Monday, November 26, 2012

media interest continues

This time from a German TV station who was working on the story of the Manuscript Library again. But Nadia, in background above with Cheik from Reuters, Bamako, wanted to know about the hotel too; about my life here and about MaliMali! So I was filmed and interviewed. It has gone to my head of course, and I am afraid I have to show off again: I did the whole thing in German! JAWOHL, MEINE DAMEN UND HERREN! I am grateful to all those poor German tourists that I used to accost to try my rusty German out on whether they wanted to or not when the hotel was full. It obviously helped...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Having fun with Jerome, Jack and Yelfa….

Jerome and Jack, the Times’ Africa correspondent and photographer just spent two days with me in Djenne getting involved in Magic. They were here to do a story about the manuscript library, and therefore they met Yelfa, Grand Marabout de Djenne and archivist in the BL project, a figure well known by now to readers of this journal. A new batch of manuscripts had just arrived at the library, including another love talisman. When Yelfa explained that such talismans are still made in Djenne, and that he himself does this sort of work, this proved too much of a temptation for our foreign correspondent who decided he wanted one made for him, with the very specific intention of making his beloved girlfriend Clem not only love him madly forever but also come and live with him in Nairobi, a decision she had found difficult to make.
Yelfa came to see us later at the hotel. He explained that this sort of work was quite difficult, but nevertheless he promised to look into it during the night. Jerome had to write his name and that of his girlfriend on a piece of paper. The following morning we would find him in his Koran school(above), and he would give his verdict. Meanwhile Jack too had asked for a protective amulet for his family’s safety when he was away on his many assignments. What happened the following morning was a reproduction of my own experience with maraboutage (see November 8 2010): it started as something lighthearted but turned into something more serious than had been bargained for…
After getting up very early to catch the morning light on the mosque for Jack we continued on to see Yelfa and his brothers teaching the talibes at their Koran school. Then Yelfa took us up the mud stairs of his beautiful house into a room in which we sat down on mats on the floor to listen to Yelfa’s recommendations. Jerome was to purchase a ram with a red head. This animal was to be sacrificed and the blood used for the writing of certain magic formulaes etc. The work could be done the same day. All included the price would be about E150. Jerome was shifting uncomfortably on his mat.
Jack’s request was easier and also cheaper and involved the sacrifice of a red cock. We managed to negociate that the cock could be replaces by red corn instead. Jack was happy and his deal was struck. Jerome asked to be given some time to think about it. About an hour later we called Yelfa to say that it was not really what Jerome had expected, and also that it was quite a lot more that he had thought. The deal was off.
Yelfa was not so easily put off. He arrived promptly at the hotel and came up with a very generous offer: Jerome was just to pay a small part now- whatever he could afford- and then, later, when Yelfa’s work had come to pass: when Clem had come to live with him in Nairobi, then only would Jerome pay. Yelfa had absolutely no doubt that his spell would be powerful enough. But Jerome looked even more uncomfortable…. So I explained tactfully to Yelfa that Jerome was very grateful for the offer, but that Toubabs in general don’t like the idea of animal sacrifices. It has to do with Christianity, I explained. Since Yelfa is a very religious person, and also very tolerant and understanding in his own way, this argument was understood and accepted.. We arrived at a compromise: Yelfa would produce a piece of calligraphy on a sheep parchment instead: a blessing in Arabic for Jerome and his girlfriend. Yelfa left to do the work. If Jerome had accepted Yelfa’s offer, and Yelfa’s spell had indeed worked, he would always have thought that Clem was in Nairobi because of the spell, not because of her love for him… When I told Keita this story he laughed and said Toubabos are too complicated! (Jerome has given me the go-ahead to publish this, just in case you were thinking I was being very indiscreet.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

