Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two days ago we had a call from Pudg, my groom, on holiday in the Dogon country. He was also on a mission to find me a new horse. He said he had 3 candidates, and could we come and choose one? One was a SO MUSO, a mare, and I liked the idea of this.

Keita Ace and I left Djenne very early yesterday morning, bound for Bankass and the villages beyond in the Dogon plain; the equestrian heartland of Mali. Plentiful millet grew to the height of a man, hiding tiny Dogon villages where time has stood still.

In one such village we found the mare which proved less interesting than anticipated. She refused to move in a stubborn and uncompromising way when I tried her out. When I gave up and got off she just looked at me with the same sort of look Parisians sometimes give foreigners who cannot speak French. She had been used as a cart horse which tends to turn horses into donkeys in the opinion of my friend the horseman and marabout Haidara in Djenne.

The next horse we looked at was a lovely little honey coloured stallion who proved to be fun and willing to overlook the fact that he didn’t quite understand what I meant. Horses are trained in another way here. Keita fell in love with him first sight. I hesitated because he is clearly too small for me. But nevertheless it was this little stallion we settled for, and Pudg will ride him back to Djenne over the next four days. I had wanted to do it myself, Dogon country to Djenne, what an adventure! But I am too busy right now, so inshallah my new horse will arrive about Wednesday next week….What shall I call him? any ideas? Suggestions?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Maobi's grave.
A jacaranda tree grows on Maobi's grave. I picked up a seed pod when I was in Spain last year to learn some dressage for the benefit of my highly trained horse. There are no jacaranda trees in Mali, although Nairobi's streets are lined with them. It would be a fitting tribute to my wonderful and highly strung stallion, if the first jacaranda of Mali were to flourish over his grave...
Pudiogou my groom is on holiday in the Dogon country, and looking for a new horse for me. Apparently he has found a lovely mare, neglected but with much potential. I will go and check her out in a few days. Meanwhile I found this entry in my diary, written just when I arrived back here in the beginning of July, but never published:
"The return to Africa is never easy. A couple of days of adjustment and exasperation,
and then suddenly there comes a moment when I remember why I am here and when I become delirious with joy at the strange and exotic life I live here in Djenne. These moments of epiphany often arrive when I am on horseback, like this afternoon with Pudiogou, when we took our customary hour long ride revisiting first the ancient burial grounds of Djenne Djeno, continuing by the dried out lake towards the road to Diabolo and retuning towards Djenne on the tracks left by the Monday market equipages of horses and carts from the villages and beyond. My feelings of euphoria suddenly evaporated however and were replaced by a strong instinct to run when we met a loose horse that came galloping up behind us- this is dangerous, because Maobi will certainly fight. Pudiogou is quick witted and brave, and Max, his horse, is not a fighter. He motioned quickly to me to escape down a side track while he took on the loose horse and deterred him from going further – I did not enquire how but galloped off with Maobi instantly, before he got wind of the loose horse. But even this event, later on when I was once more in safety, made me feel lucky to enjoy this adventurous life, many thousand miles from Ladbroke Grove…”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mieux vaut un homme lent a la colère qu’un héros: un homme maitre de soi qu’un preneur de villes
A man slow to anger is worth more than a hero: a man with self control more than a conqueror of cities. Proverbs 16.32

We have napkins made out of African wax fabric at the hotel. I try to chose fabrics with amusing or interesting messages or pictures. We had some napkins with pictures of Mr and Mrs Obama, we had napkins with ATT the Malian president, or sometimes a local politician. This morning I had breakfast using the napkin above. I noticed its message from proverbs. It seemed to me very appropriate at the moment, and I smiled, thinking it was a little message directly from God. Such is my childish faith…
I count myself amongst the ‘men’ by the way, since I don’t think God is gender specific in his messages!
The sceptics could of course say that the message is universal and applies to all men and women at all times, and of course they would be right. But followers of this journal will know that the most persistent of my demons are demons of bad temper. We seem to be destined to face our demons and therefore to have the opportunity to overcome them. The situation with the Library’s Management Committee is such a situation. If I lose my temper with them the Project is going to be impossible to manage. At the same time, never were there a bunch of men more likely to arouse my temper and throw me into a fit of uncontrollable rage!

Keita is a man with supreme self control. So is Abdel Kader Haidara, the Malian manuscript expert from Timbuktu, our consultant for the library project. He is also wise, just like Keita. Self control and wisdom are of course intimately related.

I met Haidara last night at the Djenne Carrefour, having ridden there on my Yamaha DT trail bike through the ravishing and verdant rainy season landscape, bathed in a soft late afternoon sun. He was on his way to Timbuktu from Bamako and carried with him the three digitisation units we had ordered from Dubai for the library project. Since his vehicle was faulty he needed to go straight on, and dropped the material off at the crossroads. We had time to discuss a little sitting on a wooden bench by the gendarmerie.

I told Haidara about my difficulties with the management committee: that they don’t strictly have any executive power in this project, although they think they have the right to run it. We discussed one item in particular- the fact that London will not allow me to change the wage structure in the project. The members of the Management committee have been informed how much each and everyone that is working in the project will receive. They now want to start negotiating, obviously so that they can themselves receive something too, even though they may not have a function in the project. Now, I have refused of course, I have refused point blank in a calm but rather charm-less toubab manner. This has caused friction, to say the least. Haidara, the consummate diplomat, advised me the following, which seems to me extremely simple but worthy of Solomon himself:

You should have said “Yes, of course you can negociate!”

