Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What is that famous prayer by some famous saint?

‘Lord give me the courage to change what I can change, the strength to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to distinguish between the two’.

It seems that both Mai (Keita’s other wife) and I will have to abide by and take some comfort in these words.

Keita assured me that I could come and spend a week with him in Segou on my way back to Djenne; ‘There will be no problem, he said. All that is over’.

But as I sat in the Tripoli airport under Khaddafi’s oil painting (above) I had premonitions, and my premonitions are almost always right. And yes, indeed, when I arrived back in Mali and called Keita, he said: ‘there has been a change of plan’.

Mai had refused to let me stay with Keita for a week, although I hardly ever see him and I am now going to Djenne for some time. She insisted on the 2 day rule. (It seems as if time does not accumulate in these Muslim matrimony rules. Mai sees Keita all the time, but the two day rule still applies when I arrive after weeks.) After half an hour’s ranting and raving I decided to accept these conditions. I called Keita and told him I would arrive the next day. We would stay in a hotel for two days, then he would go to his home again and stay with Mai for two days, and then, for my last two days we would be going back to the hotel. But I decided to do what the family had told me I had the right to do: I decided to go and stay at Keita’s home too during Mai’s two days, to play with the children, to install myself in his home, and in his and Mai’s sitting room even. This has been my right from the very beginning of my marriage with Keita, but it has been a right I have been loath to insist on out of respect for Mai, and recognition that it cannot be easy for her to have me hanging around her home. However, I have been forced to play by these rules, so this is what I am now doing.
The family has given us both –Mai and me- strict instructons. Ketia’s big sister Tah was supposed to travel for a few days, but has postponed the journey for a few days to jolly things along.
And low and behold, all is well so far. Mai is actually smiling at me, and being a perfect hostess. And I am doing my best to make things a little easier for her: I have now withdrawn for the day and am writing this in the garden of the Auberge hotel.
Keita is relatively well at the moment, although quite anemic. He is no longer using his wheelchair, and walking is getting easier, although he still has to be supported. He is unbelievably patient and bears his illness with real heroism.
On Saturday I will leave for Djenne, and this is now the beginning of the tourist season.
So here goes!

Keita with wife number two and Lassina in the Keita family salon.

Keita with wife number one and Lassina in the Keita family salon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

(I have tried for 4 days to understand how to put a picture up using the computer at this Gran Canaria resort, and now, towards the end of my stay, I give up and just publish anyway, without the lovely picture of me, my mum and MNL by the pool.)

Or so one is told from an early age. But why not? I ask myself as I am sitting in Madrid airport waiting for my flight to Gran Canaria. Most generalizations turn out to be spot on, in my experience. Just take this airport for instance, it reflects my preconceptions of Spain perfectly: it is grandiose, elegant and serious to the point of being just a little lugubrious. The airport is surrounded by the hills of Madrid, somewhere upon which must nestle the grand and serious El Escorial, full of all its austere portaits of sad looking Infantas.
And just take that Texan who stayed at the hotel a couple of weeks ago: He behaved just like the Texans of my imagination, in fact he was a cartoon Texan. He actually walked like John Wayne. He ran a successful accountancy firm in Dallas, and one of his hobbies was to take photographs, which he used to produce yearly almanachs which he distributes as gifts to his clients, actual or potential. Every year there is a new theme to the almanach; last year for instance it was the ‘Man-made Wonders of the World’. This theme had him flying around the World taking pictures of the Pyramids, Stone Henge and the Sydney Opera House etc.
The theme for 2010 is ‘The Wonders of Africa’, which includes the Mosque of Djenne of course. The night before the Monday market day he discussed his plans with me over dinner, showing me the pictures he had already taken that day as preliminary research. He pointed at a wall in front of the mosque: ‘I am going to hire some people to stand over here ‘ he confided. I explained that there would be no need to hire people to stand there, they would do so quite naturally. ‘Ah, but they won’t be authentic -looking’, he said. He meant that they were going to be wearing jeans and T-shirts, thus spoiling the illusion of a perfect fairy tale Djenne. ‘They have to look traditional’. He was intending to hire a group of people which he would style in what he believed to be ‘authentic’ clothing. This would include a couple of Fulani women with the big gold earrings one used to see around here about twenty years ago. After Djenne he was flying on to Timbuktu, where he had hired 25 Touaregs on 25 camels who would parade past on a big sand dune, while he took pictures of them from a helicopter which he had hired.

