Tuesday, July 28, 2015


There is a lot of waiting at the moment in all areas of my life
 Waiting for the sun: there has been nothing but rain for the last few days in Djenné and the yard outside the studio where we stretch out our fabrics to dry when they have been dyed or painted has turned into a soggy mud bath.

Even the donkeys are turning their noses up at this tiresome situation and joining us under the shelter of the studio verandah. It is quite an achievement that we have managed to send off a shipment of cloth to an important interior decorator in London against all these odds. Here in Djenné it is a valid excuse if nothing is done when it rains, but I have tried to explain that in London no one will have the slightest interest in Malian weather conditions or want to listen to any quaint tales about African rainy season  if the shipment is late. 
Waiting for the decision of London: any moment now the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library will send me their final decision on whether we will have another major project : two more years of funding at the Djenné Manuscript library for more digitization. If we do, the library will be quite a hub of activity with ten people working full time with both the new conservation and cataloguing project and a new major project with London too! But lets not count our eggs quite yet…

Waiting for Velcade. That is the drug that we have ordered for Keita which we hope will bring about a new remission and give him another few years. It has been ordered from France and should arrive in a couple of weeks. The treatment will take about three months, but already within a couple of weeks it should be possible to see some results if it is going to work. Meanwhile Keita is in Segou now, resting, waiting and taking painkillers. Not too ill to play cards and drink sweet Malian tea with his friends though! He was quite pleased to have beaten Khalifa just now when I spoke to him, so clearly  has  no  immediate plans to leave us just yet…
Waiting for my peanuts and whisky on the sunset terrace in an hour or so – although of course there will not be any sunset to talk of. But the approaching rain storms often give very dramatic and beautiful skies. I will be alone tonight but strangely quite happy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Good and The Bad

Keita is asleep beside me in ‘our’ hotel in Bamako, the Colibris, where we have stayed many times in the nearly ten years we have known each other. It is a Malian run hotel, which means it is different from toubab run hotels, and Keita is the first to admit to this, which is why I am allowing myself a little gentle racism here… For instance:  in a Malian run hotel there is invariably only one towel in the bathroom, even in a double room, which means one always has to go and get  another one from the reception and there are  frequently plumbing issues. Nevertheless, we like it here. We watched the inauguration of Obama in this hotel when Keita was very ill. This hotel has seen Keita in a wheelchair, and has seen him return again walking. We have had many happy times here too over the years and the staff knows us well and brings us sweet Malian tea. Now Keita is ill again, and tomorrow we are going back to the hospital Point G where we will once more see his oncologist to finally settle his treatment programme.
And meanwhile the rest of life goes on: and the rest of life is both difficult and fun at the moment: the hotel is very quiet, the MaliMali shop and business is not exactly flourishing- it doesn’t help that they have decided to dig up the road in front of the new MaliMali shop, causing impossible access problems and thereby ruining all potential trade.
 So lets get on to the fun bit: it is entirely supplied by the Djenné Manuscript Library. We are getting a new important 2 year funding for the library with something called the Gerda Henkel Stiftung in Germany who are working with Hamburg University. They will be doing conservation and cataloging finally – the areas which we have not been able to touch with our funding from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme which only deals with digitization. Now; this does have something to do with my harping on endlessly to the powers that be about how neglected we have been in Djenné in favour of the manuscripts of the more famous Timbuktu, so forgive me if I take some of the credit… There is more too; but cannot really talk about it quite yet…
I will wake up Keita now and we will have nice dinner in the garden of the hotel under 'our' great mango tree...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pfui to Destiny’s Angel: Nothing is written.

Lest it should be thought that I have succumbed to some sort of Islamic fatalism  paralyzing my actions by a belief in an inflexible predestination let me say : Pfui! Shoo! to Destiny’s Angel. That is to say: on the thorny question of predestination and free will I would be firmly on the side of the camp who says: God helps those who help themselves, or in the words of Oliver Cromwell: ‘believe in God but keep your powder dry.’ I remember the scene in my favourite film Lawrence of Arabia when Peter O’Toole responds to Ali’s  (of course played by the great Omar Sharif RIP)  fatalism in the face of what seemed like an impossible undertaking: he was suggesting he returns over the burning sand dunes to look for the man who was missing and who would certainly die. Ali said the man’s  time was up and that' it was written.' ‘Nothing is Written’ snapped O’Toole and turned his camel back into the burning desert and recovered the man.

