Friday, February 14, 2014

The advice of my Godmother

A few days ago one of Djenné’s  Grands Marabouts   paid me a visit. He carried with him a long letter written in French, which he wanted me to read. It was prepared by someone else since his French is rudimentary and my Songhai is non existent.

He was asking me to finance a hangar, (a sun-roof) for the public readings of the Koran that his family hosts. Until now they have been hiring tarpaulins to stretch across the place where the men gather for the Fatias, which is the normal way to do it here. The letter contained a detailed estimate for the cost : in the region of 1000E. I read the letter and said I would think about it and talk to Keita. At least that is one thing I have learned here : it is better to say ‘I will think about it’ than NO….

Since then I have been mulling this over. I think that my presence at some of the the Fatias of Maoloud make some people believe I have converted to Islam. This is certainly not the case. I like to take part in the traditional celebrations of my adopted mud city, but  as an observer :  I enjoy it as a cultural experience. I am of course for an entente cordiale between the religions of Djenné, but that is just it : the 30 or so Christians who live in Djenné are not allowed to build a church here. They meet at Pasteur Felix’s home on Sundays. If a Christian dies here they are not allowed to be buried in the city of Djenné.  During the worst part of the recent crisis there was an emergency food delivery for refugees from the north as well as for the poorest among the Djenne population. This was carried out by the NGO the Catholic Relief Service (CRS). We have just had one of the managers of the CRS staying at the hotel-  an interesting,  preppy young ex- Peace Corps American . He told me that  during this emergency relief to Djenné, it had come to light that the  Imam had removed  any Christians from the list of those who were about to benefit from this emergency relief.

I now wondered if I might now have a possibility to try and put a little pressure on the powers that be in Djenné : could I tell the Grand Marabout that I would  like an exchange ? I would try and find finance if at the same time  he spoke to the elders and asked if the Christians might build a little chapel here.
I wrote to my God mother Giulietta about this. ( A subject that , at least theoretically,  ought to be addressed to one’s Godmother I thought) She replied the following :

"Dear Goddaughter,

It would be offensive and undiplomatic to follow that course of action.   I would offer to make him (or just present him) a beautiful tarpaulin that builds on the local traditions and maintains the spontaneity that should accompany public Koran readings.  Be mindful.  He is testing your commitment to God and should you offend him he might cause problems.



I replied that I should mull it over some more….


Blogger David said...

I think - though of course I have less experience than our dear mutual friend of living among other religions and cultures - there might be a middle way here: conversation, enlightenment, putting the reasonable point of view. After all, does not Mali supposedly pride itself on its relative tolerance? Then again, any mention of 'see where failing to welcome other religions might lead' in the same breath as the hated extremists would have to be couched very carefully.

J/G and I have not always seen eye to eye on some of these questions...

10:04 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

'enlightenment', 'reasonable' are not really the words that spring to mind when I contemplate the Marabouts of Djenné, alas. But at least they cannot be likened to the extremists who held Mali to ransom recently...
And there are many amongst them that I am quite fond of.
Still mulling this over...

9:08 AM  
Blogger David said...

At least hold tentative - no pun intended - dialogues, 'what if...' etc and point out as discreetly as you can the unfairness of a tolerant Mali on the outlawed Xians. Head for the ones you like to 'consult' them and sound them out. There are ways of doing these things. 'Giulietta' made a subsequent point to me about AQ being round the corner, but that would only strengthen my resolve to say, do you really want to be compared with the hated extremists, etc.

2:54 PM  

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