I was in awe of his childlike enthusiasm and his firm belief that he had the capacity to change the world around him to conform to his ideas of what he wanted it to be, regardless of what it is actually like. But I suppose he was just living out his own generalizations…

The above musings were penned on my way to Gran Canaria, where I am now staying for a week with my mother and MNL. I fled, as I said, last week when I was informed that Keita’s other wife is coming to live in Djenne. I saw him and the rest of the family in Bamako for a difficult day or so before leaving. Things have now calmed down. I understand that Keita does not want Mai to come to Djenne either, but neither he nor I can prevent her if she insists, it is her right. So of course, what one cannot change one has to accept. I will go back to Djenne. I will have to be back to pay my staff at the end of the month, as well as to put everything in order for the tourist season which gets into swing by mid October. But before that I am enjoying some quiet and sun next to my mother and MNL hoping to gather some energy, wisdom and calm to sustain me in the stormy times which are no doubt around the corner…

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A muddy picture from Djenne introducing the latest crisis...

This is what I wrote about 4 days ago:
Things always change, as we have said, although it is perhaps not possible to prove from a philosophical point of view.
The next impending change is that Keita has finally shaken off the complications due to the infected hand, the aenemia and the bad blood circulation. He is well enough to start his next course of chemotherapy and Thalidomide in a couple of days time. Soon he will be well enough to move to Segou, after a long delay in Bamako, to stay with his old mother and his sons for a month or so. This is of course tremendous news, and it brings him one step closer to his return to Djenne and to me. It also bring us closer to the scenario I have feared: I am almost 100% certain that his other wife will refuse to leave his side, although Keita now maintains that Mai is going to stay in Segou. I know that she will insist on following him to Djenne, in spite of the fact that the boys have to be in Segou for their schools and regardless of -or because of – the fact that I am here and can look after him.
These sorts of dark thoughts now plague me. I have said to Keita in the past that if Mai comes to Djenne it is over between us. She never once came here for three years when Keita was well, because he told her not to. Then I was Keita’s mistress. Now I am Keita’s second wife. Keita has a terminal illness. Things have changed.
I sit on my roof and gaze at the large hazy orange disc descending on the Great Mosque of Djenne. I know with a certainty suddenly that Mai will come. I know also that I cannot refuse the woman her right to remain with her husband and the father of her three children, since he does not have long to live. I am going to have to accept it and take some meagre comfort in the fact that there are practical Muslim solutions to these sorts of problems, which are fairly well out-lined. Keita will stay with us for an equal amount of time: two days with Mai and two days with me at Djenne Djenno…

I wrote that four days ago, because I had premonitions that this would happen. What one can accept in theory and what happens in practice are two different things.

Today what I feared happened.

Keita said on the phone to me that one of his elder cousins wanted to talk to me. ‘What about?’ I said, although I somehow already knew.
‘It is about Mai coming to Djenne, isn’t it? ‘ I asked. ‘Yes’, said Keita. We have had a talk in the family this morning, and it was decided that she will come with me to live in Djenne. I said I wanted her to stay in Segou, but these sort of things are decided by the Family Council. ‘
I put the phone down.
I decided there and then to flee. I am going to Bamako tomorrow morning and then onto England. I am going to stay somewhere else- anywhere – until the end of the month, when I need to come back and pay my staff.
I will decide in England-or wherever- whether there is a future here at Hotel Djenne Djenno, and whether I can live here with Keita and his other wife. The way I feel now the answer is a resounding NO.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Moving on swiftly from Philosophy to Gastronomy...

The arrival of a constant municipal electricity supply at Djenne Djenno has opened up a whole spectrum of culinary possibilities: we are now able to make ice cream, for instance. And here are Papa and Fatou in the kitchen doing just that. They are using a recipe for banana ice cream from my tried and trusted 'Carribbean Cooking' by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. But we are adding our own invention, the crucial ingredient cinnamon.
When I was a little girl in Sweden, my mother kindly allowed me to have a party for my class mates in our house. On the menu was ice cream of course. 'You can have as much ice cream as you like' said my mother excitedly. OK, fine, I replied, modestly impressed. My mother was raised in a small Swedish town during the war years. Ice cream was known, and had perhaps even been tasted, but was regarded as a delectable distant mirage. 25 years on in the Sweden of my childhood, ice cream was still nice, but no longer possessed the qualities of the Holy Grail.

But in Djenne, Mali, it is safe to say that ice cream made its first triumphal entry yesterday . The French for for ice cream 'Glace' meant only 'ice' here until last night. The new Djenne Djenno 'Glace de banane a la cannelle' was fit for kings, it was agreed by the whole staff, who all got to taste it.
Move over and tremble Amandine's of Bamako!

