Saturday, August 27, 2011

The picture shows the village chief of Bankassi leading his friend who has been operated on for trachoma during MaliMali’s recent trachoma campaign into the villages. It is a question of the blind leading the blind however, for the village chief can hardly see either because of cataracts. This is a big problem here for older people, like everywhere. A cataract operation is not as easily carried out as a trachoma operation, and it needs equipment and a proper operating unit. The sufferer will have to go to Mopti, the nearest town, at some considerable expense which puts cataract operations out of reach for most of the village population in Mali, who are resigned to slowly going blind.
We had a great Australian couple here a few months ago, he an opthalmologist. He was interested in MaliMali’s efforts with trachoma and wanted to come back here and take part in a new trachoma campaign perhaps this autumn, as well as seeing what else might be done.
This led me to talking to Dr. Moussa Kone, a friend of Keita’s and an opthalmologist.*
He suggested that perhaps we could organise a cataract campaign instead this time.
He told me there is a moveable operating unit available in Bamako, equipped for cataract operations. They have carried out such campaigns many times before, sponsored by Medecins sans Frontiers amongst others. The aim is to operate on 100 patients during 12 days. The truck may be stationary in Djenne, or it could go into the villages. The cost would be 3 700 000 FCFA, which is about 5000 pounds stirling, or about 5700 Euros. This includes the payment for two surgeons' work for 12 days, local personnel, all material, anaesthetics, medication and the diesel for the truck.
Therefore a cataract operation would cost 57 Euros. This seems a small amount for giving someone their sight back!
We are looking for funding for this. MaliMali will find some, perhaps our Australian Doctor friend will find some, and perhaps some kind person reading this blog will find us something? If you want to help, please log on to and go the the donations page.

*Moussa Kone has carried out some interesting research here in Mali, with the aim of finding out why trichiasis- the advanced stage of trachoma- is less prevalent in the desert regions of Mali, although it is precisely lack of water and a dusty environment which aggravates the disease. He studied the behaviour of various regions of Mali, and noted that the people in the northern desert regions teach their children to do ablutions five times a day for their prayers. The children will therefore form a habit of washing their faces – and eyes- in water. The southern regions put less emphasis on the ablutions before prayers. Dr. Kone’s statistics concluded that there was a direct correlation between the frequency of religious ablutions and the cases of trachoma/ trichiasis in a given area.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Great Excitement !

Two elephants are on their way through the neigbourhood, and have stopped for the day on the fresh fields just by the Peul village of Sanossa. They came from the east, and will probably wander off again tonight.

They have brought out all the surrounding village people, who have walked and run to Sanossa to see them. Most of the people I asked said that they have never seen an elephant.
Have they strayed from the elephant herd which can be seen around Hombori now and then? Noone knows, but everyone is fascinated by them and sees their arrival as a sort of blessing and good omen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The French news television channel France 24 does something quite inspired called No Comment. Perhaps this happens on other channels too, but I only know this. It is filming only, literally without comment. Today I saw three minutes of Tripoli burning, with the only sound that of the artillery shells mixed with the moezzins’ call to prayer.
Here in Djenne things are like they always were: Far from the madding crowd the Djenne muezzin also called for prayers this afternoon…

And meanwhile, back at the Manuscript Library....
we have had some more manuscripts arriving. Why is it that small things -in this case a baby Koran- are so irresistible?

And this is a very unusual calligraphy- still the Koran- and rather beautiful I think you will agree?
Please double click on image to enlarge.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Football in Bandiagara
I am a football fan whenever the World Cup is on. In addition I tag along now and then with Keita and his friends to a football match. On Saturday we all went to Bandiagara to see Djenne (in red) be beaten on penalty shoot-out, having played very well indeed.

It drizzled a fine rain which turned the football field into a mud bath.

The tension was high in the crowd.
We were a small delegation from Djenne amongst hundreds of spectators from Bandiagara.The man in the yellow shirt in the top left of the picture spent all his time arguing with the umpire whenever a point went Djenne’s way!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

There was a strange and mysterious window in Amsterdam...
which will introduce the following entry- there are things happening, Keita is here, the Library project is starting and lots of other things are going on. Nevertheless, here is something forgotten I found in my diary:

On the train through Northern Germany towards Amsterdam:
Reading Patti Smith’s memoir of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in the early seventies New York. (Just Kids). It is well written and transmits a feeling of urgency: if one doesn’t create one dies!
She met Sam Shepard and became friends with him without knowing who he was. She later knew of course, and they became lovers. When she confided to him that she had a rebellious streak in her that made her want to kick in shop windows at times, the divine Shepard replied: “But kick them in, dear Patti, kick them in. I will pay the damages.” Mapplethorpe, meanwhile, had risen in Manhattan’s social circles and said “Patti, you are a rotten egg!” The affair with Shepard had to end for various practical reasons- but it was difficult. How did they extricate themselves from their love affair? They literally wrote themselves out of it! They wrote a play about it and found the solution within the play!

