Friday, September 28, 2012

I am going to have to show off. There is no escaping it. The only time I ever went to Venice was a New Year a long time ago. I was the guest of a Venetian Count with a Palace on a canal and a private gondola tied up on stripey pole by the front gate. Oh, yes. When I looked out of my window I saw nothing but the canal and the gondolas going past: in fact just like the view from my window here at the moment. My friend Eva thought we would be mingling with the high society of Venice, but our host had quite eclectic tastes in his social life. For our New Year’s Eve party there was indeed a sprinkling of Duchesas and Contessas, but the majority were ordinary people from the neighbourhood: there was the family gondolier, there was the gelato salesman; there were some extravagantly dressed ladies who turned out to be aquaintances of the count's from the local strip-tease joint; there were also a few shady looking characters who could have been extras in a Fellini movie. In fact the whole evening was like a film. About two in the morning we were all peckish, and our host decided to feed the multitude. We all assembled into the vast kitchen, where he put a cauldron on the stove and poured in the largest amount of penne pasta I have ever seen. Then he took another enormous pan which he put on top of the cauldron. Into this he placed a couple of kilos of Gorgonzola. By the time the penne had boiled the Gorgonzola was melted. This was the most delicious pasta meal I have ever had, and I have often reproduced it.
Ah., but I digress. I was going to talk about the water situation. Yes, the water is still rising in increments of a few millimetres per day. I have had to move out of the Diawando, the lovely new room where I stay when Keita is in Segou. The humidity was just unbearable. I have decamped to my old home, the Saurai suite which lies a few inches higher. I lived in these rooms for a few years, moving out to a tent every time the hotel was full.
Max can no longer live in his stable which is filling up with water, seeping up from the ground. He is now walkng freely around the grounds. The stable of Petit Bandit is still OK and we just had to secure the access with sandbags today. But the English are experiencing the same situation if I can believe the news I see on the internet. Apropos news... I am very concerned to hear that the US is against military action here before elections have been held. I know diplomats in Bamako who have the same opinion. I think to hold elections here and now is an impractical idea for many reasons. Most important, perhapsis that it will waste precious time allowing the Al Quaida elements in the North to entrench themselves even further. Fortunately France, for once seem to back Mali’s request for help, at least in a logistics and advisory role. Please, let’s get moving!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Organic and Fairtrade? Potential buyers for our Malimali handwoven fabric will be happy to know that it is woven with certified Organic and Fair Trade cotton. The status of the machine woven cloth that we buy from the same suppliers, the Comatex factory in Segou, is less certain however... When I was in Bamako recently I went to the Comatex shop. I asked the shop assistant if the calico we use for clothing was also Biologique et Equitable, as the French call it. The shop assistant replied in the negative. 'Are you sure? That is a pity!' I remarked. 'Yes, there are some chemicals that they need to add to make it organic and fair trade' he explained. 'These are missing in the calico.'