A lovely young Japanese couple spent a few days here recently. They called me 'Sophiesan', which is of course a way of addressing someone respectfully. To me it sounded like something one calls a kitten, and I melted and lost my head and more or less let them stay for free... They met at an office party in Tokyo, and started talking about various things, including travelling. 'Where would you most of all like to go in the whole world?' asked the boy. I want to go to Djenne in Mali, said the girl. 'But that is amazing, said the boy, so would I!' (what we don't know of course is whether his desire to go to Djenne was engendered there and then..)Anyway, their wish to go to Djenne was clearly overwhelming, because here they are, on my roof top on their one week yearly holiday!They went straight to Djenne and stayed here all week and must now be back in Tokyo again.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Constant Flux of Things.
When everything is difficult one can take a philosophical comfort in the absolute fact that Things Always Change.*
Whether they change for the better of for the worse one doesn’t know, of course. But they will change. And after the change one might not really know whether the change is for the better or for the worse until a long time afterwards. And even then, it will depend on one’s perspective…
Take yesterday for instance. I think I had reached somewhere near absolute nadir. The electricity once more broken down, Keita still languishing in Bamako nearly three months after our return from Casablanca. Noone at the hotel. My great Napoleon dead and my life in Djenne in ashes…
Then, before the day was over, two significant events had ocurred. (I will tell you of one only, the other concerns a phonecall in the evening announcing a generous gift from close relatives).
About lunchtime I was sitting forlornly in my bar, staring into space, not willing or able to do anything. Then, who saunters through the Djenne Djenno Great Gate if not the Ugly Director of the Djenne Electricity Board. (EDM, Electicité du Mali) with whom I have had previous altercations (see blog July 09, 2009), tripping along meekly in the footsteps of the Regional Director of the EDM, as it turns out. The Regional Director exudes an air of decisiveness and expediency, he wears a suit and tie and dark glasses. The Ugly Director is smiling constantly and unctiously (this is a surprising discovery, since his face was always hitherto carved out of granite) as he fingers a briefcase which has every appearance of containing important papers. Their unexpected arrival makes my heart flutter.
The Regional Director had arrived that very morning from Mopti and he had apparently one item on his agenda : to put into effect the immediate connection of Hotel Djenne Djenno to the municipal electricity grid. Two hours later the workers arrived (see above) and last night I slept in an air conditioned room!
Now, there are two possible reasons for this sudden turn about face, and they are both perhaps jointly responsible:
Ace is not only our driver and Man Friday, it turns out that he has important connections. He has spent a few days in Bamako, where he summoned a distant cousin, a significant mandarin in the Malian electricity establishment. This august personnage called the Regional Director in Mopti a couple of days ago and asked why the Hell Hotel Djenne Djenno was not connected?
But that is not all. Meanwhile, in Timbuktu, Abdel Kader Haidara had also been on the phone, it transpires, pestering the same Regional Director on my behalf. Haidara had after all been languishing here at the hotel for several days without electricity during his recent visit, and probably doesn’t wish to repeat the experience.
And finally, I think it helped that I was seen on Malian TV. Perhaps this is only imagination, but my status as a Malian inhabitant seems to have risen sky high since the day I appeared in connection with the Djenne Manuscripts….
It would seem that in the Flux of Things, this could only be a movement towards good. But in order to be connected I had to sign an ominous looking statement in which I agree that the EDM is in no way responsible for any damage caused to any equipment because of fluctuating electricity supply. ..
I signed of course, becuse it is certainly going to be a change, and surely for the better ?

*Or can one?
This statement provokes a light hearted philosophical reverie in me as I am sitting under my flambuoyant tree, gazing at the pomegranates which are ripening; enjoying my breakfast papaya and trying out the new Djenne Djenno lemon marmelade.
I remember my old friend and mentor Princess Lulie and her fascination with the philosopher David Hume’s dictum that nothing is certain and nothing can be proved (see blog April 21 2007).
I remember enchanted evenings sitting in her Chelsea conservatory discussing this idea, always amid a lot of laughter. Lulie always repeated what Hume said: although it is probable that the sun will rise tomorrow, it is not possible to prove that it will. John W. said that the only field where certainties existed was within mathematics. Sanjay T. refuted even this and maintained that the only things that can be stated with certainty from a philosophical point of view are statements such as: ‘All Bachelors are Unmarried.’
I now call upon any philosophical friends who may be reading this blog: George, for instance, are you there?
How about a statement such as: ‘It is a Certainty that Things Will Change’?
I have an inkling what the philosophers in Pricess Lulie’s conservatory would have said: ‘ It is like the Orange, Sophie. It is probable that it will fall if you drop it. It is highly probable that Things will Change, but it cannot be proven’. Is this what they would have said George?