Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Travelogue and Other Matters

Where to even begin? Impossible to tell it all- the last three weeks have been cram- packed with important and wonderful events, including, in vaguely chronological order:
Our  journey to Kayes and the historic village of Médine, the French fort and early trading post which sits in a strategic position on a promontory overlooking the Niger . This is where all the British and French explorers passed by on their way into the Interior and this is the village where Keita’s  father was born and some of his relatives still live. My generous cousin Pelle and his wife had donated money once more, topped up by another donation from my father’s old college pals  for MaliMali Projects to undertake another 100 free cataract operations- this time the team did not come to Djenné to operate, but we chose  to do it in Medine and the operations were offered in memory of my Keita’s father Colonel Abdoulaye Keita, a much loved son of the village who returned every year throughout his life. We spent  a day talking to the village population and were much feted by the local authoritites and Keita’s family who gave us a sheep- this  posed something of a problem since we were on the way to Senegal in our car...
So- from Medine we continued on to Senegal through the same dry Sahel landscape  we know and love  from Mali until we reached lovely St Louis:
a mini New Orleans, complete with yearly Jazz fest even; quant two storey houses with verandas dripping with bogainvillea and housing mainly chic galleries and boutiques for the  ex-pat community.      


But it is Africa too and its great fishing fleet of locally made, brightly  painted fishing boats leave towards sunset each evening and trawls upwards on the river Senegal.

Just a stone throw away, across a narrow strip of land lies the great Atlantic which was too cold for swimming this time of the year, but we went looking for shells on the great wide beach just in front of our chalet.

We continued  on to Dakar and the  pictureque Ile de Goré, with its   little streets and houses with stucko in aubergine and pink. Pretty and touristy,  its beauty belies its painful history as one of the major slave depots of West Africa where slaves were often ‘stored’ for several months before they went through ‘the door of no return’ which led to the waiting ship and the unimaginable hardship of the crossing to America.

In Dakar we spent two happy evenings in the Institut Français where we ate extremely well and watched the African football Cup on large screens amongst an enthusiastic crowd of affluent locals and French expats.

We did the whole journey Dakar- Kayes in one long day and the following morning we picked  up our inconvenient present the sheep which travelled with us to Bamako and eventually  on to Segou  in the luggage hold of the car to my initial consternation.  Keita told me not to be such a sissy and assured me that this is how things are done here. So I eventually settled down convincing myself  that when in Rome...and in fact  the little creature  seemed happy enough every time we opened  the boot.
Back in Bamako more great events unfolded: an International Conference of Malian manucripts had been organized by UNESCO at the end of January. At the beginning of the month Lassana Cissé, the ‘Directeur National du Patrimoine’ had written me an email alerting me to the fact that the list of participants was being drawn up but that Djenné Manuscript Library was only represented by one person. The other people from Djenné were the Imam and the Maire and one person who  owns a small private  library set up by Abdel Kader Haidara, the eminence grise and king of the Malian manuscript world,  who has  also put the Imam’s library in place. Abdel Kader was also  in charge of the invitations  to the conference. Since we are representing over one hundred Djenné families by now , it was quite ridiculous that we should only have one representative.  I  phoned up UNESCO in Bamako and complained. They begrudgingly asked me to send the names of  the people I wanted to invite, but said these would not be receiving any money for travel costs or lodging, since they had not been invited by the conference but by me.

I now got on to the British Ambassador Jo Adamson who had kindly promised me to give an evening for the Djenne Manuscript Library. Would it not be possible to do this evening in connection with this conference? I asked. She agreed and the date was set for the 29th,  the last day of the conference. Overjoyed, I called Lassana Cissé again and told him the news: he confered with UNESCO and it was decided that the evening for the Djenné Manuscript Library at the luxurious  Hotel Salam would be a finale to the whole conference!

I now received phonecalls first of all from Abdel Kader and then from UNESCO: “of course! there had never been any doubt about our being part of the conference! And of course all four delegates from the Djenné Manuscript Library would receive their travel and lodging expenses! There had never been any question about that- it had been a misunderstanding”...

The evening was a great success:  about a hundred people mingled and the crowd included at least two  ministers;  many diplomats and other people well placed to be able come up with much needed future sponsorship to us.  The Djenné Manuscript Library made a little exhibition of manuscripts and calligraphy and Jo the ambassador gave a great fun speech  which began  with how the relations between the UK and Djenné had started off badly; here she quoted from Mungo Park:"Travels in the Interior of Africa", first published in 1799.

Chapter XVI - Villages on the Niger - Determines to Go No Farther Eastward.

 "He was very friendly and communicative, and spoke highly of the hospitality of his countrymen, but withal told me that if Jenne was the place of my destination, which he seemed to have hitherto doubted, I had undertaken an enterprise of greater danger than probably I was apprised of; for, although the town of Jenne was nominally a part of the king of Bambarra's dominions, it was in fact, he said, a city of the Moors -- the leading part of the inhabitants being bushreens, and even the governor himself, though appointed by Mansong, of the same sect. Thus was I in danger of falling a second time into the hands of men who would consider it not only justifiable, but meritorious, to destroy me.....".
She moved on to Michael Palin who passed a couple of days  in Djenné in 2002 and who remarked , (quite rightly so) that  the population of Djenné was the best dressed in Africa!
 This tour de force was followed by Babou Touré; the secretary of the Library management committee and one of my two right hand men on the British library projects who gave an address too- all in all it was a triumph for our library which has languished forgotten in the shadow of Timbuktu for so long.
And as if this was not enough: I stayed again in the lap of luxury at Eva’s, the Swedish embassy residence and she hosted a Sunday party  for 20 of the Swedish UN contingent, featuring a great lunch and a trip on the river. I managed to get one of the medical team to give me a special emergency number to call if I were to get suddenly ill here in Djenné. They promised to tell me what I should do: stay put or travel down to see them immediately. They have sophisticated equipment and are on stand- by for any eventualities and said they would take me on if necessary!

Back in Djenné now and just catching my breath...












Blogger mary said...

What a wonderful trip.I nearly booked a flight to Senegal to experience the delights you describe so beautifully. Do hope that the sheep is doing well - what is its future? Well done for promoting the Djenne manuscripts so successfully using your usual charm and determination.
Thanks, Mary

9:56 PM  
Blogger Susan Scheid said...

A wonderful report, and as we sit here with snow piled high all around us, I would like to jump into one of the photographs! Here is perhaps my favorite line: "the population of Djenné was the best dressed in Africa." Who could doubt it?

11:53 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Thank you dear Mary and Susan! And the poor sheep may not be of this world anymore, alas it remained in Segou and I think its demise is imminent if it has not already moved onto the greener pastures of the beyond..

2:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Glad your trip back home was good. Jo (relaxing in Los Angeles)

11:29 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Have a good holiday Jo and looking forward to see you soon in Bamako!

1:35 PM  

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