This is not a Rasta.
It is a Djenne Sufi who wears his characteristic dreadlocks hidden under his turban mostly. We met him this morning at Sarmoye’ place. Sarmoye is the President of the High Islamic Council in Djenne. He loves Keita and there is enough warmth left over for me to bask in too. He is my most powerful protector in Djenne- a fine old man who lives in a beautiful Djenne house next to the Mosque. There is a steady stream of people who come and sit at his feet on the mats in front of him. He listens to them, then takes their hands, prays and gives them his blessing. He had prepared a traditional healing substance which includes ashes for one of Keita’s cousins in Bamako who suffers from mental illness. I asked Sarmoye and the Djenne Sufi what they thought of the Islamists and their insistence on Sharia. Their reply was complex and did not rule it out: the young Sufi thought that cutting someone’s hand off for stealing was a good deterrent for others.
Yesterday I was grumpy again. Really grumpy for no sensible reason. It got worse at the manuscript library . Africans never throw anything away, so the whole place is littered with debris such as the old card board boxes in which the computers and all the other equipment arrived years ago. And now there are the boxes for the card making equipment. I had to step over one of these to get into the work room this morning. To have the place looking like a tip is not good for our image in my opinion, and there are plenty of journalists here now wanting to write about us. ‘ Garba, why don’t you just get rid of all this stuff? Just chuck it out!’ I snapped irritably. I already knew the answer: ‘But we might need it …' And then there is another old bone of contention: every now and again I check Mohammed’s descriptions of each manuscript we are digitizing. This is an Excel document in English for the BL in London. Sometimes the manuscripts are written in local languages but using Arabic script. This has to be noted of course. I want him to specify which language we are talking about: it might be Songhai, Bozo or Fulfulde (Fulani). When I find he has once more written 'local language’ instead, I have my habitual run-in with Garba and Yelfa who are the ones supplying the information to Mohammed. ‘Our teachers in Timbuktu told us always to write ‘local languages’' insists Yelfa. ‘OK, but this is Djenne’ , I object. ‘And in Djenne we can make different rules! Timbuktu is (was!?) not always right! The reason for this must be that those people that first came to study the manuscripts – the French and the Arabs etc thought that ‘local languages’ were of absolutely no value. But things have changed. I am afraid you are going to have to tell Mohammed which language this is!’ I insist, pointing at the manuscript in question which turns out to be written in Bozo, as Yelfa admits sulkingly. Oh dear. But apart from these rumblings of discontent, all is surprisingly well in Djenne. Those who may be looking at this journal in order to gain information about Mali may be disappointed. Of course there are war drums heard in the distance, but for now Djenne continues as normal, only everyone is much poorer..

Friday, November 09, 2012

Apropos American Presidents…

If you happen to be one of the many who thought the last Bush was a useless President, I ask you to revise your opinion just a tiny bit: There are suddenly and quite unexpectedly some guests at Hotel Djenne Djenno: Drs Bah and Diallo with their research team have descended on the hotel, and will stay for five days. They are here doing research on malaria and are just now making larvae cultures. I said that we have plenty of mosquitoes here and they could just help themselves, but they prefer to make their own! They are sponsored by USAID, and the project was originally set up by President Bush. And more excitement to follow: A journalist from the Times no less is arriving on Monday, again I think he wants to talk about the Manuscript Library. It is becoming something of a circuit now for the foreign correspondents who dare venture this far: visit the Sevare volunteer militias and refugee camps and then on to Djenne and the Manuscript Library…

