Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tabaski Greeting from Segou.
I remember in about 1985, the art world was electrified by the discovery of a new Titian painting: The Flaying of Marsyas. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy. Did Titian travel in these climes? The scenes I witnessed in Keita”s yard this morning reminded me of the painting…
Three rams were slaughtered as sacrifices: one for his father, one for his mother and one for Keita himself.
Tabaski is not for the fainthearted, and definitely not for vegetarians….

After the morning’s bloody events everyone gets dressed up. It is the moment for showing off one’s best clothes and here is Lassina, Keita”s 5 year old boy looking very cool, doing just that…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Please humour me whilst I revel immodestly in our latest -15th!- Tripadvisor review from a recent Canadian visitor:

"One of the Special Places of the World"
Hotel Djenne Djenno has been built in a fabulous location which commands a great view across the water to the old town of Djenne and it's magnificent mud mosque. We met the owner of the hotel, Sophie, in Bamako. She has travelled throughout the world and has created a property in Djenne that reflects her warm and engaging personality. She has paid a great deal of attention to detail in building the hotel. Our room was interesting, clean and well-appointed with, among other things, a/c, ensuite and the mandatory mosquito net. The exterior areas are also beautiful, well thought out and tranquil. The staff were attentive and helpful. We had no complaints and would highly recommend this hotel.

In smart hotels one sometimes encounters dressing gowns.
Since we need an outlet for all the handwoven cotton which is being produced in the MaliMali studio, I decided to upgrade our four 'superior doubles' by providing them with monogrammed (DD) kimono style dressing gowns. If people like them, they can buy them. It worked first time, and yesterday's German guest in the Kassonge bought one straight away!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Much has happened yet again-
and the most significant event is the arrival in Mali of Dr. Kwee Yong, hematologist extraordinaire and Grande Specialiste of Multiple Myeloma, Keita’s disease, from University College Hospital London.
Last May in London, when I despaired of Keita’s chances of having anything done at all, since all doctors had said he would never walk again; last May when he sat paralyzed in a wheel chair in Bamako, waiting for me to come back with a plan of action; last May when I didn’t even want to go back to Mali; at that terrible time I met Dr. Kwee Yong. This brilliant physician was introduced to me by Vanya, an old friend and a doctor in a senior position in the NHS. Kwee looked at Keita’s CTC scans of his spine and said; “hmm, yes, well it is not looking good. Indeed an operation is probably out of the question. Sorry’. But then she looked again, and said: ‘just wait here a moment, I will pass this by Charlie, a radiologist collegue to see what he says. And she disappeared down the corridor, to return again a quarter of an hour later with the ground breaking news that Charlie had spotted a shadow which they had discussed and which had brought them to the conclusion that Keita would benefit from radio therapy, and that there was a slim possibility that he would regain movement. That today Keita is walking is due to the inspired help first of all of Vanya, leading us on to Kwee and to Charlie.
But the most incomprehensible and wonderful aspect of this story is that Kwee kept in touch with me, a complete stranger, and wanted updates on Keita’s state of health. She followed my blog and saw the pictures in June of Keita”s first steps in Casablanca. Then she decided to visit us in Mali!
I went to meet her and her husband Andy, a prominent London immunologist when they arrived at the airport in Bamako last Saturday. We met Keita’s hematologist Dr. Touré who gave them a visit of Hopital Point G. We then travelled on to Segou where they met Keita. We had a lovely dinner together at the Hotel Independence , then they joined us for lunch at Keita”s house the following day. (see picture above). Kwee and Andy are now on their way to Timbuktu, travelling on the river Niger in a pinasse.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I left Djenne last Thursday the 5th of November. I saw the early sun over the floodplains of the Niger Delta as I travelled on my motorcycle to the Djenné carrefour. I stopped to take the picture above and to eat this year’s first fruit of our custard apple tree, which Boubakar gave me as I left the hotel. In my blog entry of the 20th of December last year, which was illustrated by Keita's eating of our very first custard apple from the garden, I wrote the following:
This our first 'fruit of paradise' seems to me now to have been sent as a reminder of how precious life can be- we have, for the moment at least, been banished from paradise and we are on the way to Bamako tomorrow morning'.

These words were to prove appropriate this year too. While eating this year's first custard apple I had premonitions, provoking a mood of strange exaltation which continued as I mounted the bus. I was to travel to Segou to meet Keita and his mother, and together we were to travel onto Bamako in our new car for a few days. Once on the bus, I called Keita and said I was on my way, then I wrote the following in my notebook:
‘Witness the rising sun from Masada
” sings the female voice of a reggae singer from the sound system of my Segou bound Bani bus as I speed through the Malian early morning landscape. The reggae rhythm in a minor key touches somewhere profound in me. I did witness the rising sun at Masada so very long ago. I remember many rising suns from many places far away. I have seen the sun rise from Mount Sinai and I have seen the sun rise over Tamil Nadu from the eastern promontories of the Western Ghats .’

My mood of exaltation continued until the telephone rang, and Keita told me his mother had had a heart attack and was on her way to the hospital. Quarter of an hour later he called me to say that she had died.
We did travel to Bamako together that day, but Keita’s mother travelled in a hearse. The funeral took place the following day.
I had prayed that Keita’s mother would not survive him. She has lost two daughters and two sons. Keita was her last remaining son, and her favourite child. She died happy and instantly, having spent the last two months by his side in Segou, and having seen him starting to wallk again. I remember when I first met her she asked me ‘ if you take him with you to your country, will he come back able to walk?’ I said I would try my best.

Meanwhile, on the same day, just after sunset prayers at 18.07 in Djenné, the southern tower of the Great Mosque collapsed.
This was due to the unseasonal 24 hours of continuous rain we had had at the beginning of the month. The Aga Khan Foundation has been here restoring the Mosque, and had stripped this towr of the protective mud layers, which made the water penetrate the core of the tower.
Noone was seriously hurt.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The guitar I bought in Romsey during my idyllic stay in the Hampshire countryside in May 2007 (see blogs) was intended for this very purpose: the Griots of Djenné are giving a concert to last nights full dinner crowd at Djenné Djenno. It was a roaring success and it will be repeated every Monday night in the tourist season. The Sundays are still reserved for my balafon orchestra.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

said the dashing Nils, a British Mungo Park enthusiast of Norwegian/Asian parentage, who just spent a couple of days at the hotel, making me laugh. We decided it would be a good title for a a music hall sketch.
He didn't have to worry because Fatou lent him hers.
But the rainy season, which should have been long over, just made a freak return, and we have had 24 hours of continuous downpour, turning the fore court of the hotel (as well as all of Djenné) into a mud bath.
We are full tonight and rains+full hotel is a bad scenario. But not half as bad a situation as for the poor farmers of the area, who had already cut their millet which was lying on the ground, drying. This unseasonal rain may have caused devastation to the crops.

And then this charming French amateur entymologist father and son team just left, having spent a couple of days happily hunting for insects in and around Djenné.