Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to describe these days at the Clinique Les Berges du Lac?
Strange days in suspension, waiting.
Waiting for Keita’s results to come so he can be transferred to the hospital where his stem cell transplant will take place; waiting for news from Djenne: is the water stabilizing? Waiting for the supervisor to give us permission to go for a walk on the shores of the lake; waiting for the bland food to arrive.

Keita has had all the relevant tests and he is ready and in good health but there is no immediate space available at the transplant hospital. Every day we expect to be transferred. When this happens I will no longer be able to stay with him. But now during these days when we are just waiting we would like to be able to move in to Tunis to have a couple of normal days in a hotel and look around the city . This seems unlikely to happen. Keita is not even allowed out for a stroll in the roads around the Clinique without having a written permission from the supervisor, a lady bearing an uncanny resemblance to the matron in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Every morning we put in a request to be able to go for a stroll, and by night fall, when it is too late the permission will arrive. I get angry of course, but the patient Keita tells me to calm down, it doesn’t matter. In any case he is the legal responsibility of the Clinique- if anything happened they would be answerable to the Malian Government.
So we stay here in the clinic and do Sudoku, read, watch music videos of stars that Keita like: Celine Dion and R.Kelly. I take the opportunity to practise my Bambara on Keita and on the other Malians on the ward. There are quite a few including Boubakar, a beautiful lively little 8 year old boy with cancer who is here with his father for brain surgery- he went in yesterday and his poor father was wandering around wringing his hands, stopping in our room for a while, watching some football with Keita.
We speak to Djenne several times a day of course. It seems that my absence may have been a good thing in so far as the other inhabitants of our neighbourhood have been galvanised into action since they realised that I would not be doing anything this time. A delegation of Peres de Famille went to the hotel the other day and spoke to Baba asking us to contribute to a fund to rebuild the road to make it passable again. So we did of course, and Ace has been overseeing the work which is still continuing. We have the whole hotel full this coming Sunday and Monday. The road should be mended by then, at least provisionally. But if the water still rises we cannot hold. The last couple of days it seems it has stabilized. But there has been serious damage in many places, and the Hotel Dar Es Salam which lies behind Hotel Djenne Djenno has been totally inundated we understand.

I went to the Cathedral on the Avenue Bourguiba last Sunday (see above) to have a little talk to St Christopher again: St Christopher the saviour of travellers and of floods….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The news reaching us from Djenne is disturbing to say the least.

I have dug out an old picture from 2007 which must show something approaching the situation in Djenne at the moment- the water is standing at the threshold of the hotel and creeping up... Ace is working filling the rice sacks with earth and building the barricades.
But the last thing we heard was that the water is seeping up through the ground itself, inside the barricades!

Oh dear, what should I do?

The road has been cut off. Tomorrow the hotel is half full- the staff will stand ready at the main road and take the people to the hotel with pirogues to the waiting
Max and carriage which will take them the last hundred metres to the hotel. We have done this before, but I am worried and I wonder if I should go back.

But what can I do if I go back? I will not get there in time for the people tomorrow anyway.
Keita will start his gruelling treatment next week and this is why I am here- I can't leave here either!
Oh dear, what a dilemma...

Friday, September 24, 2010

La Clinique des Berges du Lac, Tunis.

Keita arrived Monday, I met him at the airport and so did the team from the Clinique du Lac, who immediately took charge of him and put him in an ambulance! Keita is quite well at the moment, but since the deal is that he is taken care of, he is treated as if he is on death’s door.

I am staying in a private room with him, while he is undergoing a multitude of tests, scans and x-rays. I say ‘private’ but it is not quite the word. At any moment the staff just wander in, there is seemingly no concept of day or night here: last night at 1 am when we had just fallen asleep they burst in and told him to get dressed because he was having a MIR scan of his scull!

They are certainly very thorough: they sent a dentist over who discovered that he had a couple of cavities, which, considering he has never ever been to the dentist is quite remarkable. Because of the risk of infection during the stem cell transplant his doctor took the decision to let him go to the dentist.

The news which took us by surprise was that he will have to stay for three month in Tunisia! We had thought it would take about four weeks, in which case I could perhaps had stayed with him. As it now stands I will have to leave and perhaps come back later. The hotel is heavily booked in October and November, and I can’t just leave them to it, however well they seem to be coping at the moment.