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Celebrating the Obama victory and wishing him good luck with a picture of Mansa Musa, the Malian Emperor who went on a Pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325 carrying a tonne of gold as travelling money, thereby causing havoc and devaluation of gold prices in Egypt..
That was 8 centuries ago, when Mali was one of the richest countries in the world with a vast Empire stretching over much of Sub-Saharan West Africa. Our erotic poet Imroul Kiss was Pre-Islamic, so that means he lived at least 8 centuries earlier than Mansa Musa... Those who have been eagerly looking forward to some saucy poetry from Mr. Kiss may be a little disappointed. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Mohammed’s translation since I don’t know Arabic , but what he has come up with here below is not entirely lacking in poetic merit I think. It is much less hard-core than expected however. Here we have a sequel to the breast feeding seduction scene reported earlier. This time the young lady in question, Fatima, is proving harder to get, and actually causing Kiss sleep less nights.. (I am still having problems with the software and cannot make breaks in the text! This is even more annoying in the case of poetry! Sorry, can't do anything about it..)
You Fatima, stop pushing me away I do not address any young girl for love Bear in mind that a motive drove me towards you Your beauty is beyond any comment in my eye Do not push me away, let me approach you Whenever I remember you, it is a pleasure for me to join you And feel the smell of your self Fatima do not disdain me like that Let me approach you to please you for ever Do not push me away I am Imrul Kiss I once knocked the door of a suckling mother When she realized who I was, she sped up towards the door And opened it to let me in Stop prizing yourself high and turn to me for a while Do not you know that I caused the suckling mother To forget about her child for a while I am Imrul Kiss, turn to me and think about the pleasure of my company Do not push me away, I love you for ever I truly love you, Fatima; do not listen to the rumors about me I do not listen to the rumors about you I love you to my heart s content My love towards you is like a sea It runs its course for ever without any stop Let your love towards me be the same Do not push me away, let me approach you. This night is just like a sea following its course While I am weighed down by so many concerns The longer it gets, the more I am grieved Why do not you move away and let the day break at once Your darkness and the immobility of your stars increase my sorrow Perhaps the morning will be harbinger of delight and joy in the heart of mine The morning of light, brightness and full of vigor Let it deliver me from my annoyance with its vigor Let it remove me from this darkness with its light And let it lighten my heart with its nature Such is what I lust for, let the day break I look forward to it because of what its occurrences will bring to my heart I look forward to it because it will mark the end of my sorrows, annoyance, grief and my predicament I am used to going hunting while the preys are still in their abodes On the back of a horse fiery, bold, big, fast and fearing A horse which no prey escapes its attention A horse in the sight of which the animals move away A horse which the animals cannot bear its sight When it sees a prey far away, it hastens to it and tackles to it Sometimes it runs like a hyena, sometimes like other animals according to the circumstances.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The most important news item is that Carin Wall, the Swedish Ambassador to Mali (and to Burkina Faso, the Niger and Mauritania) has kindly agreed to host a MaliMali Fashion Show and Cocktail Party at a smart hotel on the river Niger in Bamako called the Villa Soudan on the 19th of December!! This to launch MaliMali to the capital, co-inciding with the opening of the new shop at Villa Soudan which will stock all MaliMali goods. And here is Son Excellence, in her new MaliMali Zebre Empire Dress and her new Fuchsia Pink MaliMali rope sandals, reclining on her IKEA Chaise Longue in the splendid Ambassador’s residence in Bamako, very modern and very funky, full of good contemporary Swedish paintings and design.
So we are of course going to be frantic at the studio in the running up to Christmas, preparing all garments in all sizes etc. for the shop. I will be going back and forth to Bamako like a yo-yo, as I have done for the last few weeks. The water is now receding rapidly, as you can see by this picture, taken in the same position as last time by the Bani crossing. Last time a canoe paddled past. By necessity I am getting used to the hardships of the road and the Djenne bus. It takes 12 hours between Djenne and Bamako.
One has lovely crispy freshly caught and fried fish by the Bani crossing in the morning, dipped in the tasty rough salt from the surface salt mines many hundred miles north of Timbuktu. It still makes its way south as always, on camel’s back, by lorry and by pinasse.
But this morning,just back from Bamako, I enjoyed another fishy experience: but this is something only Swedes will understand. The kind Carin gave me some ‘Kalles Caviar’ from the Diplomatic Bag. (Kalles Caviar is not Beluga. It is a delicious cod roe paste all Swedish school children have on their bread before going to school in the morning. They will then remain hooked for the rest of their lives) Carin also gave me some excellent Swedish coffee from a posh Stockholm shop so things are looking up, and for a moment all is looking rosy even in Djenne...

Friday, November 02, 2012

MALIMALI fashion show in Vienna! and very soon more news about up-coming MaliMali fashion shows... watch this space closely.