Friday, September 21, 2012

When I lived in Tobago, in 1998, there was a bar where we used to sit towards sunset- it was precariously perched on a rock overlooking the Carribean at some height. We called it the ‘Reality Check’, because if you sat there for half an hour or so everything would miraculously fall into place. The trifling problems of the day which had loomed so large shrunk into proportion once more, and what mattered came into focus. My sunset terrace overlooking the Mosque of Djenne is my Reality Check. The dramatic rainy season skies soothe my soul, in tatters from the mundane tribulations of daily life. It is the best time of the day, now enjoyed alone, but often in the past in the company of friends- known or just passing by once, perhaps never to be met again.
I sit there for perhaps a hour until darkness descends, just enjoying the spectacle and letting my mind wander wherever it wants to. This evening I thought of the recent stories of Muslim violent reaction to the French cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and also of something I read about a strong reaction to a new BBC soap opera about a Muslim Family- Citizen Kahn I think it was called. Particularly the latter story had seemed really petty to me, and I had wondered where the Muslim sense of humour had gone? Here there is plenty of evidence to suggest the Muslim sense of humour is alive and kicking.. Yelfa, Grand Marabout de Djenne, perhaps in his late forties and one of the archivists at the library is about to marry a third wife. The girl in question is still at school and only 16 years old. Apparently she is not even aware that Yelfa is intending to marry her! ‘But what if she doesn’t like you Yelfa? ‘ I ask. ‘Why should she want to marry you? You are an old man to her!’ Yelfa looks at me as if he hardly understands my question. ‘ But of course she wants to marry me!’ exclaims Yelfa with unshakeable conviction. ‘She will be honoured! My father was the Imam of Djenne!’ Yelfa and I have a bantering and teasing relationship where I tell him exactly what I think: ‘Ah, Yelfa! Thanks be to Allah the Merciful that I am not married to you!’ I exclaim. ‘You live in the 14th Century!’ This afternoon I walked into the digitization work room where Yelfa happened to be, delivering a manuscript. ‘I am taking a second husband’ I announced. Any candidates? Silence for a few seconds before laughter erupts and two candidates present themselves on the spot. ‘Oh, no Al Hadj, you are too old’ I reply to the first candidate. ‘ I am following in Yelfa's footsteps. I want someone fresh and young- You can send me along your son if you like and I will have a look- I would say 17 years is the maximum age I am prepared to consider.’ The idea of this was so outlandish that the whole workroom was clutching their bellies laughing by now- very gratifying for me who has never even been able to tell a joke properly...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

MaliMali at Lake Titicaca, Peru!

Too, too excited to wait for the colour picture to be scanned from the World of Interiors- we will make do with the black and white PDF that Jeremiah just sent me. It looks fab I think, and we are expecting major orders to roll in!

And what else?
Spent the morning at the Manuscript Library in interesting discussions with Mohammed(right, our new recruit from the Ecole Normale Superieure), Garba and Yelfa the Archivists. It was with regards to a little manuscript with an intriguing subject matter: an encounter between the Prophet Mohammed and Satan. This was listed under the Heading ‘History’ in our database destined for the British Library. I objected that it could not possibly be termed ‘History’, and a conversation ensued which was quite enlightening on the difference between our cultures- for Garba and Yelfa and many believing Muslims, this could be labelled ‘History’, because they believe it is true!
Mohammed our new recruit sided with me however, and we managed to push through our view that a library should adopt a more academic stance, and therefore ‘History’ should keep itself to the accounts of events in the physical world. Such accounts are normally called ‘Tariqs’, such as the famous ‘Tariq es Soudan’. We came to the conclusion that the encounter between Mohammed and Satan should go into the literature section...

Talking of literature, Mohammed told me he has come across manuscripts at the library with love poetry by a well known poet: the deliciously and improbably named Imroul Kiss!

Monday, September 17, 2012

I am afraid I am about to be troublesome again: that is to say, I want money, not just for one thing, but for two different matters..
Yes, I know things are hard, but if you can, please help us with one - or both- of these two requests:
1. Abdullah Djennepo is an orphan, deposited by his distant family with a Marabout in Djenne as a child. He took part in the Marabout's Koran school, but later he wanted to learn to read and write, so he came to M. Diarra's evening class. (See project page). He was an attentive student and learned to read and write, well enough to pass the exams to grant him entrance to the Lycee in Sevare, where he is now first in his class. He needs support and I gave him 100 000FCFA on behalf of MaliMali the other day, in the certain knowledge that someone will reimburse me! The 100 000FCFA will pay for his school fees for a year and for his uniform as well as school materials. It will also pay for his food and lodging with some distant relatives. If you feel up to it, please deposit what you can on the 'donations' page on

2. We are going to do the cataract operations again this year,(for precedent see December 27 2011) and have booked the truck to come up from Bamako at Christmas time again, to perform 100 cataract operations again as a Christmas present to Djenne. We have already had a substantial donation from Australia, but we need quite a lot more. The cost is 3700 000 FCFA, about E 5692. Any one interested? Again- the donations page

And yes, water is still rising...
'There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner, and the Outlook is Absolutely Vile..'

