Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Moder Svea

The two last months in Bamako have been high drama with elements of a life and death nature: only a month or so ago we thought that Keita was slipping away, and then, not to be robbed of the limelight I added my own on-going health crisis. And throughout all this the Swedish Embassy Residence with Eva as its lovely chatelaine has been our privileged setting- a great consolation in the midst of our tribulations.
Eva has, without being conscious of it, reintroduced me to my Swedishness. I left Sweden when I was seventeen years old and have never lived there since. I call her ‘Moder Svea’ which is something that only Swedes will understand: for Brits it might be Boadicea and for the French Marianne? The ‘Mother of the Nation.’ I am sure the many Swedish UN soldiers that pass through here and partake of her lavish receptions for Lucia; Valborgsmassoafton and other Swedish events would agree with me happily with this choice of nickname for Eva who is warm; friendly; generous  as well as a passionate believer in Democracy, particularly the Swedish type.
We watched Swedish films, including a biopic of Olof Palme -our great albeit flawed national hero- as well as a whole plethora of excellent and very violent thrillers set in glorious Swedish landscapes, such as the two films ‘Jagarna’ (the Hunters). When Keita was with us we sometimes watched films about Algeria where Eva was ambassador in her previous posting.  Then Sotis, Eva’s majestic black cat would sit purring on Keita’s lap.
Eva is a great cook, a gourmet and a gourmand.  She has seen to it that I am reintroduced to all the great classics of Swedish cuisine: Biff à la Lindstrom for instance was one great dish that I had forgotten all about. In the picture above she is showing something Algerian though: Orange au Sultan.
We have drunk wine in lovely glasses with three crowns etched  in the crystal while we have listened to Swedish folk music in jazz interpretation; we have talked about just about everything: often about our childhood memories of Sweden in the sixties and early seventies. 
.We have floated around in her beautiful swimming pool at the weekends where we have talked, planned interesting parties and laughed a lot. There seemed to be an inexhaustible fountain of  stimulating, fascinating, important and even just ordinary fun things to talk about.
There was only one sensitive subject matter: Eva is of course, as she should be, wholeheartedly behind the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA)-with over 200 Swedish UN soldiers in the Camp Nobel just outside Timbuktu. The Malian people however are to some extent skeptical of the UN’s presence and there reigns a sullen mistrust of intentions: to the extent that there have been anti MINUSMA demonstrations in Bamako. ‘What are they actually DOING?’ asks the ordinary Malian. I have been in Mali long enough to be almost an ordinary Malian... The one and only argument we had during the whole two months related to this subject and to recent Malian history, a painful area for me. 
 I have now finally left Bamako and both Keita and will treasure that two months interlude at Eva’s, even though both of us, by some strange twist of fate, have been through serious illness during this time- it is a very good place to be sick...

So here I find myself in London, still unwell but armed with some optimism and faith in the National Health Service’s ability to sort me out. It seems that my hopes are not unfounded. I listened to the advice of several friends who suggested that I go to the walk-in clinic at The Hospital of Tropical Diseases in order to rule out any possibility of some sort of parasite still lingering. They have taken me on wholeheartedly. The young doctor ( “Hello! I am Emma”) looks about eighteen but is certainly keen and energetic:  all tests possible have been taken and a CT scan is booked for tomorrow.  Emma called me the day after my consultation and told me that they had found a parasite: entamoeba, (which means that I have amoebic dysentery) so I am now yet again being treated with more or less the same sort of antibiotics that I was  treated  with when I was told I had guiardia.  Oh well, I do think I am in good hands and that they will get to the bottom of it, if anyone will. And all of this is for free! God Bless the National Health Service. I get very upset with people who complain about it...
Meanwhile Keita is still doing well,  going to Bamako again in a day or so for his third cycle of Velcade treatments. The hotel has actually got some guests and  all to do with activities at the manuscript library: an American conservation expert has flown out for four days of intensive training of the staff as part of the new project- I am trying to let all this happen without worrying.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Martial Methods

