Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ala Ka Hine A La

Keita left us yesterday afternoon  at one thirty.
May the Lord welcome him into the land of the living.
Rest in Peace Oumar Keita, Mandé Massa.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Watching with Keita

On Sunday I became increasingly worried about Keita who was slipping into a sort of semi slumber at Eva's. I finally called Guida Landouré who came over to take a look and it was decided that he should go to be hospitalised at Point G, the large hospital on the hill overlooking Bamako where we have had so many encounters with his oncologist  Dr Touré over the last seven years. Guida occupies a senior position in the Neurology department so he was able to cut any red tape and  installed us directly but provisionally for the night into  his air conditioned consultation room. I had asked him whether he did not think the time had come to inform his other wife Mai and the rest of his family of the gravity of the situation and this time he agreed.

Keita is receiving transfusions of blood plasma, platelets and concentrated blood around the clock but at the same time this precious life source is escaping from him in an unstoppable nose bleed. He is very tired but  hangs onto life with all his considerable strength. He is slipping in and out of a semi unconscious state, but sometimes he says poignant short sentences which may  be dreams or may be meant to be taken at face value. He suddenly looked at me and said, in Bambara: 'Why do you not have confidence in me?' He never speaks Bambara to me. Did he really mean what he said? Another time he said, again in Bambara: 'We will have to start cultivating on the new land". Which land? He did not say : I take it to be our land in Djenné and it is right we must plant some new mango trees at least.
Keita's numerous Bamako family are now all mobilized- many have given blood  and at any time there is at least three or four cousins and sisters with Keita as well as Mai and myself. He has now been moved into  a new comfortable  VIP room which has  been arranged for him by his family.

Guida has stayed  until midnight both nights and Cheik Oumar, Keitas young nephew has been close by us and stayed the night to help. We continue to hold Keita, try and wipe and stop the blood as best as we can, we pray and they read things from the Koran, while I read the 23rd psalm,  say the Lord's prayer or a Hail Mary or I too join in with

La Ilahai LaLaa
Aish Ha Du Anna Mohammed Rasu Luu Lai  
( There is but one God and Mohammed is his Prophet.)

There seems to be little point of arguing the finer points of religious differences right now...

I have been resting for a few hours at Eva's an will return to Point G now, and this night Mai will also stay by his side.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Sorceress of Timbuktu

Life in Africa is as always a breakneck medley between the unbearable and the joyous; the ridiculous and the sublime, between clarity and incomprehension; hope and despair, to mention just a few of the emotions one is likely to encounter on a normal African day. 
These feelings have been exacerbated lately with Keita’s state of health. Before I left for Djenné he was bleeding from the nose and in a very precarious situation. I left only reluctantly because I had to see to certain things in the MaliMali studio and I had promised to give a helping hand to the German film crew who were to film a re-enactment in Djenné of the saving of the Timbuktu Manuscripts. We headed north last Monday in the comfort of their hired air-conditioned bus.

Four days followed cram-packed with activity. At the studio we managed to finish the important fabric order for the interior decorator in Amsterdam; I assisted in the organizing of the shoot as a liaison person with the library where some scenes were shot of Yelpha and Garba the archivists taking manuscripts from the shelves  and placing them in boxes, pretending to be saving them in a hurry from the threat of the Jihadists. On the second day I had the joyous news from Keita in Bamako  that he had stopped bleeding and that he felt better, so I was able to take part in the activities with a lighter heart and enjoy these four days  and starlit evenings once more. One night we rigged up a sheet as a film screen, and Samake found us a digital projector so the team was able show us their brand new, as yet unreleased, film Mali Blues after dinner with a few invited guests, making Djenne the unofficial World premiere.
 On the second  day we were joined  by another couple of team members amongst whom was Kettly Noel, the unforgettable mad sorceress of the film Timbuktu who turned out to be a charming Haitian-born lady living in Bamako, a choreographer as well as actress on her way to an assignment with a theatre in Stockholm this spring where inshallah we shall meet again.

The idea of the film director Lutz Gregor was that Kettly was the voice of the film: she was supposed to find out about these Malian manuscripts. To this end they had her visit the Marabout Alpha Issa Kanta in his home which is also a Koran school. He is the most important manuscript owner in Djenné who has given many hundreds of manuscripts into the safekeeping of the Djenné Manuscript Library. She was seen asking him to give her some manuscripts to read in order to understand the scope of the manuscripts.
Now, this is where it became slightly tricky. I had been asked to find out through Saadou, our new manuscript specialist at the library, if we had any texts to do with the equality of the sexes; anything to do with tolerance between religions or anything that would present  Islam in a favourable light in the opinion of the German television audience. The problem is that there are very few such texts in the Malian manuscripts. We have hardly any and  the case is the same with the manuscripts of Timbuktu, although UNESCO and various other bodies have wanted to present the Malian manuscripts as some sort of font of enlightenment that suits our Western sensibilities. There are plenty of fascinating things to find out from the manuscripts, but if one has already decided what one is supposed to find, it is not always possible...
Saadou managed to find something about children born out of wedlock being able to be allowed into Paradise: that was about as enlightened as it was going to get. 