Travelling by train seems to produce a mental state in me where fragments of half forgotten poetry flit through my mind in tandem with the landscape which passes by the train window. Some lines return for apparently no reason, like the little strophe of German which has attached itself to my mind this afternoon: “ Mein Herz is schwer,……Er kommt ja nimmer und nimmermehr”. I have no idea where this incomplete strophe comes from. It sounds like a Schubert Lieder- and /or perhaps from Goethe. Or is it a translation into German of Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’?
But who is this “He “who will never come back? I cannot fathom it. Nevertheless it created a feeling of desolation in me which was fortunately most efficiently removed by having some excellent chocolate ice cream while waiting for the next train at Osnabruck.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Les Demoiselles de Bordeaux
wanted to try out some bogolan this morning, since it was raining and they were fed up with playing cards. I set them to work in the bogolan studio, and they took to it like canards to water...

Soon creativity started flowing. They will bring their masterpieces back to France to be made into cushions etc.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I am amusing myself by experimenting with a new bogolan pattern: Leopard skin! I think it is working, nearly... It is spread out to dry in my newly planted garden next to my house on the new land.
Meanwhile England is going up in smoke.
Reading with amazement, trepidation and incomprehension the headlines from the UK.
What IS going on? This is not a revolution, surely? Revolutions have some sort of ideology behind them. The downtrodden attack the fat cats. There are of course some who would argue that this is the case in Britain right now. The Malians would certainly not agree. 'What!!! These people have free schooling, free medical care, free food and lodging if they have no work?' my Malian friends ask me. 'Yes, that is right' I reply. "And with all that they go and smash up shops and steal? What is the matter with them? What sort of people are they?" is the attitude here.
I do understand a little more of it. I have lived in London and do realize that living on a Hackney estate, perhaps trying to find work, but never finding any, seeing the Hackney well-off middle class with their Gastro pubs, whole food shops and million pound houses just the other side of the road can engender feelings of complete exclusion from society.
BUT, it is a wholesome exercise to remember the Malians reaction. They are certainly not entirely wrong...

Friday, August 05, 2011

Donne moi un Bic !
There is an unquenchable thirst for pens here, as anyone who has travelled in Africa knows. I believe it is a Pan African phenomenon: Toubab! Donne-moi un bic! (Mzungu, give me a pen? Is that right?) Toubabs in West Africa and Mzungus in East Africa are regarded, with some reason, as inexhaustible sources of pens. They bring hundreds, thousands, no, millions of pens, in the hope that it will help to educate the African continent. Where do all these pens go? Often to schools of course, which is commendable but which doesn’t seem to improve the situation. Maybe it is like drug dependency? The more one gets, the more one needs? I have noticed the phenomenon at the hotel too, and in the MaliMali shop and studio. It is very rare to actually be writing with a pen as it gives up the ghost. Bics don't die, they just vanish. We can buy a box of 100 bics for the hotel reception, but I can be certain that when I look for one, the supply will be empty.

Children will follow you around in the street begging for bics, empty plastic bottles (bidons) or footballs, in that order of importance. But it is not only children who suffer from the bic deficiency. Grown men of some stature in society succumb to the disease too, like M. Lazare, my bank manager in Djenne. I had been in his office at the BIM here in Djenne the other day signing a document. I had used a cheap pen that was lying on the desk, and then accidentally put it in my bag. (Yes, yes, yes, I know that some of the pens end up in my bag, but not enough to explain the Pan-African phenomenon!) After my bank visit I continued on my way for half an hour or so, visiting various shops and trades people in town, until suddenly M. Lazare’s goafer and tea boy emerged in front of me. ‘I have looked everywhere for you’, he informed me with an indignant air. M. Lazare sent me. ‘You stole his bic!’

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Keita (background in picture) has been here for the first of his new conjugal two week visits that have been agreed upon. He will stay in Segou with Mai and the children for two weeks, and here with me for two weeks. He will start to work at the laboratory again, at least as much as his illness allows him to. This time he arranged a Trachoma campaign into the villages, sponsored by MaliMali. We went into the villages with Keita’s collegue Barry, and we were able to treat nearly 30 patients. (

The little village of Bankassi had a surprising amount of English speaking old men: these three and many more left home as young men in search of fortune. This happens often in African villages, like the young heroes in some Greek tale they will take to the road and seek Adventure. The Bankassi youths found their way to Ghana where they stayed for a few years before eventually returning home again, having saved a little from work as guardians or labourers.

Boubakar never left for Adventure. He was the village blacksmith, and lost one eye in a forge accident. ~The other was attacked by Glaucoma as well as Trachoma.