 Is a good place in Bamako as in so many cities around the world- Keita and I have happy memories from Dakar last January for instance. In Bamako the Institute has a concert venue and a  good restaurant and is the centre of many interesting cultural activities. I am a fan of 
L’Institut, although just now we have had a little malentendu:

I have what seems like mountains to climb before my departure, and thankfully I am feeling strong enough for at least a couple of hours in the morning to try and achieve what is necessary. My tasks have to do with the library or sometimes also the hotel which will remain open in my absence. My very dear –and kind- cousin Pelle once gave me a book called ‘The Art of Being Kind”. I have tried to study this book and to learn from it, but to no avail. I am chronically unable to be kind and patient. The book argues from a utilitarian point of view: one gets better results by being kind. I am afraid experience has told me that in certain cases this is just not true. Just take my quarrel with L’Institut Français in the last few days as a pertinent example: The Institut Français was co-sponsors of the recent conference in Djenné which was held in the Djenné Museum. (picture last blog post) . The speakers at the conference stayed at Hotel Djenné Djenno and were supposed to pay their bill as they left the hotel with money that they had been given by the Institut. One of the speakers stayed for two days and when he left he did not pay his bill saying that he had not had any money yet and that the Institut would pay the hotel directly. Meanwhile I had left for Bamako and left all business in the hands of Samake and Baba- emails winged their way backwards and forwards and a promise was obtained from the Institut that they would be paying the bill the next day through telephone money transfer to Baba at the hotel, if the bill was scanned and sent- this was duly done. Something was now wrong with the bill- no problem, they  sent another with the correct wording, but no money was forthcoming.  
This was a few days ago: last night Baba had still not had any money. I now sent an email asking them politely to send immediately the money as per the agreement. I received a long and complicated response back about how it was after all not possible for them to pay the bill since the conference speaker had already been give some of his money etc etc. And he would have to pay the bill himself. Now, I am leaving for London on Monday. Baba is in need of money at the hotel. I cannot be kind and patient and wait for something to happen here. Therefore I wrote an irate email informing the accountancy staff at the Institut that I was thoroughly fed up with this situation and that I was arriving the following morning to collect the money in person.
When I arrived this morning I was in a combative mood but started out nevertheless with a smile on my face as I explained to the lady in charge of the Institut that I had come for my money. This lady told me that she had found my attitude in last night’s email ‘très desagréable’. ’Madame’, I countered, ‘it is très simple’: If people pay their bills I am charm personified.  However, if   people don’t pay their  bills I do indeed become  very disagreeable.’
She took me to the accountancy department where I explained the situation to the employee in charge of the case. This lady started giving me a long winded explanation about the impossibility of giving me the money.  I replied that I was not interested in hearing what she was saying but that I was simply interested in picking my money up in cash there and then. I added that I had no intention of  moving from my chair until the money arrived, and that I had no other tasks for  the day. If they had any objections to my plan they could call in the Gendarmes to have me removed.
Now, this actually worked. Within 3 minutes an older French lady  (who I assumed to be the big accountancy boss) arrived and asked me simply the amount I needed. Then she returned immediately with an envelope with the cash for which I was asked to sign.  It was as simple as that! So Pelle, sorry, if I had been kind and patient I would not have been able to send the money to Baba this morning- he would not be able to start the all important repair work necessary  at the hotel: sometimes only martial  tactics work!
Well, as the above indicates, I am perhaps already well on my way to becoming a monster as feared in my previous entry. But I have no regrets about my behaviour at all!

And what else?

The tests from Germany have finally come back and this morning I had a consultation with the Professor at the private clinic here where they looked after me for a few days in September. He thinks I should definitely go back to Europe and try to regain my hea1th: it seems that I have something called Chron’s disease.

Meanwhile Keita has just had his last treatment this time around (more to follow in a couple of weeks) and he is going from strength to strength. This makes it easier for me to leave of course for a two month period.