Sunday, October 28, 2012

There has been trouble at the Manuscript Library again. This time a fairly minor internal matter: Samba, our third digitization worker, had always been the black sheep in the team. He somehow managed to have at least five times as many births, deaths and marriages as anyone else. He normally arrived to sign in in the morning, but would be mysteriously called away on important business within an hour or so. We gave him many chances, but this state of affairs has been trundling on for months and actually putting the project behind schedule. Finally we saw a way out of this predicament. The last stage of the British Library Project has arrived: the Box Making. We are going to make about 300 acid-free storage boxes for the most important manuscripts. The workers will be paid by the box. If you are a diligent worker you can make as much money as everyone else. If you don’t work, you don’t earn anything. So we told Samba he is being moved onto the boxes. He took part in the training with three other box making candidates. When it dawned on Samba that he was actually going to have to work for his money in this scheme, he didin’t like it. He didn’t like it at all. He demanded that he be paid a salary. I said no. At eleven o’clock that night I got a phone call from Keita who is in Segou. Someone had called him to tell him to tell me to be careful. The Library Project was going to be closed down the following morning by the Prefect. Samba had been to the Village Chief to complain and then to the Prefecture. I initially lost my temper, then I calmed down thinking it couldn’t possibly be true- this was of course just an internal matter for the project to deal with. I fell asleep. It was not true. Samba had been spreading rumours , and Djenne is a fertile ground for muck spreading: whatever you want to be known and believed will circulate within an hour or two if you make sure you fan the flames...
The following morning Al Hadj called me from the Manuscript Library and spoke in a muffled voice: ‘Samba is here. He has cut off the electricity and said the project is stopped’. ‘What utter nonsense’ I replied. ‘ Call the gendarmes!’ Then I phoned Yelfa, above right. (And here we get to the gist of this story- the rest is only a preamble.) ‘Where are you Yelfa? ‘ I yelled without giving him a chance to respond. Then I launched into a brief synopsis of the library situation before instructing him breezily; ‘ Just get yourself down to the Library and sort this out can you? Get the gendarmes in if needs be!’ ‘Ok’ replied Yelfa , unusually quietly I thought. ‘I don’t think there is any necessity for the Gendarmerie, though.’ ‘Well whatever. Just sort it. I have just about had enough of this! I barked back. In the evening Yelfa passed by. Everything was calm at the Library. Samba had settled down and even cried a bit, saying he didn’t know what had come over him. Yelfa and I conversed about this matter for some time. The Yelfa said quietly: ‘ When you phoned me this morning I was at the funeral of my little five- year old girl. She was ill with malaria yesterday and we took her to the hospital. But during the night she died and we buried her this morning. ‘I have had other children die, but they were only one or two months old. This little girl ran towards me every time I came home shouting ‘Papa! Papa!’ She sat on my lap and we ate together every day. ‘ Yelfa told me this in a matter of fact way which did not mask entirely the pain he was feeling. I was humbled and shaken. How could he have even replied to my phone call about this stupid Samba business ? How could he have been discussing it with me for at least half an hour before even telling me about this? Again and again I am astonished at the reaction to death here. It seems to me like total submission, far, far from our notion of struggle, and Dylan Thomas’s battle cry ‘Rage Rage against the Dying of the Light’... Death stalks the muddy streets and lanes of Djenne, ever-present and insatiable...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ansar Dinde? Me voici in front of the Ansar Dine Djenne headquarters with Ali Toure, the local representative. ( He the suitor of Ariela, see February blog). I seem to have acquired a Turkey. It was like this: the whole day a long cavalcade of people passed by, ostensibly to say hello. And just by the by, would I be able to lend them/ give them twenty, fifty or hundred and fifty thousand francs in order for them to catch the market for the sheep? I said ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘maybe’, ‘not possible,’ ‘are you mad?’ and ‘yes of course’, depending on the circumstances. Now, I will confess that I have always had a soft spot for Ali Toure, an excitable, verbose and beautiful Songhai Koran Master and a member of the Djenne Manuscript Library’s Management Committe. So when Ali passed by too with the same ulterior motive, I listened to his proposal with some amusement: He wanted to sell me his two turkeys for 40 000 francs in order to buy a sheep. If I bought our ceremonial Christmas turkey from Ali it would enable him to buy his ceremonial Tabaski ram. How could I refuse? So it was a done deed. Ali, by the way, assures me that the Djenne branch of the Ansar Dine has nothing to do with the Timbuktu Islamists of the same name. In Ali’s opinion the Timbuktu people are not even Muslims.