Although we could not help him with the Glaucoma and could not give him his sight back, Barry was at least able to alleviate much pain and discomfort by operating on him and curing the trachoma.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

I am writing from a parched land.
We are in the rainy season, but the French have bled us dry. I am a toubab, I will survive, but others are not so lucky. The French, through a vicious and irresponsible foreign policy have decided to decimate one of the only viable industries here: the tourism industry. There can be no doubt of what I am claiming; it is common knowledge here now that the French Government are inventing threats by the Maghreb branch of Al Quaida in order to destroy the Malian tourist trade. They want the Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure to sign an agreement to repatriate all illegal Malians in France. ATT has refused and is refusing steadfastly. Some of the Malians concerned have lived in France for 20 years, and have contributed to French economic growth, often by doing jobs the French won’t do themselves.
Until ATT signs the agreement, the ‘Northern Areas’ of Mali will remain out of bounds, and tourists will be dissuaded from travel. Insurance policies won’t work.
And other Embassies will toe the line, following meekly in the wake of the former colonisers like lemmings. The line of danger is drawn just south of all the areas that matter in Malian tourism: Djenne and the Dogon country is included in the no-go area, although God knows that there has never ever been the smallest threat to anyone travelling in these areas!
The British Embassy here has referred me to the travel advice given by the British Foreign Office. This is based entirely on the French version. Let us examine what the alleged threats are by examining the text: In order to be able to put Mali on red alert, is has been necessary to talk about the Sahel region as a whole. The incidents in Mali are too few and too old as well as too irrelevant to the tourist trade to cut any mustard on their own. If mixed in with the rest of the Sahel, unthinking people might be swayed. It is very regrettable that the British Foreign Office should be counted amongst the unthinking ones. Here is their MALI advice:

'Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a high threat from terrorism. Terrorists have been involved in kidnaps in the region and we believe that further kidnap attacks are likely. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQ-M) operates directly or through criminal gangs who carry out kidnappings on their behalf or pass on their kidnap victims for monetary gain and attacks have occurred across a wide area of the Sahel:
On 19 April the Embassy of France in Bamako (Mali) alerted its nationals of a “very high risk” of being kidnapped in Mali and Niger particularly between the city of Mopti and the border with Burkina Faso.
On 4 February 2011 an Italian national was kidnapped in south-eastern Algeria near the city of Djanet, for which AQ-M have claimed responsibility. THIS IS IN SOUTHERN ALGERIA On 8 January 2011, French authorities confirmed that two French nationals kidnapped from Niamey, in Niger, had been killed near the border with Mali. THIS IS IN THE NIGER
On 5 January 2011 the French Embassy in Bamako was attacked by an individual using explosives and a handgun. THIS ATTACK WAS BY A LUNATIC WHO CLAIMED AL QUAIDA (AQ-M) STATUS. THIS WAS DENIED BY AQ-M WHO SAID THEY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. On 16 September 2010, five French nationals were kidnapped in the town of Arlit in Niger. THIS IS IN THE NIGER
On 26 July 2010 the French government confirmed that French national Michel Germaneau, who was kidnapped on 22 April near Arlit in north-western Niger, had been murdered. THIS IS IN THE NIGER
On 28 December 2009, a group of Saudi Arabian nationals were attacked near the village of Djambala in Niger, close to the Mali border. Four of the group died in this attack. THIS IS IN THE NIGER
On 18 December 2009 an Italian couple were kidnapped by an armed group in south eastern Mauritania 18 km east of Kobonni on the road to Mali. THIS IS IN MAURITANIA
On 29 November 2009 three Spanish nationals were kidnapped whilst travelling in a convoy on the road from Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, to the northern city of Nouadhibou. THIS IS IN MAURITANIA
On 25 November 2009 a French national was kidnapped near the city of Gao in Eastern Mali. THIS IS THE ONLY ONE SO FAR IN MALI- NOT IN A TOURIST AREA!THE INCIDENT IS TWO YEARS OLD.
On November 14, 2009, there was an attempted kidnap in Tahoua, Niger, by heavily armed individuals against employees of the American Embassy. THIS IS IN THE NIGER
A group of European tourists were kidnapped in the area of the Mali-Niger border on 22 January 2009. A British national who was part of this group was later murdered. THIS WAS POSSIBLY IN THE NIGER, IN ANY CASE HUNDREDS OF MILES FROM ANY MALIAN TOURIST DESTINATIONS. THE INCIDENT IS TWO AND A HALF YEARS OLD.
On 14 December 2008 two Canadian diplomats were kidnapped 25 miles outside of Niamey and held in Mali. THE INCIDENT HAPPENED IN THE NIGER AND IS NEARLY 3 YEARS OLD. IT ALSO HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH TOURISTS OR MALI TOURIST AREAS!
Therefore, it remains a fact that no tourist has ever come to any harm, been attacked, been kidnapped in any of the normal tourist areas of Mali! That makes no difference.
17 people were blown up in Marrakesh in April in the main tourist area. This is a fact. The French does not advice against travel in Morocco. Neither does the Brits.
What is going on??? Make your own mind up.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Great tempest today, this was minutes before the storm hit…

I should inform you that there was a friendly email from Nick Griffith, the British Ambassador to Mali this afternoon, apologizing that my messages had got lost and congratulating me on the British Library manuscript project in Djenne. He says that there won’t be anyone coming from the Embassy for the opening ceremony however, because they are still advising British people from travelling in this area. I knew this would be the case. It is too infuriating and has no reasonable connection to any real threat. But to be fair that is perhaps not the fault of this ambassador. I suppose he can only follow the advice of the Foreign Office?