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The water keeps rising. We can take about 5 inches more, then it will arrive to the level it reached in 2010. If it reaches further... well, no more Hotel Djenne Djenno...

At the end of November Mali normally offers a unique Sahel spectacle: the legendary crossing of the cattle at Diafarabe (see previous blogs- early December 2007 and 2010). This is when the Malian herds cross from the northern shores of the Niger where they have been grazing during the rainy season, banished from the lands where the farming population of Mali grow their corn, rice and millet. The return of the cattle is a finely negociated moment, only settled when all the village chiefs are united: the harvests are done, the cattle can come back.

This year it is not only the abundant rains that threaten the crops. Where the fields are not inundated by water the cattle are often destroying the crops: the Fulani herdsmen have not dared crossing the river to the rebel held northern shores where the Jihadists hold sway and where they fear losing their cattle. Many have kept their animals on the southern shores causing havoc with the harvests and thereby rekindling ancient conflicts...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

In bed today suffering from a severe case of journalistitis.

This is due mainly to yesterday's escapades below, but also to a story about the Djenne Manuscript Library (above with South African delegation from University of Capetown early 2011) which is doing the rounds of the news channels of the world, including Aljazeera the day before yesterday apparently, and France 24 yesterday.

There was a young American here from Reuters last week, during the conference we organized for the Manuscript library with the experts from Timbuktu. The presence of the American was quite coincidental, but I invited him and his team to visit the library and to be present at the conference etc. They interviewed Garba Yaro, one of the archivists, and also Al Boucari Ben Essayat, one of the two Timbulktu manuscript experts. So far so good. It is obviously in our interest to have publicity for the library and the British Library Project.

Before they left I asked the young man to verify the facts with me, since we have had trouble before with journalists interpreting rather freely what is happening at the Manuscript Library: the Swedish broadsheet Svenska Dagbladet suddenly came up with the astonishing headline: “Mosque project stopped.'
-see blog May 29 and 30. This article was later retracted on my insistance.

There were certain inaccuracies in the notes the journalist had taken, and we rectified these points.

Reuters managed to sell this item well. It is however a misleading representation of what is going on here: There is no mention of the British Library Project although Garba made a point of explaining the source of the funding for the project. The digitization project is presented as if it had been instigated in order to save the Djenne Manuscripts from the onslaught of the Islamists, who are on the march south!
It is quite right of course that digitization is a way to ensure the preservation of manuscripts, it is also true that many manuscript owners in Timbuktu bemoan the fact they never did any such work. But the British Library Project here started a long time before the troubles in the north! 'Are you worried that the Islamists will come here too?' asks the interviewer. 'Yes' replies Garba. 'We are worried'.

All in all we are pleased that the item has been shown, even with the sensationalist spin, but I have come out in a rash, as I said..

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Curioser and Curioser.
We checked the news online before leaving Mopti, and found an article by Associated Press:
The article is written by RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, a woman who contacted me recently to ask if she might talk to me now and then for information about Mali. She is a journalist with Associated Press and stationed in Dakar.She has stringers in Bamako to supply her with news.

When I read the article, I mentioned to Keita that I was surprised: it stated that there had been no mention on Malian TV about Diankounda Traore’s formal demand of military assistance to the Ecowas. I thought Keita had said that it had been on TV? ‘Yes’, said Keita, the letter was read out in the news report of the 4th of September.' 'Ok,' I said, and wrote a message to Ms Callimachi, mentioning that she had made a mistake. This information had indeed been passed on Malian TV.

A bizarre SMS correspondence followed, continuing all day which went something like this:

Ms. Callimachi: Our correspondent watched ORTM (Malian state channel) every night and has not seen it. Secondly presidency has refused to confirm.

Sophie: (maddeningly I have lost the exact correspondence- not enough space on my phone! But I wrote something like the following): I did not see it myself, but my husband did. So did Levy Dougnon, a journalist with les Echos du Mali. I will send you his number and you can call him to verify.