And here are two of Ali’s little Talibes delivering my turkeys!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I spent last Friday at the Artisanat making more rope sandals with Adama- third from right above with his cobbler collegues in Friday prayers. The evenings were spent pleasantly negotiating possible Bamako shop space for MaliMali; having drinks and dinners with diplomat friends in their lovely big mansions and nevertheless missing my old friend Ann, now in Conakry.
Arriving back in Djenne yesterday after a twelwe hour gruelling journey on the Djenne bus from Bamako we found the water still high at the Bani crossing. It has started to descend people tell me. This is not yet visible at the hotel, where the water still stands precariously near the mud walls, but it has not risen in the last week, and something tells me we have once more weathered the crisis...
Meanwhile, Tabaski frenzy grips Mali. This most important Muslim holiday of the year looms in less than a week- next Friday to be precise. Every self respecting Malian father must provide his family with a ram that he will slaughter himself on Tabaski morning. A ram costs between 30 000 and 300 000 francs CFA and the size of the animal is related to the perceived social position of the paterfamilias in question, rather than the amount he can afford. A Malian father would rather indebt himself than bring a smaller sheep than normal. This year no one has any money in Djenne. It is Djenne market day tomorrow, the last one before Tabaski. It will be full of people who will all somehow have found the necessary money- a huge amount. A Djenne day labourer earns 1000 francs a day. We decided to continue our lottery tradition this year too, in the face of penury. The hotel gives one sheep to the person who has worked hardest, or tried hardest. There is also a lottery for a sheep- this time the MaliMali studio was also invited to take part, so 13 people pulled their pieces of paper out of my hat, and the lucky winner pulled the piece with my drawing of a sheep’s head. This year Kassim, above, our night watchman won the lottery. I was very pleased for him- he is a nice man who would have found it difficult to find enough money for a sheep, certainly. To the right in the back ground you see the sheep that Maman was given- more for his good intentions and his willingness to try than for his brilliance...Maman is/was our barman and he is now in charge of stock and ordering at the MaliMali studio. And finally, the most important news is of course that the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to give the go ahead for military action by Malian forces with the assistance of the ECOWAS, if a feasible military plan can be drawn up in 45 days- or about 40 now.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tony Van der Lee's school at Sanouna (the Bani Crossing) looked threathened by the high water yesterday as we passed with the ferry on the first step of our journey southwards.
We arrived in Bamako last night and found the city in giggles. It was a straight forward case of Shadenfreude. There were pictures of the Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz on France 24, speaking to his nation from a hospital bed in France, whence he had been whisked with a bullet in his head, amid fears of an attempted coup. Having made a preliminary enquiry as to his prognosis, I allowed myself to join into the general mirth, since he is doing fine. You will recall the unfortunate incident a couple of weeks ago when 16 Muslim Preachers, many of whom were Mauritanians, were shot dead on a remote military checkpoint to the north east of Segou. They had all travelled in a vehicle which refused to stop, although they had been flagged down and several rounds of warning shots had been fired into the air. This gave western journalists like Adam Nossiter of the NY Times the opportunity to once again question the competence of the Malian Army. It also created a major diplomatic incident between Mali and Mauritania, with the latter also claiming major incompetence and outrage at the slaughter of innocent fundamentalist Islamic preachers...ahem. The bullet hole in the President’s head was due to the fact that his vehicle had forced a military barrier inside of Mauritania, and his own security forces had opened fire... The moral of this story: do remember to slow down and particularly to stop when asked if you arrive at a military check point, especially in the Sahel right now, and even if you happen to be a President. This is actually quite simple, and has always been carried out automatically by all normal people with innocent intent and nothing to hide.