Friday, October 31, 2014

Compaore's departure

A selection of commentaries on on  the news that Compaore has tended his resignation::
‘Moved to tears’ Happy to see this historic day for the people of Burkina Faso’
 ‘Congratulations to the great people of Burkina Faso’
‘My most heartfelt condolences to the MNLA who has lost its Papa. Sniff! Sniff! May Beelzebub welcome you all in hell with open arms!’
‘People of Burkina, thank you for having exerted vengeance for the death of Thomas Sankara in a good way’
‘Congratulations to men with integrity, everything has an end. Shame on you Blaise who thought power was eternal. We want to see more such popular  revolts in order to preserve democracy in Africa. Me, if I were in your your place I would prefer to die rather than depart in such a way’....

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The end of Blaise?

Nabéré Honoré Traoré, the head of the Burkina Army, announces that the army has taken control in Burkina Faso after thousands of protesters attacked the National Assembly today in a culmination of two days of intense demonstrations in Ouagadougou and nation wide- furious that Blaise Compaore is intending to once more  change the Burkina constitution in order to be able to remain in power for a further five years. What is it with these African leaders that make them incapable of giving up power?
Compaore has been the President  of Burkina Faso since he himself came to power in the  coup he staged twenty seven years ago against his former brother-in -arms, Thomas Sankara, the Che Guevara of West Africa- brilliant demagogue and hero of the downtrodden but ultimately a dangerous firebrand in the eyes of the West which welcomed Blaise and his coup with relief  and has seen in him something of a pillar of stability- he has  gained a of status of a respected  elder statesman, taking on the role of mediator in the Malian crisis- a position which has always sat badly with the Malians who have never understood where Compaore has gained the right to lecture Mali on Democracy.

I travelled to Burkina for the first time in 2007 with Keita. I was curious about Thomas Sankara, and wanted to talk to people about him- but I quickly understood  that it was a taboo subject. It has been clear to everyone for 27 years that Compaore has Sankara's blood on his hands, but no one has dared to speak. 'Will Blaise now be held responsible or taken to justice over Sankara's assassination?' asked someone on Malijet tonight.
Well, at the moment it is not quite clear whether he has been forced to leave power, the spokesman for the Army has not said so. But it is my guess he will not dare to hang on to power now in the face of the Burkina people's mass protest, and we have probably witnessed the end of Blaise Compaore's reign.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


As everyone now knows, Mali has had its first case of Ebola. A two year old girl died in Kayes last Friday, a day after having been admitted to hospital. She had come from Guinea, and had travelled for a thousand kilometres on public transport with her grandmother while she was showing symptoms, including heavy bleeding from her nose. It appears that the grandmother had hidden her from the border authorities as she was entering Mali travelling on a lorry. She had had a short sojourn in Bamako, in the heavily populated area of Bagadadji, at the heart of Bamako, before continuing in a public bus to Kayes, where she was finally admitted to hospital  where she died the following day, having at first shown signs of recovery which were unfortunately unfounded.

The WHO is treating this as a very serious issue because of the fact that she travelled on public transport through large areas of Mali while she was contagious. My Keita and several other Malians I have spoken to feel that if this grandmother is lucky enough to survive (unlikely since she cared for the highly contagious toddler for several days)  she should be shot for High Treason. I am afraid that I can almost sympathize with that sentiment...’It doesn’t matter how poor and uneducated, she knew what she was doing. Noone in Mali is unaware of the risks involved, and everyone has been informed for months about how to behave to avoid contagion’, fumes Keita. ‘Not only that, but had she handed the girl in at the border, for instance, instead of subjecting the poor child to the hardship of the road, she may have survived! ‘

 Well, it is done now.

All we have to do is to wait. The incubation period is between 2 and 21 days. Noone of the over 80 people who have been traced and who are kept in quarantine in Bamako and Kayes have so far developed any symptoms.

‘I suppose it's the filmic insidious nature of it that makes the public flesh creep’ wrote David in his comment to last week’s blog post, putting his finger on the nature of this beast: we don’t know exactly when and how and if the contagion will spread, and we can’t see the enemy who is creeping about silently and invisibly doing his deadly task while everything is seemingly normal.

