Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tabaski is over.
The Muslim celebration is a lonely affair for me who has to sit guard at the hotel while everyone is at home with their families and friends. I don’t mind at all but relish the peace and quiet while I sink into a good book. This time I was totally absorbed by Khaled Hosseinis A Thousand Splendid Suns and finished it in one sitting. What a story teller! And how much I learned of recent Afghan history which to me had seemed just an incomprehensible blur of Kalashnikovs until today!
At one point I was pleasantly interrupted by Pudg, Papa and Khalilo who passed by, all pretty in their new Tabaski outfits, to greet me Sambe! Sambe! the Tabaski greeting which resounds through the streets of Djenne during the two days of feasting.

But life returns to normal, and I am doing some necessary repairs and touching up the Djenne Djenno sign today, which has become rusty and worse for wear.
Tonight I will go riding on the lovely but unruly Maobi again, although there is a slight note of trepidation before my riding sessions now, ever since he threw me off the other day. I don’t want that or something worse to happen now, because I am too much looking forwards to my trip to Tunisia in three weeks time, and an accident would be most untimely.
Keita is spending his last few days in his sterile cell in Tunis. He is doing well it appears and will be able to leave and go back to the clinic again in a few days,Insh'allah.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TODAY THE HARMATTAN BEGAN sweeping in from the north, bringing with it the new season. The temperature has started to come down. Very soon the dust will paint the Sahel landscape in its customary pastel hues again. The water will be gone, although Niamoy is still arriving to work in the MaliMali studio in her canoe.

Life here, like everywhere else, is punctuated by annually recurring events which are of no major importance but which nevertheless brings a satisfaction which is perhaps one of the ingredients of what we call happiness. Just take the custard apple for instance. It appears every year about the 5th of November, almost to the day. There is only one or two so far on our custard apple tree every year, but I am always amazed by its creamy perfection and at its punctuality.

Monday, November 08, 2010

An American writer just spent some time here. He was incorporating the idea of love potions in the novel he is writing. He wanted to see a recipe for the elixir of love, so I brought him along to the Djenne Manuscript Library, where Garba had a look around and soon appeared with this little one page manuscript: not exactly a recipe for love potions, but a description of how to fabricate a love amulet. Should one wish to make an elixir from it, that would also be possible. In that case one should sacrifice a white chicken and then use the blood to copy the text and figures on one of the wooden tablets used by the talibe boys in the Koran Schools. The text would then be washed off, and the liquid carefully gathered. A liquid so obtained could be used either for drinking or for anointing on the body. This would then render one irresistible to one’s beloved.

The merchant in me began to stir. Surely one could do good business with copies of cute little love elixir recipes? If beautifully presented, what better present? In my opinion they would sell like hot cakes in Liberty’s for Christmas, not to mention a little shop in the Djenne Manuscript Library itself.
But then, as usual, my scruples made themselves known with an uneasy feeling I could not shake off that a good Catholic girl (well, that may be pushing it, but Catholic at least) from St. Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill shouldn’t meddle with this maraboutage business…

Entre paranthese, the proposal to the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme was sent off last Friday with a couple of minutes to spare before midnight, which was the deadline.

But back to the subject of Maraboutage, so omnipresent in this town of Djenne.

Yesterday lunchtime 30 000FCFA was missing from my very unsafe safe. (Just a shelf in my wardrobe, with a very insecure lock.) I had a good idea who had taken it. Ali the ‘chambermaid’ was of course prime suspect. He is never allowed to clean rooms of guests himself, because of previous incidents. There is always someone else present in the rooms with him. Ali is still with us, since I can’t sack someone unless I am 100% certain. Even now, it was not completely ruled out that someone else had managed to get into the room. I decided to consult my neighbour, a marabout.

He told me to choose a person whom I trust and to gather the staff together. I and my chosen collaborator would then explain that the money had gone missing, and that whoever had done it had an hour to return the stolen money. If nothing turned up, we would go to meet the marabout who would begin to do his work.

