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...


Blogger David said...

Looks like your 'English financial analyst' guest Daniel of many blog entries back may be closer to the truth than we thought...the west is rocking, and the Euro situation can only get worse. Somehow we'll just have to be creative in our responses to the problem. But you had best wall up in Djenne Djenno with your fabulous napkins and your beers...

10:17 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Ah, David, I have been baby sitting 13 North Nigerian Arabic scholars for the last couple of days-very charming but very hard maintenance, have no idea what is going on in the world! Should I go buy gold with Kissiman in the market? He says I can have a kilo of 23 carat gold for 2 million FCFA. What do you think? Does it have to be hall marked?
All love to you both- I have tried many times to call J, but never get anywhere!
Oh dear!
Oh dear!

5:26 PM  
Blogger David said...

As a prim person cautious of all speculating - which at least means I don't have any shares or plummeting pensions I was constantly told to get - I couldn't recommend it. You need a financial adviser. Head down in the manuscripts! Work, that's the salvation.

11:51 AM  

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