Next week Keita will be moved to a specialist place that deals with transplants. Some of his stem cells will be removed and stored to be put back later. He will be put in a sterile room where he will be given high-level chemotherapy for a few days, to kill the cancer in his bone marrow. Eventually his own stem cells, which will have undergone irradiation, will be transfused back into his body as if he were given a blood transfusion. There is no actual operation involved. The treatment is pretty gruelling however- he will feel very sick and he will be very weak. I would like to be here to give him some moral support- even if it is just by waving through a window. So I will stay for at least two or three weeks.

Meanwhile there are worrying rumours reaching us from Djenne…
This year the rains have been very plentiful, and although that is a blessing for the farmers, it causes problems in a city built of mud, and many houses have fallen.
At the hotel we have had some damage in the rooms, but that is of no account compared to the worrying fact that the water is creeping high, surrounding the hotel once again, and Ace is working with the staff filling in the rice sacks with earth and building up the barricades. At the same time they have resurrected the well tried method of pumping out the water which falls inside the hotel compound across the barricades with the foot pump normally used to water the garden with the well water. All this is of course worrying, but since it is not the first time this happens, we feel they will be able to cope. But yesterday we heard even more serious news- the road which leads from the main road to the hotel and beyond to the whole neighbourhood is being cut off by the advancing water!

We are unclear of the situation- apparently cars can still pass, but for how long? And should something be done? Should we be shoring up the road? We are of course not the only ones in need of this road- the whole area needs it. The problem is that there are no municipal funds for this sort of thing, so the town won’t be doing anything about it. Everyone in the whole neighbourhood thinks that I will sort it out because I have the biggest need of a road. No road= no hotel! Therefore they will not only do nothing about it, they will not contribute to the costs involved either. But this year I am here and I will not move for a while yet. Let’s see if this fact will propel someone else into action? We are of course in constant contact with Ace and the hotel- should something be done? Is the water stabilizing? I will look up old September blogs to see when the water starts receding…

Friday, September 17, 2010

I am writing this from Tunis, having finally escaped the strange package tour world but not without having entered even further into its mysteries…

I had rather had enough of the Monastir Centre, so I decided to move, and found something which described itself as the HOUDA Golf resort , or something like that. In my naïveté, I though this boded well. A golf resort: perfect. It would be full of peaceful old fogeys in checked trousers who would leave early to play golf. Ergo, no one would be running around trying to recruit one to play darts or do the hokey-cokey. There would be no loud music at the pool side which would be left deserted for me to enjoy in peace and quiet. This turned out to be a miscalculation of monumental proportions.
As soon as I arrived I was given a pink bracelet which meant that ‘all-inclusive’ status was bestowed on me. I could drink as much bad wine or beer as I liked. And I drank quite a lot, having first sat down and cried, because I had booked myself in and paid for two days. There was no going back.

There was howling music and a break dancing competition going on as I tried to fight my way to the swimming pool through the beer swigging hoards. There was no one there who looked as if they were remotely interested in golf.
Every square inch of space by the side of the pools seemed to be covered in a heaving mass of pink flesh. A smell of cigarette smoke and suntan lotion permeated the air.
I surveyed the scene and the spirit of Dunkirk descended on me. I dried my tears and squeezed myself onto a sun chair in the shade of a palm tree.
A kind providence had decreed that the lady on the deck chair next to me, Lynn from Cardiff, was both funny and bright as a button. She became my companion for the two days, and we parted the best of friends, she for Cardiff and I for Tunis, our stay having reached a culmination with a Michael Jackson Tribute evening courtesy of the hotel ‘animation team’. It was actually quite good!

But the real news is the following: Keita is arriving on Monday morning!