So far the Malian health authorities have acted fast and thoroughly to contain the situation.  I am in Bamako for a week and I notice that measures are also put in place by the private sector to safeguard against the spread of the disease: last night I went to ‘The Sleeping Camel’, that favourite Bamako watering hole, and at the entrance a member of staff squirted anti bacterial liquid onto my hands before allowing me entry.  Many other hotels and restaurants are taking this and other safety precautions.

And now we just wait...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


 This morning while I was having breakfast in the garden Ace came to inform me that the second wife of my friend Haidara, the last horseman of Djenne,  had died during the night. Ace was on his way from the cemetery, where she had just been buried. So I donned my headscarf and ventured  into the maze of narrow mud alleyways which meander in between the ancient two storey mud houses of the Konofia neighbourhood of Djenne until I arrived at Haidara’s house to present my condolences according  to  the custom of Djenne.  He sat cross legged on a mat in his vestibule, the hallway that separates the courtyard from the street in a  traditional Djenne house, welcoming the steady stream of people who filed past giving their condolences: Ala Ka Hine A la, Ala Ka Dayoro suma...(may God have mercy on her soul, May God grant her a sweet resting place) I took my place in the file and also said the same words, but I stayed a little longer and Haidara’s other two wives showed me the beautiful baby boy that  their ‘sister’ had given birth to with a caesarion four days ago. She had come back from the hospital but something had clearly gone wrong in the aftermath of the operation...Haidara seemed calm and unruffled and he even smiled when he saw me- but I have lived in Djenne long enough now to understand that people’s  calm acceptance of death here does not mean they do not grieve.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Betty's Birthday

Goodness! Even more excitement today: Dollie has given birth and  sometime early this morning Betty was born. It is amazing how clever donkey babies are! They take to living as if they don’t need any apprenticeship at all. Betty has been walking around the land quite steadily with an air of total confidence since she was only a couple of hours old, and she already head butts me in a friendly way just like her big brother Boubakar does.

She doesn’t need to be told where to go for milk of course.

Although sometimes even clever donkey babies get it wrong...

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I was woken by drumming in the first light of dawn. There are often sounds drifting across the water which separates us from the island city of Djenne, but these are normally either the chanting of sacred texts from the Koran schools at certain times of the year, especially at Maoloud, the festival which celebrated the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, or else the flutes from a Fulani wedding which can go on for several days. Both these sounds are a part of my soundtrack for what I consider the essence of Djenne . There is not normally any drumming though, so I shook Keita awake to ask him what was happening. ‘Oh, it is Tabawoi today’ said Keita and  turned over and went back to sleep.
A little later we went up on my roof to picture the first canoes  leaving  town. This year the Tabawoi (so called in Djenne only), the traditional festival at the end of the rainy season which is celebrated all over Mali, had a different flavour. The festival is normally a competition in two parts between the youths of the different neighbourhood of the town: first thing in the morning they all leave by canoe from all the different ‘ports’ of Djenne to go to the bush and hunt for wild life. In the afternoon they return with the day’s hunting trophys.  Other years I have seen snakes and iguanas, bush rats and the occasional small deer  displayed proudly on poles from the canoes  on their return from their hunting trip. The successful hunters will  parade their bounty in front of the dignitaries and all of Djenne’s population who congregate in the afternoon on the Djenne side of the river for the second part of the day’s competition: the canoe (pirogue) races.
 This year there has been a televised message from the government: No hunting is allowed. There were to be no killing of wild animals in the bush because of the risk of ebola from bush meat. And indeed the message was adhered to: I saw no one displaying anything on the pirogues  at least, and everyone I spoke to said that people had stopped eating bush meat anyway for this very reason.