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tomorrow morning Keita and I will wing our way south in blissful air conditioned comfort, courtesy of Elisabeth and Hinnerk, our Austrian friends who were stationed in Bandiagara before the April troubles, working for the Deutsche Entwicklungsdienst, I believe. They have now entrusted their car to us to use or to sell if we find a buyer. This may prove difficult- the market has collapsed in Bamako- too many people have left and are still leaving, selling all they own. But we will try, of course. The road seen behind is now cut in two by the advancing water. It is the road that leads to the hotel and the neighbourhood behind. Now the path of sand bags will begin-vehicles will have to be parked at the main road and people will walk.On the positive side it will mean no annoying and noisy motorcycles going up and down. We are leaving at a critical time- but I need to send things from Bamako- once again to Elisabeth and Hinnerk, who are preparing a MaliMali fashion show in Vienna! We are leaving Ace in charge. I will be back in a few days to look after a Dutch journalist. He phoned me from Kenya the other day, and enquired timidly if he might come and stay and interview me (having first taken the charming precaution of 'following me' on Twitter!) He started by saying that he was a follower of my blog, and that he knew I didn’t like journalists. He wants to talk about the Manuscript Library. I said he was of course very welcome. Although I am a firm believer that generalizations are normally quite spot on, there are of course always plenty of exceptions that prove the rules... Of course it will be fun to have a Dutch journalist here to talk to and have sunset cocktails with!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Yes, the water is still rising. Max still wanders around the last bits of terrain that remain above water on the new land. We were wondering why the bogolan was becoming stained- we now know what happens. Max escapes onto the verandah for an afternoon nap by the bogolan table. I caught him asleep the other day, dribbling quietly onto the table...
Petit Bandit has now been moved to higher ground into the hotel garden under the large flambuoyant tree. I think it reminds him of his previous life in the Dogon country- we found him just like that in a little Dogon village 14 months ago- tied up under a large tree.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Critical moments arriving here: but Ace and his labourers struggle on in the face of still rising water. How much more can we take? The water has now arrived to the level it attained in 2010. But that was at the end of October! Will the water keep rising? We just ordered another lorry load of sand. Mali’s problems on a greater scale have momentarily taken a secondary position. Meanwhile there is no stopping the work at the MaliMali studio although we now have to access it on a path of sandbags. We are working on a large order for an Interior Design Studio in Holland. And we have just received another one from France! All thanks to the World of Interior page I think. (something has happened with the Blogger soft ware and I cannot make any breaks in my text! Therefore it is tedious to look at and difficult to read. Bear with me!)
And meanwhile, at the Manuscript Library- on higher ground in the centre of Djenne- the digitization work steams ahead. Next week we will start making the acid free protection boxes. Just to cheer myself up I asked to see the manuscript of love poems by Imroul Kiss that Mohammed had talked about the other day. And here it is. Mohammed had termed it ‘love poetry’, but that seems a little too dainty an expression... It turns out that everyone knows about the poetry of Mr. Kiss, a pre-Islamic poet. Our Don Juan seems to be a mere weakling, dwarfed in the shadow of the mighty Kiss. ‘He made love more than 1000 times a day’ confides Garba to me. ‘Marabouts use his poetry for maraboutage to treat impotence... ‘Just read me this bit’ I asked Mohammed, who looked at the random page which I was showing him. He blushed a bit- if such a thing is possible- and translated the page which was a description of Kiss arriving at the house of a young married woman who was breast feeding her baby. Kiss is turned on by this and tells the woman to put the baby away and to come and satisfy him- which she does immediately- as if she were hypnotized. No woman ever resists Kiss, apparently. ‘ Ah, but that might become a bit boring’, I objected. ‘Is there never any element of seduction involved?’ Mohammed assured me that there were great seduction scenes too. So now we will have to await, with baited breath, Mohammed’s translation into English of some of Mr. Kiss’s poetry! And since we already know that Mohammed’s English is ‘prolific and inspirational’ Kiss’s poetry is likely reach hitherto unattained lyrical heights!