He will go directly to the clinic. They will send staff and transport which will be waiting for him at the airport at 7 am. It proved impossible that he should leave earlier. Everything is sewn up without any room for manoeuvring, it appears.
Although I am disappointed that I have had to hang around here waiting for ten days on my own, it is of course not important- the amazing thing is that Keita is going to get his stem cell transplant!
I went to see the clinic and spoke to a lady who confirmed the arrangements. Until this point I had hardly believed that it was going to happen. She could not tell me much- not how long the treatment will take, neither if Keita is going to be able to stay with me elsewhere for a few days. She did say that I could stay with him at the hospital. Maybe this is how it has to be- after all we are not here for a holiday…

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Monastir business-
Later, from the bar.
Good Heavens. I had forgotten about all this sort of stuff. I just had dinner, sitting quietly in my corner, hoping to get away before the Belgian widower arrived- nothing wrong with him, but I am not in a sociable mood.
A new waiter comes up to the table, taking orders for drinks. I order half a bottle of local red wine. As he opens the bottle, he smiles greasily and remarks that he hasn’t seen me before. ‘No, I have only had dinner here once before, I reply. ‘Ah!’ that was my day off, he informs me. ‘Oh, I see’. I open my book without glancing at him or giving any come-on signs whatsoever. Then he hovers around for a bit before blurting out: ‘ do you have a boyfriend here?’ I say that is hardly any of his business. But he persists: if I would like a boyfriend, he would be available after service. I take a deep breath then snap haughtily: ‘ do what you are here for: pour me the wine and then leave me alone!’
He slunk off. I began to feel that I had been a little hard on him. Perhaps after all he thought that he was doing his job? Perhaps every lone middle aged woman he has seen before has been here to find love? I shuddered. How embarrassing! Is that what people are thinking? But I am not taking part in any of this stuff- I don’t do karaoke, I don’t join the belly dancing competitions! But I am here on my own, and it must look that way- I mean, I am the first to say that generalisations are normally spot on!
Then the Belgian widower arrived. As I was waiting for the saucy waiter to turn up to pay him for the wine, I enquired how the day had been. Oh, the camel ride had been the best of all the three rides he had done: Camel, donkey and horse, he beamed happily. The waiter returned one dinar short in the change. I fixed him with an icy stare and informed him: ‘ I am not going to report you, not for the incident earlier, neither for short changing me, but I advice you to take care, the next person you try it on may not be so charitable.’
Actually, I am probably wrong. They may never get anyone as nasty as me again.

Monastir Tunisia
I am spending a strange few days here in Hotel Monastir Centre, which advertises itself wildly optimistically as a 4-star establishment. I do not have the right to complain though since it is unbelievably cheap, has a decent room and a good pool. The food is not bad at all either. I sit in the shade by the pool wearing a black all-in-one swimming costume which marks me out as something of a curiosity amongst my fellow hotel guests, an assorted bunch of sun worshipping Europeans, none of whom seems to object to the elevator/soft rock music which is being played full blast all day and night around the pool area.
I observe things, feeling like an anthropologist.
It really is true that German tourists get up early and put towels on the deck chairs by the pool! Some guests on ‘all-inclusive’ status avail themselves rather too enthusiastically of the free bar, and by 4 o’clock they start falling over and have to be carried back to their rooms apparently.
But by that stage I have escaped to the beach which really is rather beautiful here. It has the finest white sand and a few coral rock formations jutting out into the sea
to climb on as well as an impressive fortress to look at in the distance.

At dinner the staff has placed me at a table with an elderly Belgian widower who has never been abroad before. They are probably matchmaking. I don’t really mind. I make some conversation before I escape to my room and BBC World.

And how long will strange existence carry on?

Keita is in Bamako now and will try and get here asap, even if the hospital where his treatment will be carried out is not ready for him yet. We are hoping for a few day’s holiday together. I will find a better place than this of course, but in the meantime I
wait and I rest and observe, with some amusement, my strange fellow Europeans….

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My mother and Gillis with their Bogolan wedding presents: two pillowcases I made in the MaliMali studio just before leaving Djenne: One of the cushions says, in Bambara: ALA KA FURU N'YE ( may God bless their marriage), the other says XXVIII, VIII, MMX, which according to my estimation should mean 28th August 2010- or so I hope, it is the day of their wedding...

This tranquil Swedish view has soothed my eyes for the last ten days, but soon, soon, my feet will once more touch African soil, this time in Tunisia.
On Friday I leave Stockholm to meet up with Keita in Tunis, where he will finally get the stem-cell transplant he needs. Details are so far sketchy to say the least- we don't know exactly what date he is arriving, nor do we have any details of the hospital which will do the treatment. All arrangements are in the hands of the Malian Ministry of Health. I have bought a last-minute charter ticket and will travel with Swedish holiday makers on their way to this popular travel destination. Once in Tunis I will find a little hotel and wait...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Of Cooking and Feet on Tables.