Ms. Callimachi:’Have asked Baba (the stringer) in Bamako to cal DG of state television. Will get back to you. But I find it very improbable bc my stringer watches the news every night and every night he called to say it has not run which is why we ran out story. Secondly a gov.communique needs to be issued from the presidence issued by diarra and diarra told us he had nothing to say about the demand, that he has not seen it and if he had he would have sent it out for diffusion. Sanogo’s own people told me they had heard about it in Kati from international media quoting France.

Sophie:( at this stage I was frantically calling around to anyone credible that I know, asking if they had seen the news item. Everyone said they had, or if they had not seen it personally they had heard about it,and some had heard it on the radio.)

Ms. Callimachi: Hey Sophie: below is msg from Baba my stringer. He just confirmed with dg of state TV that it has not run. Feel free to call him. Number is below. I am having lunch with friend so cannot call him but I trust Baba. ‘le directeur de la tele m’a dit que ca n’a pas ete diffuse. Voici son no : xxxxxxx : Youssouf Toure.

Sophie (continues to find witnesses who are willing to claim that they saw it. Sending the messages and phone numbers to Ms. Callimachi.

Ms. Callimachi: Hi Sophie, if director general of ortm says it was not broadcast then it was not broadcast. I don’t know what these other people are seeing but it’s possible they were watching another channel or whatnot.’

Sophie: ‘there is only one ortm news channel broadcasting the evening news to the Malian nation. There is no confusion. You give perhaps too much credence to your source? I will continue to send you phone numbers of witnesses who saw the item. Please call Samake.’
(a number of witnesses’ telephone numbers are sent to Ms. Callimachi: Among these are Monsignor Fongoro, the Bishop of Mopti and Diabi, the present Director of the Palais de la Culture in Bamako and former counsel to the Minister of Culture. These two both affirmed to me that they had seen the item.)

Ms. Callimachi: wants me to send my email address to her. I comply, and also send her the following email:

Dear Rukmini,
This is the most bizarre ting I have witnessed for a long time.
I understand perfectly why you should think that if the director of the Malian television says that the item was not shown, he must be right. The fact is unfortunately that both he and your stringer are lying.
Perhaps the real story to find out here is why are they lying?
I have now spoken to up to 25 people who have seen with their own eyes the new item being passed - the rest - another ten or so- have heard about it , although they didn't see it themselves.
If they are sending you a video to show the content and it is not there, they have cut it out.
There is a place to see newsitems- it is called My friend Samake told me about it. I cannot access it here because of bad connection, but Samake said he was looking at it only yesterday and saw the item then and other ones related to it. If it is not there now, they have cut it out.
My friend the journalist Levy knows Youssouf Toure (the drector of Malian TV)- they are even friends he said. So he called him of course, and was absolutely flabbergasted to be told by Toure that the item had not been shown! He said to his friend: are you insulting my intelligence? How dare you lie in my face?
But he got nowhere.
Now, you might say that I am mad or that I am trying to manipulate something, and you might want to ignore this. But if you do, it is not only me you ignore- that is not such a big deal- but you ignore the whole Malian people, and allow yourself to be manipulated for some political ends. I have long suspected that the stringers and various Malian journalists working with Reuters or AP etc are in some- not all of course- cases bought and telling the foreign journalists what their patrons want them to hear.
Are you really interested in what is going on?
Then look a little further than your stringer, and even, however improbable it sounds, the tv chief himself, who may also be pulled by some powerful incentive.
I will certainly be putting this on my blog.

I continued to send her several more witnesses’ phone numbers. Then suddenly I received a text from her. Two of my sources had betrayed me. She had called Diabi, the high official, the mandarin who had assured me he had seen the item. Instead of affirming this, he told her her could not confirm it! The second person who betrayed me, (whose name I cannot mention, because if I do, there is no option but to leave here and I am not sure yet that I am ready to do so), told her that he had ‘heard a sentence about it' on the Monday but did not affirm that he had seen it!