This evening I decided to sit on the roof of my house instead of the sunset terrace- it gave me a privileged front row view of the last races  which continued  as long as there was light, making Tabawoi a spectacle from sunrise to sunset.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rainy season sunset for the people of Ukraine

Yes. I was amazed, once more, when looking at the statistics of who reads this journal of mine, to find that Ukraine tops the list, with 70 people today who have looked in!
I am very intrigued and very flattered that you are interested in what goes on in tiny Djenne, so far away... Perhaps you are escaping from your troubles and now I have reminded you again! Sorry! But I would love to know something about you: are you pro-Russian or Ukrainian patriots or both? Please send me a message in the comment section- and you don't have to talk politics at all by the way- I don't care whether you are Patriots or Pro-Russian, really... I just want to hear from you. And thank you so much for taking the time to read about us...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ebola psychosis deepening

I suppose we had better talk Ebola again, to get it over and done with. The entire world seems to be obsessed by this disease, and on every news site  I look no one seems to want to talk about anything else.
Now, don’t get me wrong: this is of course a very serious disease. It was billed to kill aroung 90% of its victims to start with but the latest figures show that it kills not quite  50% of its victims:
8,399 cases and 4,033 deaths since the epidemic started in the beginning of this year WHO announced last Wednesday. Yes, it is certainly a gruesome epidemic, and the international aid that is arriving is definitely needed and much appreciated in the worst hit areas.

BUT, nevertheless the disease needs to be put into perspective. My dear friend Ann has three children who are still going to school in Conakry, Guinea. She had no hesitation in going back to the capital of this ebola ridden country after her holiday in Belgium, and she is the best mother I know.  Virtually none of her toubab friends and acquaintances in Conakry have any problems about remaining in Guinea  either. The  fact is: if you don’t eat bush meat or get into physical contact with people who are sick, you are not going to get it.
The people in Conakry simply make sure they don’t touch anyone they don’t know. They wash their hands and they supervise their children at all times. There are hundreds of Medecins sans Frontiers and other health workers who have worked since the beginning of the epidemic who have not caught the virus. The very few that have caught it, and the unfortunate case of the nurse who contracted it in Spain (‘The First Case In Europe!’ gloat the gruesome headlines greedily, as if there were going to be hundreds and thousands following in her wake!) have simply not followed the rigorous rules of conduct demanded in the treatment of an Ebola patient.

The media circus about Ebola is way out of line. I know that I have a vested interest in playing it down, because I run a hotel in Mali and we have had several cancellations because of Ebola. We were hoping to slowly re-emerge after three years of deep crisis which included  the Jihadist occupation of the north and war in this country- (none of which ever touched Djenne in the slightest, by the way) and now we are the victims of Ebola without even having had ONE case in Mali. But if I thought this disease was really a seroius threat  here, I would have left, just as I am sure Ann would have done, for the safety of her children.
Rest assured dear Europeans, Americans and Australians etc. You are not at risk here. Please do not believe all the junk that the media is throwing at you. Tonight a ridiculous headline took pride of place and opened the evening news on France 24, my purveyor of international news. ‘Woman found NOT to have ebola’. A woman had arrived from Liberia and had fallen ill in Paris. Therefore she was put in quarantine, but found to suffer from a common cold I believe.

My old sparring partner Joe Penney from Reuters (see blog September 9, 2012  and in particular comments ...) is reporting on the difficulty of surveying the southern borders of Mali and Guinea in the artisanal gold mining areas, where people just cross the border avoiding the official border posts.  ( .) This is true and I don’t accuse him of sensationalism exactly.
But the border has been porous since the beginning of the epidemic in March. Why have there been no cases yet? And even if there was a case or a few of ebola in Mali, what is to say it will develop into an epidemic here? It did not in Nigeria, who only presented a few cases and then nothing for the last month or so, or Senegal where  case or two was declared  a couple of weeks ago, and then nothing else. The fact is, Malians in the border areas are very  alert to the danger of Ebola. The Malian health personnel I have spoken to here are quite optimistic as to the success of the Malian media’s  effort to highlight the danger: Malians are informed how to avoid contagion by hygiene measures; how to spot a suspect case and how to recognize the first symptoms, and if they do, to alert the authorities. I believe this is actually working.

