Thursday, May 30, 2013

Back in Djenne

Back in Djenne after a schizophrenic two weeks in Bamako: daytime trying to produce not only acceptable but beautiful merchandise in the grime and madness which lies at the heart of the capital: the Artisanat and the central market. It is impossible to imagine a more tumultuous and anarchic location.
But there were consolations at hand in the latter part of the days which were spent in the air conditioned comfort of the Bamako diplomatic lifestyle- either relaxing by my hostess Anne-Maria’s pool or having drinks or dinner at the best of what Bamako has to offer.
But even with such unquestionable perks I was thrilled to come home to Djenne. Went riding tonight on Petit Bandit who seemed pleased to see me- or was it my wishful thinking? Just had a whisky and ginger juice on my terrace and watched once more the football players kick up the dust in the empty space between the hotel  and the Great Mosque.
The heat is no longer tempered by the blasts of the Harmattan but the air is absolutely  still and the heavens seem like the lid of a pressure cooker- there is now no relief until the rains start. Keita and I will sleep on the roof tonight, but the stars are no longer visible and the night brings no cooling down: this is the end and the culmination of the Great Heat.
There were supposed to be 6 Americans here from the US embassy tonight. Everyone got excited of course as usual at the prospect of some proper hotel guests. Dinner was planned, small repairs were carried out, garden was swept with special care and Boubakar was told to go and wash his uniform  which was looking grubby I thought. Then I thought I’d better check if there wasn’t any vegetarians among them, so I sent a text message off, and soon got a reply: ‘they were not coming. It had been cancelled. So sorry!’  Now, would I have known this if I hadn’t texted them about the vegetarians? Who knows.  Perhaps they would have told us…. I texted back saying “no problem but that it is important to cancel things in small hotels in the bush.” Actually I don’t know if there ARE any small hotels in the bush left. We may be the only one!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kidal Crisis deepens


Who ARE these people? What right do they have to discuss the future of Mali??? Where is the Malian government representative???

In recent months the Malian interim government has often been accused of silencing the press. In fact, there are times when they would do well to do so: the total liberty of internet news vehicles like is publishing incendiary articles often by anonymous sources with resulting comments,  intended for the incitement of hatred- these sort of articles or comments would never be allowed in the Western Press. I will give below two examples, referring to the meeting in Ouagadougou between the Ecowas mediator Djibrill Bassolé and Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, the MNLA's representative, where the MNLA said they would accept the presidential elections being held in Kidal, but only in the absence of the Malian army. This is of course a huge insult to the sovereignty of the Malian nation, and totally incomprehensible to the Malian people. A storm of comments was unleashed on Malijet, with more than 250 comments- most of which would never have seen the light  anywhere else but in a place totally untrammeled by censorship. I have just picked two comments, one representing each side:

'The patience of the Malian people has limits. Do not join insult to humiliation. The Malian people will be intransigent on the case of Kidal. Do not let the country descend into blood and fire for the sake of a minority within a minority ! (refers to the MNLA not being representative of the Touaregs)and for sordid reasons. You will be surprised by the reaction of the Malians. For Pity’s sake I ask of the Malian leadership to put an end to this Circus! The scars are too recent to turn the knife in the wound. (Refers to Aguelhoc, the massacre of close to 100 unarmed soldiers by the MNLA, which can be seen as the beginning of the present crisis) There cannot be two armies in Mali. The French Army cannot stop the people if they decide to march on Koulouba. (The presidential palace – euphemism for Revolution.)

‘The Touaregs are happy to let their blood flow for the cause of freedom, that does not frighten us. But just know that the blood of one Touareg is paid by the blood of a thousand negroes, so just make your calculations! I bet you have never taken part in a combat! You are one of these effeminate men with a big belly and a big arse- for a real warrior doesn’t talk like that. There may be some Touaregs in Bamako, but there are plenty of Blacks in Kidal. Don’t cry Aguelhoc- it may be repeated!”

Ala Ka An Deme!
(May God Help us!|)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

When The Music's Over

I have been too busy to do more than just register that Ray Manzarek has left us. But tonight, as I sat by Anne Maria’s pool in her lovely Bamako garden, nursing a Spritzer, it suddenly sank in.
Manzarek -with Morrison of course- WAS the Doors. But while Morrison created the image of the Doors- sexy, west coast ultimate cool- as well as the Door’s startling and fine lyrics,  Manzarek with his inimitable keyboards created the sound of the Doors, totally new, and now totally untouched by time. Nothing will ever sound and look like them- they were Gods.

Manzarek was 74- I guess I better up the level of those of My Generation ( I had put it between 52 and 72).  I count myself totally and devotedly of this generation, and can hardly exclude my heroes!
RIP Ray. Although you may have left us, you are still with us through what you have created. That is the glory of it!