I tried to be helpful and suggested one thing which might be interesting for Kettly to browse through for the German TV audience: the pre-Islamic poet Imroul Kiss, known to readers of this journal already -see November 2012.
The director was very enthusiastic about this so he had me translating into French (the film is shot in French and local languages: Bambara, Tamachek etc.) the English text that Mohammed had already translated for me from the Arabic of the manuscript  we have in the library.  I did it of course but with a sense of the inappropriate, that I was treading on ground that was not made for me. I got up early on the day of the filming, hoping fervently that there was never ever going to be any literary experts on Imroul Kiss amongst the German TV audience...
And above she is pictured, the sorceress of Timbuktu, on the shores of the Bani by Djenné declaiming my dodgy Imroul Kiss translation:

Mon amour pour toi  est comme une grande Fleuve qui suit son cours à jamais. Laisse ton amour pour moi devenir le même ! Ne me repousse pas !  Laisse-moi t’approcher !
Cette nuit est comme une grande Fleuve qui suit son cours tandis que je suis accablé par mes douleurs. A mesure que la nuit s’avance ma peine grandit.
Ah, Nuit ! Va t'en ! Que l’aube vienne! Ton obscurité et l’immobilité de tes étoiles  m’accablent .
Peut etre l’aube va annoncer à nouveau la joie dans mon cœur.

 I returned to Bamako today after four days with the film crew and tonight Keita and I are once more together at Eva’s, in her absence. He is weak but stable.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Once more at Eva's

Writing this from Eva’s again. She has left for a holiday but with her customary kindness she is letting us stay anyway so in the middle of our crisis it is at least impossible to think of a better place to be: Denis, her gourmet chef is even on hand to whip together anything we desire to eat. 
  Keita is resting beside me in the guest room. The blood values were still very low at the last test, regardless of the growth factor injections which seemed to have made no difference. But Dr. Touré says the effect may be delayed so not to give up hope yet and Keita has had yet more blood and plasma transfusions in the last days. The plan is now to do a blood test once more on Monday and have a consultation on Tuesday morning with Dr. Touré. We still hang on to a small hope that he might be able to start the all important medication then.
But Keita is bleeding slowly but seemingly unstoppably from the nose and he is getting weaker. He is very patient and bears it all with incredible grace and dignity. I on the contrary am a pretty bad nurse and get quite anguished and annoyed with him when he insists in blowing his nose forcibly thereby increasing the blood flow.

There is an unspoken sense that we are reaching the point where nothing more can be done. Yesterday morning when I was looking through his bag for something he needed I found his passport which I noticed was long past its date of expiry  and I mentioned this to him. “Yes I know” he replied quietly. “But it doesn’t matter any more does it.” 

I  look at his beautiful face and his familiar shape resting next to me, and hear him breathing calmly as he is slipping into slumber. Once again I reflect without being able to comprehend it  that one day soon he will probably be gone. Gone? Ceased to exist? How can that be possible? Once again I remember the brilliant title of that Damien Hirst piece: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Somebody Living. 
 Should we give up hope? When does one give up hope and when is it appropriate to talk about the end? Should one talk about it? I know only that it has to come from Keita himself.

Meanwhile if it is possible to leave him  I will have to go to Djenné again on Monday but returning on the following Friday. Keita will go once more to stay with his Bamako family. I am going to accompany a German  film crew who are going to stay at the hotel while they are filming a documentary re-enactment of the saving of the Timbuktu manuscripts which were taken down to Bamako surreptitiously by varied means during the Jihadist occupation of the North. They do not feel it is safe to go and film it in Timbuktu so they have decided to do it in Djenné instead. This does give me an opportunity to travel in some comfort once more and to do some overseeing of the work in the MaliMali studio where the two big  orders for the interior decorators are taking shape I hope. It is both comforting and deeply disturbing to me  that life must go on and does go on even while a drama of life and death is taking place simultaneously.

Monday, March 07, 2016

What shall we say?

"Cheri, what do you think we should say to the people that are following our fortunes? I need to write something, some people care about us and about your state of health".
I am speaking to Keita who is lying next to me, resting,  in the guest room at Eva's once more. I came back from Djenné yesterday courtesy of the lovely 4X4 of Sidi, the Dogon guide/ chauffeur who accompanies the people who are involved in the library project. This time it was Maria Louisa, the Italian Conservator who is involved with our new conservation/cataloging project at the Djenné Manuscript Library who had spent three days working with me and the library staff, staying at Hotel Djenné Djenno.  I was very glad to be able to be included in the return trip to Bamako- it certainly was a lot less challenging than a bus journey...

I had spent a few nice days in Djenné while Keita remained in Bamako in the bosom of his family  continuing with his growth factor  injections. I needed to oversee some work in the studio and at the same time providence had arranged for  a number of interesting people at the hotel: there was Hans the Dutch/Swedish entrepreneur who comes every year, as well as a nice young Belgian  chap and there was Andrea of course. We had lingering dinners under the stars and for some reason this combination of people made for a very jolly time with much laughter ...although always there is the shadow of Keita's illness which returns to my mind every few minutes.

I returned to Bamako refreshed and found Keita about the same as when I left him: he is very weak and  he has now finished the injections to try and kick-start his blood count. Tomorrow he will make a new blood test to see whether he will finally be able to start the Indian medicine....
"Well" said Keita. "Remember that the picture was hanging at a favourable angle last time at La Senegalaise. You could always say that.?"
 He too has caught my idea that somehow the picture is a barometer of our fortunes.. And indeed, it has looked worse at times in the past.