Interestingly, when I went to mass at Bamako cathedral several weeks ago the priest told the congregation in the packed cathedral not to shake hand as is customary when wishing each other ‘Peace’ after the Lords prayer. These sorts of saftety measures and many others are put in place and adhered to in many contexts in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa, and this will help to ensure that the epidemic, however devastating, will begin to abate without the apocalyptic scenario envisaged by the international scaremongers of the press and media.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Djeneba at Real Madrid

The most fun  news I have had for days came when my MaliMali assistant Djeneba called me today from Spain. She was invited by Jose Manuel Herraiz, the film maker who made a charming little documentary about her when she was seventeen year old, and who came here in April to make a sequel to this first prizewinning documentary. (look up 'Djeneba' in blogsearch above) He filmed everything that was happening and one shot was of  Djeneba and me in the MaliMali studio cutting out fabric and talking football. She is a real aficionado, and can talk knowledgeably about football for hours. Malians are all football mad, and they follow in particular Spanish football and are firmly divided into Barcelona fans and Real Madrid fans.
The  culmination of this documentary sequel was to be Djeneba’s visit to Spain. I knew Jose Manuel  was trying to get her to meet the players from Real Madrid, her favourite team. And here they are! Above Djeneba with Ronaldo and below with Benzema,no less.
She arrived at the  club cool as a cucumber apparently. She takes everything in her stride, and although she has never been abroad before, the idea of meeting her heroes did not faze her in the slightest. I think she was very happy about it of course, but she accepted it calmly as if it was some sort of birth right that she should meet Ronaldo and Benzema if she happened to be passing through Madrid... When she arrived to meet the team she did not see Ronaldo with the other players. She was told he was at home resting because of an injury.  ‘But I have brought him a present!’ she said disappointedly. And she must have charmed the whole team to such an extent that they called Ronaldo who came over especially to meet her after all! I must remember to ask her what the present was that she brought him...He signed one of his T-shirts and gave to her. And then she started talking football with them and no doubt gave them several tips about how to improve their playing strategy!

Sunday, October 05, 2014


It is 6pm on the day of Tabaski. I am sitting alone on my sunset terrace watching an unremarkable sunset. The above sheep, on the roof and in the luggage hold of the bus I saw in Bandiagara last week will all be dead by now, slaughtered by the paterfamilias of Bamako, which was the destination of their last journey.

I went to Bandiagara with my dear Austrian friend Elisabeth (above with her car mechanic in Bandiagara) who lived there a couple of years ago with her husband Hinnerk. She was on a two week return to Mali and visited  Djenne, staying at the hotel for a few days which cheered me up hugely, especially since she let me practise my German on her without complaining. My head is whizzing with German, which is my favourite language in the world- because of its great poetry, of which I am no expert at all, I hasten to add.  My taste for German poetry is quite narrow and old fashioned and limited to Goethe and Schiller. Elisabeth and I  did not read poetry together, but deep down old memories were stirred and ever since she left I have odd bits of German poety floating through my head which I cannot at first place, but eventually I google the phrases that pop up, and I find they almost invariably come from Goethe. Sometimes these fragments are quite obscure, like the one that haunted me all day yesterday: ‘wir werden uns wiedersehen, aber nicht beim Tanze’ (we will meet again, but not by the dance). That one was too obscure for Google but I was determined to find it, and today, as always on Tabaski, I sat alone in the hotel bar guarding the place since the staff was all at home celebrating. This year I read through Faust again. And there it was of course, in the heartbreaking last scene with Gretchen in the prison.

It struck me that to read Faust in Djenne is quite appropriate: it is the ancient city of the marabouts and of magic. ‘Drum habe ich mich der Magie ergeben......das ich erkenne wie die Welt im Innersten zusammenhalt’ (Therefore I have given myself over to that I will discover how the world is held together in its innermost) says Faust.  He has exhausted all usual means of research and his thirst for knowledge is not quenched, on the contrary, the more he knows the more he is aware of how little he knows. The  marabouts of Djenne, what is their reason for using magic and for trying to cunjure the spirits? Often, if I believe the manuscripts in the library, the magic performed by the marabouts of Djenne tries to satisfy more common pursuits: ‘how to be loved’ how to become rich’ etc are the reasons to engage in magic in Djenne. I will ask Yelpha if the thirst for knowledge is ever a request...Mind you, once Faust entered into the pact with Mephistopheles, his objectives were no longer so lofty, and all he wanted was Gretchen, his driving force  became a case of ordinary lust, after all!