Now it is like this: Keita is riddled with cancer. His spine looks like an Emmenthal cheese there are so many holes and there are tumours growing everywhere. His blood count of white blood cells or plasma cells are mass producing at an increasing rate, taking over and leaving no space for red blood cells which means he is totally anemic and has to be given  blood transfusions. But he is not bed ridden, he is walking around , talking and laughing and apart from being tired and from having bad pains in his back at night the cancer has not yet caused any major damage to his body’s function.
We went to the hospital in Bamako which has treated him since the beginning, and rather than coming up with a plan he was prescribed morphine. We know what that means of course: after morphine there is nothing. It seemed to us that he was being written off. As we were leaving the hospital a couple of orderlies were crossing the road before our car carrying a stretcher with a body wrapped up in a brightly coloured piece of cloth on their way to the morgue. ‘That will be me soon’ said Keita, and however much I tried to shake it off, we  both felt the deep chill of Destiny’s Angel passing over us…
But Alhamdilullah: there is Keita’s old friend the neurologist Dr. Guida Landouré, who is on our side as it were, willing to put up a fight. He also works at Point G, the hospital with  Keita’s hematology/oncology department. The three of us had an emergency meeting, and we decided that Keita should take no morphine (except in absolute emergency) and that we would find another way. So, armed with another painkiller Keita left for Segou to celebrate Eid el Fitr  -the end of Ramadan- with his other family. He will be back very early Monday morning and we will meet finally with his own proper doctor –who we did not get to see last time. Plans will be made. There are ways to combat his disease, even at this stage. If we were in Europe this would happen naturally and he would receive a new drug combination, chemotherapy and perhaps radio therapy. Once it was decided to keep fighting all looked nearly sunny again… We have been through worse times than this: seven years ago Keita was paralyzed and dying. His spine looked just as bad as it does now. But there was a way around it because we were willing to look for it.   It had perhaps  been written but we read through the lines and rewrote the page…

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Destiny’s Angel.

When  the faithful break the fast at sunset on the 27th day of Ramadan : (Laylatul-Qadr : Night of Destiny) a feast is prepared for those who have the means in order to sustain themselves for a vigil and prayer throughout the night.  It is said that during this night Allah sends his angels out over  the world; every soul is counted and everyone’s destiny is decided for the coming year.

Keita and I sat in our garden last night while the prayers and recitations of the Koran drifted across from Djenné’s faithful. The sky was filled with the sparkling abundance of stars which fill the firmament on some nights in the rainy season when the air has been washed clean and all is bright. Maybe Allah’s Angel of Destiny passed and counted us too. But his decisions are not known to humans, Alhamdillulah….

And today we drove through a smiling green Malian countryside from Djenné to Bamako (where Keita will go through some tests), catching the ferry just after sunrise, our journey this time undisturbed by any violent demonstrations of the rainy season. There was market day in Yangasso and for miles before and after we saw the loca1 farmers on their way to this weekly event in their  horse or donkey drawn carts while others travelled atop overloaded lorries.

We listened to a cavalcade of very varied music on Keita’s memory stick selection: from the fabulous Congolese Rochero Tabouley: Caflou Mayayé from the seventies: this is what real , joyous Africa sounds like to me: then on to the Algerian master smoocher Khaled with his immortal lovesong Aisha, followed by the ever charming Burkinabé Daouda Sentimentale’s   funny ballads sung in French and then suddenly Dire Straits with ‘Money for Nothing’- when that was first played on the radio it must surely have been immediately clear with the very first riff that it would be a huge and classic  hit? -U2 followed  with Desire for good s measure. I love travelling with a fine soundtrack!