My heckles rose again and I thought I had another fight on my hands, but I calmed down when he continued:

“But you just ask them to do the negotiation directly with the wage takers themselves. You are obliged by London to pay the workers their specified wages. That is your duty, and you must do your duty. But you have no power over how they use their money. In this way you will satisfy the African way as well as the London requirements. You have to understand these people, Sophie" he continued. "They have nothing. Then you arrive with a project worth 40 000 000 FCFA but they find that they still have nothing! Our African way is to share things. You must learn to listen to the African way."

When I rode back to Djenne under a bright and starry African sky I felt as if I had just had an audience with one of the Wise Men of the East, which is in fact very much the way Haidara looks...

This group of men outside the dogotige's (village chief's)hisoric Djenne house are not all members of the Library Management Committee, but they give a good indication of the people that I am working with in the library project.

Monday, September 12, 2011

There are Bad Times just around the Corner, and the Outlook is absolutely Vile!

Yes, indeed.
These Noel Coward lyrics had been twirling around in my head, inexplicably, but as it happens prophetically, since last week. I just hummed along merrily to the happy tune. But now I understand:
I am resurfacing from a couple of days of malaria attack as I write this, but that is only a small part of it all.
There are some problems with the library project. The Library Committee are not, as one might easily have imagined, happy that the project that I have worked on for 3 years has now finally come to fruition and that work is about to start, no, they are furious.
They wanted the 40 000 000 FCFA to arrive to the account of the Library itself, to be distributed as they feel fit. This is of course not the idea of the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, who are the sponsors, and who have put me in charge of the project. I have always communicated everything to Hasseye Traore, the President of the Library, who in his turn should have made sure he informed the rest.
Tomorrow we have to have a meeting of the Library Committee at the Library about the ordering of three tables and the installation of an air conditioner in the new workroom. I had simply gone ahead and got a quote from the carpenter the library normally uses. It seemed fine to me and it was within the budget so I was about to go ahead. But NO! Big Crisis Erupts. How dare I go behind their backs to order tables (for which I will pay, and which they will later keep) for the project workroom without consulting them!
I have now decided to go along sweetly and diplomatically and ask them to help me with the ordering of the tables. It is not important after all. But it will become impossible if they insist on having Committee meetings every time something happens!

But this is not all. There is a much more difficult matter. To explain this problem we will have to go back in history. It concerns the beginning of the Manuscript Library, when I was not even here.

I have decided for security reasons not to go into the details of this matter publicly just at the moment, as it may compromise or even jeopardize the project.

Let us just say that it is a problem on a ministerial level. There appears to be a faction in the town of Djenne, led by a powerful personnage, that is trying to put a stop to the project, for reasons over which we can only speculate.
The Prefect has been told to sort the matter out and meanwhile we have the permission to go ahead and work on the project, although we cannot have the planned televised opening ceremony.

It doesn’t matter to me if we can’t have this opening ceremony. It will cost a lot of money and we have lost a lot on bad exchange rates, so it will actually be a relief. As long as we can carry on with the project I am satisfied. Unfortunately the project itself: these manuscripts, the core of the work we want to do and its value for the town of Djenne seems to be of minor importance to some people here.

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Misory’s on the way!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Is this what is called Serendipity?
I went to see Yelfa and Garba, 'my' archivists at the Manuscript library this morning. "What's new? Any thing of interest?" I asked them as usual. Yelfa said that there was indeed something unusual which had arrived; a little treatise on traditional medecine written in Arabic but with sections in Fulani and in Bozo. And the subject matter was particularly on the treatment of cataracts!
Yelfa said the document was complete but did not have the name of an author neither the date, although it was 'very old' according to Yelfa.
It described the method in the following terms:
The bark of the root of the tree Zegene, (the wild date tree which grows at Djenne Djeno)should be cut, dried in the sun and pulverised.
Certain verses from the Koran should then be written in ink on a tablet, washed off and this liquid gathered and mixed with the pulverised Zegene root. In the morning after first prayer the eyes should be treated with this ointment, and also in the evening, after last prayer. The healing of the cataracts would take a few weeks to accomplish in this manner.
"So if it works why don't people do this then?" I asked Yelfa. He said that this recipe was very old and therefore it had perhaps been forgotten.
Should we do a clinical trial alongside the more conventional cataract operations we are planning?

Monday, September 05, 2011

It Works!
I thought that bogolan would work on silk, and indeed it does. Here is our first trial, a silk georgette sample shown by Baji Fitini. It works on all silk, so here goes! MaliMali silk squares, ties and floaty silky dresses here we come!
And the other piece of good news is that we have had two more donations for the planned cataract campaign into the villages- one very substantial, from readers of this blog. We need 5700 E and we now have 3700E. Thank you!!!!! Anyone else?...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

In May a Spanish film maker, Jose Manuel Herraiz, contacted me through this journal. He wanted to know if I knew of Djenneba, a young albino girl whom he met in Djenne about 6 years ago. He made a short film about her:

which won a price in Spain. Many people wanted to know what happened to Djenneba. Did she become a lawyer? Did she marry and have children? Herraiz wanted to find her if only to share the prize money with her.
Keita and I managed to find her. She is no longer in Djenne, but in Bamako. She is a very nice young lady, modest and well educated, with a very pleasant manner. She has difficulties with her eyes, and the bright sun causes her problems, as often is the case with albinos. She is in touch with Salif Keita, the great Malian musician, an albino himself, who has founded a charity for albinos. This foundation has helped her with a skin operation which she needed. Herraiz is now planning to shoot a sequel to his first film, see above, and he will be back in Mali soon… more about this exciting project later…

Meanwhile there is good news on the cataract donations front. We have had two substantial donations from friends which mean we now have more than one third of the required money!