I chose my other neighbour, M. Doumbia, a retired school master. He came for the meeting with the staff in a long white flowing boubou and a white prayer cap, looking most authoritative and a paragon of Muslim probity. He spoke to the staff, who all denied having stolen the money. The meeting dispersed and I sat waiting in the bar for something to happen- either the knowledge somehow that the money had turned up or else the return of M. Doumbia for our departure to the Marabout, whichever happened first.

There were practical problems involved. I had to give my room up yesterday, because we were full. I slept in the MaliMali boutique. The money could therefore not be returned to the same place it had been stolen from. Nevertheless, I expected it to turn up, and had never thought I would actually have to go to the marabout. The plan had been that the fear of the marabout would bring out the money before I had to actually get involved with any maraboutage myself!

Alas, my plan back fired.

No money turned up. So I was obliged to go with M. Doumbia to the marabout, feeling quite queasy and with an awful sense that this was turning into something I had not bargained for…
The marabout explained that the problem was very delicate, and that it needed a lot of difficult and complicated work. (I was suddely reminded of my plumber in Ladbroke Grove and had to suppress a hysterical giggle.) He was going to postpone a business trip (someone else had called upon him for more or less the same sort of problem) for a couple of days to do the work. He asked me to write down all the names of the staff. So I did, while I was feeling more and more uneasy. But there was really no way out of it. My marabout neighbour, a tall, lean man around fifty with a handsome gentle face was after all just doing what I had asked him to do! I couldn’t possibly pull out now, that would be most impolite and very bad for neighbourly relations.
He said that what he would do something which would be guaranteed to bring out the thief so that it would be obvious to everyone within a week. After this, noone amongst the staff would ever steal at my hotel again, even if I let money lie around unguarded. I accepted, but asked him to go bit easy on the spells- I said I didn’t want to kill him, but a bit of shaming, that would be fine.

Then I walked away feeling vulnerable. I always had a feeling that I was myself protected from any maraboutage, because I don’t believe in it, and because I really do feel that one should not get involved in this sort of thing if one is a Christian. My protective layer had somehow been removed. That evening I went riding on Maobi. He was spooked by something and threw himself very suddenly off course, and for the fist time I fell off. I wasn’t hurt and I was able to mount him again to return to the hotel. Was this just the beginning of 'unprotected' life for me?

This morning I was able to go back into my room. Just before that Ali went to clean it. I deliberately left him there alone. After he had finished he came to me asking for an advance in order to buy a sheep for Tabaski.

I returned to my room and looked in the place I kept the money, but it had not been returned. A little later I had a shower and changed clothes. In my trouser pocket I found the 30 000 FCFA! I called the staff and informed them that the money had been returned.
I have not decided whether to give Ali the advance to buy the sheep. It is no doubt 30 000FCFA that he needs…

I will give my marabout neighbour something of course. He did what I asked him to do and it undoubtedly worked for whatever reason. But in the future I shall buy a little safe and try to refrain from maraboutage unless it is on a scholarly level in connection with the manuscripts library!

Ah, and yes, I nearly forgot! The winners of the Tabaski sheep lottery were Baba (in blue embroidered boubou) and Ace (in black boubou to the right)

Friday, November 05, 2010

The rains seem to be over, alhamdillulah'. The water is receding rapidly.
Today is a hectic day- the last day to submit the proposal for the Major Project to the British Library. I shall be working on it until midnight. (Here I am with the two library archivist Yelfa, left and Garba, right)
But first there is the annual sheep lottery at the Hotel at midday! (see below)So must rush!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Today Ace and I went to Madiama, a neighbouring village, where the Thusday market was in full swing, particularly the sheep section since Tabaski is just around the corner. I wandered about looking at horses, while Ace found 2 good sheep for tomorrow's lottery and price giving ceremony for the staff at the hotel. I am not allowed to get near him at the negociation stage, since we don't want toubab price inflation.
Meanwhile Keita is doing fine in his sterile cell far away in Tunis, and not even feeling sick he told me tonight. He must have the constitution of an ox, for he is getting very heavy doses of chemotherapy. But all he was complaining about was that the food was awful and he was hungry! I feel less worried now- perhaps he will not be suffering too much after all.