Before I sink
Into the big sleep
I want to hear
The scream of the butterfly

Music is your only friend
Until the end...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ca y est

The illusive CREPISSAGE of the Great Mosque of Djenne finally took place this morning, after one or two false starts. Hotel Djenne Djenno has some guests tonight who have enjoyed themselves thoroughly apparently- I am in Bamako and talking on the phone.
For those who are disappointed they did not make it, there is still a chance: it was only half the mosque that was done. The other half is next Sunday. Still time to book yourself a room at Djenne Djenno for your once in a lifetime Mali experience!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Timbuktu in Bamako

Today was syttende maj , or the Norwegian National Day, celebrated tonight in a style far removed from the fjords of Norway  at Norwegian Consul Alida Boye’s house in Bamako where  the luminaries of Timbuktu’s manuscript world  had congregated.  Here they are all getting stuck into a whole roast sheep stuffed with cous cous  a la Timbuktu: centre top Ben Essayouti, second to the right of him Adel Wahid Haidara and picture bottom right Abdel Kader Haidara, all known to readers of this journal through their work at various times as consultants with the Djenne Manuscript Library.
Alida Boye has worked a lot with the manuscripts of Timbuktu and written a beautifully illustrated and conceived book called ‘ The Hidden Treasures of Timbuktu’ with John Hunwick,  the  distinguished American Arabist and scholar who put Timbuktu on the map and opened the world’s eyes to the fact that sub-Saharan West Africa does indeed have a written past – something previously ignored.

My days are spent either in the Artisanat with Adama for my UK shoe order- here are the colours we have come up with: zinging bubblegum shades which will look great with the MaliMali rope sandals,

or at Moussa’s tailoring atelier, where I am trying to finish off the last orders to send off Down Under, which we were not able to finish in Djenne because of incessant power cuts.

The evenings are spent having fun with the Bamako diplomatic crowd in the company of my hostess Anne Maria. Last night we went to a lovely Thai restaurant and I finally met someone from the British Embassy. You might recall that my relationship with the British Embassy has not always been plain sailing, and it has been particularly strained since I attacked the last British Ambassador in a letter for not doing his job properly. He said he was not allowed to come to Djenne for security reasons: the Foreign Office told him he could not travel. I wrote back saying that I thought it was his job to tell the Foreign Office whether people were allowed to travel in Mali and not the other way around.
Anyway, that one is gone now. And the new generation has arrived in the shape of Adrian, a darling thing of not even thirty, fresh faced and fresh out from working at the Ministry of Defense. He is the second in command and Philip, the ambassador is just a little older and very nice too, so everyone tells me. And there was Stephanie, the bubbly and lovely second-in-command at the American Embassy.

So, another fun evening at the end of a gruelling day...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back in Bamako

 Another day of dusty hardship on the Djenne bus brought me safely to Bamako last night- here we are arriving at sunset directly into in the madness which is the central market of Bamako where the Djenne bus terminus is located, next to the  Great Mosque.

 To travel on the main artery between Bamako and Mopti these days almost always brings an encounter with a very long convoy of French military vehicles either on their way north with loaded lorries or on their way back south with empty loads. The vehicles are always driven by young French soldiers. There is an almost palpable sense of POWER as the long convoy- often in numbers of 60-80- vehicles pass.  We wave and they wave back.
I am here to send off lots of parcels to Australia- the fruit of the ABC TV programme!- and also to  work with Adama the MaliMali cobbler- more of this later!
After the hardship  of the road I found myself rapidly consoled and in the lap of luxury once more, this time invited by my friend Anne Maria from the Danish Embassy, and this is where I am now about to escape for a dip in her pool!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Mud Slinging Mad!
The Masons of Djenne had a meeting this afternoon and decided that the mud was not 'ready'! It needs to lie in the vats a few days longer and infuse with the rice husks to produce the correct consistency. So this Thurday's Crepissage has been postponed. Meanwhile a photographer and reporter from the Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter are winging their way here, arriving tomorrow! I have been able to find a few of the others who were to make up our jolly Crepissage Party, to warn them and give them the chance to cancel.
So annoying!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Red Berets and Orange Sandals

