decision.…What will it be? And will I abide by it even if I find it unjust or will I now decide to step away from what I will find an impossible situation? Can I continue to engage myself in Keita if I have no rights whatsoever?