Finally the lady wrote me a text saying that since the two witnesses she had called had failed to convince her, since she has watched Tuesday's broadcast and not found anything, and since she has once more called the TV director who has reconfirmed the item was not passed, she was done. Now, frankly, I don't really find that particularly inspired as investigative journalism: if she wants to check the possible veracity of my accusations it is hardly worth asking the TV director the same question once more! He is not likely to have changed his story! And to watch the tape of the TV broadcast proves nothing either: my suggestion is that it had been cut! Perhaps she could have invested her telephone credit in a better way? She could have telephone all the witnesses perhaps?

Now, what does this all mean, really? Why did the Malian TV director lie? Amede thinks it is because the Malian TV ORTM has been controlled by Sanogo’s team since the coup. Sanogo and his team does not want military intervention by foreign troops in Mali. They have exercised a considerable amount of influence here and still do. I have always been speaking out in their favour, mostly in the face of international opinion. Now it seems that suddenly things are reversed: this news item, which did not please Sanogo’s team, suddenly disappeared from the agenda, erased from history. This is possibly what has happened. My sources who betrayed me are worried about their positions- if the powers that be say that something didn’t happen it didn’t, even if it did, if you see what I mean...? As for me I am profoundly allergic to cowardice and lies.

At the end of this analysis, one has to note that Associated Press was the only news agency to report this. Did they perhaps misinterpret the situation?

What has happened since shows that Dionkouda and Diarra and the Minister of Defense are united in their demand for assistance, and this shows the fact that they are NOT swayed by Sanogo. But somehow there are elements here who will do anything in their power to sow discord and confusion- and perhaps Associated Press would do well not to listen? Perhaps it would be a good idea to come here and see for yourself? Perhaps the journalists would do well to speak to normal people who live in Mali, and not just their stringers?

Mopti and Sevare are on the surface totally unchanged : the Pinasses,the splendid vessels that line the harbour of Mopti, are still loading or unloading, preparing to sail again, on to Timbuktu and Gao as before.

The General Soumare, on the other hand, remains in Mopti. It is a government owned ship that normally sails to Timbuktu and Gao during these months when the water of the Niger is abundant.

Bar Bozo which commands the picturesque harbour of Mopti is a legendary watering hole for toubabos, normally teeming with guides hoping to sell some CDs or take you on a sunset pinasse trip on the river.
It now lies deserted. We found its owner, a handsome Fulani woman, sitting alone on the floor of her empty restaurant, fingering her prayer beads. I greeted her and we exchanged some words: ‘We are waiting for the war now’, she said. It must happen, and it will happen soon.’

I found my friend Amede similarly alone at his splendid Maison Rouge, which is a hotel specifically aimed at the high-end of the tourist market, therefore deserted. We went on to have dinner at Martine’s- a French woman running a pleasant guest house in Sevare, popular with the NGO’s.: L’Auberge Canari. She still has enough business from this section to make it worthwhile for her to continue.
I am writing from Hotel Flandre in Sevare, where I am staying. This is a well-run Malian owned and managed hotel, which has many features that Hotel Djenne Djenno lacks: a swimming pool, satellite TV, Wifi (the latter not possible in Djenne yet.) It is popular with the African clientele, and there are quite a few guests here. (Just incidentally, it has a feature characteristic to virtually all African run hotels I have ever stayed in: there is always only one towel! And if you are staying in a double room, you are invariably obliged to go and ask for another one!)

As far as the military presence, I was not aware of any. But Amede tells me they are here, and the locals are getting annoyed at all these soldiers hanging around flirting with their girlfriends ...

Back to Djenne this afternoon.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The bac (ferry ) arrived! Now we are speeding towards the Djenne Crossroads through a sunny and smiling rainy season landscape, the corn standing high on the road sides.

Sitting with Keita and Ace by the Bani Crossing as I am writing this, waiting for the ferry to take us across the water. Alpha Blondy sings 'Jerusalem' on the car radio. This picture was taken about one minute ago. The water stands high: it is the same tree as shown in the August 15th blog.