I am spending beautiful days by the lake with my mother and Gillis (MNH), mainly in the kitchen heavily immersed in cooking, trying out all sorts of new recipes for the hotel, changing them to fit in with what is available in Djenne.
M. Vielle’s kindly-meant words still hover around as a faint irritating echo, spurring me on. ( M. Vielle is the Cultural Attaché at the French Embassy in Bamako, who thinks the food is not quite up to standard at the hotel). Last night I made Vichyssoise but changed the cream for yoghurt- it was very good. Tomorrow I am going to do Gravad Lax- when I get to Djenne I will try out Gravad Capitaine. My God, if that is not chic enough for M. Vielle I don’t know what is!

Talking about CHIC and the Vielles, there is also Madame Vielle, who is not only chic but also a very nice lady in every way. She has been kind enough to bring me lots of things from Bamako which I cannot find in Djenne. There is one thing with her though…

I believe there is a recent trend amongst very well brought up people to attempt to alleviate the impression of elitism that their impeccable manners may provoke by putting their feet in places where they should not be. When I was in London just before the election, I noticed a picture of Mr. Cameron sitting in a window, with one Nike-clad foot pulled up next to himself on the windowsill. I believe this was very deliberate, in order to reassure prospective voters that he was not a stuffy old fogey, but hip and with-it.

Now, at the hotel, I have told the staff that it is not allowed to put feet on tables, no matter whose feet we are talking about. There are some loutish people who will arrive, TAKE THEIR SHOES AND SOCKS OFF, then order a beer and put their feet on the table! Then we will ask them politely to remove the feet from the table. I have told the staff that no one is allowed under any circumstances to put their feet on the tables.
But there is Madame Vielle.
What to do about Madame Vielle?
She puts her elegant feet, clad in Chanel trainers on the table, possibly to indicate that she is relaxed, non-stuffy and enjoying herself. When this happens, the staff glance nervously in my direction. I take courage, I stroll over casually in the direction of Madame Vielle. I clear my throat and I open my mouth, but the amazing thing is the intended words will not come out. Madame Vielle looks up and smiles and I, instead of uttering' Voulez vous enlever les pieds du table, chere Madame, find the words coming out as: 'N'oubliez pas les cocktails au coucher du soleil!' (don't forget the cocktails on the roof at sunset!)
The fact is that I cannot tell Madame Vielle to remove her feet. It is impossible. I, who am far too brave for my own good in all other circumstances cannot do it.
My dear friend Jeremiah in London tells me there is help at hand in the form of someone one can ask advice about such things in the Spectator?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

If you are thinking that this doesn't look like your everyday Malian landscape
you are quite right.

This is a typical late summer scene from a Swedish forest.
At the back of the picture, with the red bucket, you see MNL on a mushroom hunt. Only that he is no longer MNL (Mother's New Lover) he is Mother's New Husband!
After 14 years together they finally wed in Leksand's church last Saturday.

As soon as my mother told me about two weeks ago I decided to fly home secretly. They did not expect me. I arrived the night before after a two day journey.
I stayed in a hotel in Leksand and went quietly to the church the next day, sitting in a pew as they walked down the isle. Alas, my camera has been damaged somehow,so the picture above is all I have from Sweden!

I will stay for a few days, but how long is unclear. It depends on the Malian government's Health Department...Sorry to sound so cryptic:

The other extremely good news is that Keita has been promised a stem cell transplant, the essential treatment for his desease, which will be paid for by the Malian government! He is a civil servant and there is a small budget for such things. The decision to let him have the treatment was taken some time ago, but it has been postponed while tenders have gone out to various countries- it may be done in France, in Libya, in Morocco.
At one point it was supposed to happen in Cuba, but this has now been decided against.
There is very little going on at the hotel in September, so I am hoping to be able to join him whereever the stem cell transplant will take place, before going back to Mali and 'La Grande Saison' in October. More updates soon hopefully!

et finalement, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs have taken the main tourist areas in Mali off the red alert, and put us back on the green, meaning that it is safe to travel in Mali. This was threathening to become a very serious affair, and we are all very relieved...