Much is happening and about to happen...
On the national scale there has been a reconciliation between the Beret Rouges – the elite para troop regiment which serves as the Presidential Guard and which had remained loyal to ATT- and the Berets Verts- more or less a euphemism for the rest of the Malian Army. The Beret Rouges are in Gao with a large contingent of the army and it is rumoured that it is these soldiers who will lead the Malian army into Kidal, and that this will happen imminently.
The Tuareg group ‘Platform Kal-Tamachek’, a national association representing the interests of Tuaregs in Mali held a press conference in Bamako two days ago, inviting all diplomats and international press, in order to voice their support for the Malian state and army, and in order to distance themselves from the MNLA, which they insist do not represent them. The COREN, the  important  group which represents Northern Malians of all ethnic back grounds have just held a forum with the same message. 
And on local level there is going to be the CREPISSAGE of the Great Mosque this Thursday! There are already enough journalists and photographers coming to fill up half of the hotel, and we are going to call in the Griots and the Balafon players and AN BE TA DONKE! (we will dance), for the first time in a very long time.
And MaliMali has a lot of orders  including one for 30 pairs of  leather rope sandals in different colours including burnt orange- will add picture  soon- from London (see accessories page So I will sit down at the Artisanat in Bamako very soon again and oversee the work with Adama, the MaliMali cobbler.
Rush, Rush Rush!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

'Sophie Sarin Screen Goddess'

ahem...well...those are in fact the words of David Nice, my most frequent commentator and fellow blogger on his energetic, broad-ranging and always readable blog when he gives a resume of the Australian TV programme 'the Road the Timbuktu'. Scroll down until you get to the 1st of May.
And what else? Well the Flamboyant tree is in splendid bloom- it always amazes me how it can explode in such blooms at the driest and hottest moment of the year- how does it have the strength?

Friday, May 03, 2013

KIDAL again…

It has now become virtually impossible to meet with friends for a drink, to have a dinner conversation, to travel on a bus or to spend more than five minutes in the company of Malians  without arriving at the thorny subject  of Kidal. It is the one preoccupying thought for the whole nation, causing distress and feelings of confusion about Mali’s relationship with France which so recently had been powerfully healed and enhanced by the French intervention and Francois Holland’s promise to stand by the Malian nation until the entire territory had been regained.   The French were hailed as great heroes and tricolors were once more flying on the streets of Mali. Some Malians are now beginning to remove their tricolors because of what is seen by many as France’s betrayal in their attitude to Kidal.

On the 30th April  there was an interesting display of working democracy in Bamako. At the Assemblée Nationale  the deputies , put in place  at the last local elections under ATT and  representing all corners of Mali, had the opportunity of asking questions to a group of ministers from the interim government including the ministers of Defense, Interior and  Finance. The whole debate was televised and ran from 9h in the morning until 21h at night.
The two burning questions were: 1. clarification on the situation of Kidal and  2. the feasibility of elections in July. These two questions are linked of course: the elections which have been insisted upon by the French and the entire international community should be held by all the people of Mali, including the town of Kidal. But meanwhile it appears that the French and Chadian troops are patrolling the town of Kidal together with the MNLA . Once again it is perhaps useful to reflect on the fact that the MNLA is a group of rebels who holds no mandate from the Touareg people. On the other hand   there were around ten democratically elected Touareg representatives from locations in the north including Kidal present and voting for their communities at this meeting of the National Assembly.

The defense minister Yamoussa Camara once more performed the diplomatic feat of speaking  about Kidal without exactly spelling out the situation, which still remains vague. We still do not know if the absence of the Malian army in Kidal is because they have orders from the French to keep out, or because they are not ready to go. The MNLA that remains in Kidal are not many, but they refuse steadfastly to lay down their guns. The defense minister did however state that the Malian army will be in Kidal within two weeks. Yesterday a new Governor of Kidal was announced. Whatever will happen is going to happen quite soon…
The resolution that was voted unanimously by the assembly at the end of the long day stated that elections will be held in July in the entire territory of Mali.  The condition for the elections to be held is therefore the liberation of Kidal and its restoration into the Malian state.

So what do people think will happen next?  Some are of the opinion that the arrival of the Malian Army and administration in Kidal will go ahead without a fight. The MNLA will lay down their weapons.  Some are wondering who will fight on what side if there is a fight. Will the French step aside and let the Malians’ sort out what they perceive, perhaps, as their internal problems themselves? They will probably not intervene. What will the Chadians do? Surely they would fight on the side of the Malian army? Perhaps they will also remain on the sidelines?
It is very hazy...What is going to happen?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Back in Djenne after a cram packed week in Bamako. After the humble beginnings in the Catholic Mission, the week progressed rapidly in an upward direction and I swiftly found myself in increasingly splendid surroundings, culminating at a dinner at the Danish Ambassador’s palatial residence on the Niger in the company of various Malian and Danish luminaries to do with Culture. I sat next to Cheik Oumar Sissoko, the distinguished Malian film maker and ex Minister of Culture under ATT. He was fun and we talked about our favourite films, predictably… it became clear that he had not seen Babette’s Feast, which we all decided was the best Danish Film of all time… The lady to the right of me is Vibeke,who was also at the dinner. We are standing outside Sylvie’s shop ‘Ethnic Women’ and as MaliMali aficionados will immediately notice, Vibeke has just bought herself a ‘Parka Dress’, which suits her very well I think, while I am wearing the ‘Sophie Dress’.