We are going to Mopti for one day and a night- for the first time since the March 22 events. There have been one or two journalists staying at the hotel in the last few weeks. They are sometimes worried about venturing as far north as Mopti. I do not think there is any danger: the entire Malian Army is on site, albeit still lacking in equipment since the ECOWAS are inexplicably still holding the arms this sovereign but landlocked nation has legitimately bought to liberate the occupied Northern Territories. In addition there are also various patriotic volunteer militias, apparently.

Anyway, of course it suits the hotel to have the journalists feel unsafe in Mopti and deciding to stay with us...

Will visit Amede at la Maison Rouge, and report on Mopti/Sevare situation in a day or so.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Shopoholics Paradise:
MaliMali combines shopping and humanitarian aid.
Indulge your craving for beautiful new things without the pang of remorse that you have spent all that money on yourself. Buy as much as you like !
Spend Spend Spend!
You can put your conscience at ease, blissfully justified by the knowledge that in buying these boots you are helping to pay the salaries of all of Djenne Djenno’s former hotel staff as well as the four original MaliMali studio workers.(The other hotels in Djenne have either closed or are down to a skeleton staff, and even these have not been paid for months. But we are all still here, thanks to you!)
Shopping in MaliMali's online shop is truly a win-win situation, as our American friends like to call it!
Go on, don’t be shy!

These Boots are Made for Walking...
new addition to on-line shop! Rather fab bogolan and leather boots, yes?
Designed by MaliMali and made by Adama in the Bamako Artisanat with Djenne bush bogolan. Oh, yes! indeed they can be yours, only a click away on!

And in Djenne it rains and rains...

Sunday, September 02, 2012

On News Manipulation.
Until these last months, living through the Mali Crisis, I had never realized to what extent news is a commercial commodity; that what happens needs to be rearranged so it will sell more news papers, raise viewing figures, or indeed manage public opinion. Certain items are flying against the prevailing wind, so they are not of any interest.
An example already mentioned before is Holland Cotter’s article in the New York Times about the archeological site Djenne Djenno – see blog August 8- Although Cotter has my email and could contact me, or indeed Samake at the Mission Culturelle before writing his article he does not. He has already written this article in his head. It paints a worrying picture of the Djenne Djenno site: it is being neglected and artefacts are being sold off because of the Crisis. This sells. If his article had instead mentioned that in June this year, well after the overthrow of the ATT government, and well into the Crisis, a project sponsored by the Prince Klaus Foundation of the Netherlands is planting in the region of 10 000 trees to save the site from erosion, it would have been an item that flew in the face of the prevailing wind, and it would not be given the news space.

Now, take this more pressing matter of Douentza, the town some 190 k north of Mopti/Sevare, on the road to Timbuktu. This town has suddenly been reported in the international press as ‘having been taken by the Islamists.’
I sat up during the night reading the reports on the BBC site on the CNN site and various news sites. Not one of these sites mentions that Douentza was already taken ! Douentza has formed part of the occupied Malian territories since April.
Our friend Mohammed was the prison manager in Douantza in April when the Islamists and the MNLA were on the move towards the town. He took the 35 inmates for whom he was responsible and decamped to Djenne prison from the prison in Douentza . All government workers and all services fled the largely defenseless town and within hours the black flag of the MNLA was raised on the Mairie. This flag no longer flies over Douentza, the MNLA having been forced to abandon their positions to the Islamists.

What happened just now is that one group of Islamists – the MUJAO- have kicked out another militia group which was regarded as traitors to the ‘Cause’ (which is total Sharia in Mali) and suspected of harbouring Malian Army spies. This probably makes little difference in the larger picture, but it is reported in a sensational manner as if it were a new conquest: BBC News - Mali Islamist rebels in control of northern Mali seize the strategic town of Douentza, moving closer to the country's government-held south.

The worrying thing is that the Minister of Defense, speaking last night on Malian TV, did not mention the glaring fact that Douantza had formed part of the occupied territories either! And why would this be? He is using the media. It suits Mali that people think that the Islamists are on the move south. It will hopefully bring some much needed assistance...