Wednesday, December 28, 2016

‘L’Homme propose, Dieu dispose’

L’Homme propose, Dieu dispose’ was one of Keita’s favourite sayings. The last time he used it was when we reviewed our holiday plans in March: we had been discussing whether to go to Guinea or to the Ivory Coast in the old Mercedes, but it was suddenly becoming clear that we would no longer be going anywhere. I just looked it up: ‘The phrase "Man proposes, but God disposes" is a translation of the Latin phrase "Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit" from Book I, chapter 19, of The Imitation of Christ by the German cleric Thomas à Kempis.’ It seems that it would  have been imported by the French and is used often in Mali.                                                                                                                                                     I think it fits in quite well with the way Muslims perceive divine intervention in human affairs.
I had been planning my last Christmas in Djenné: on the 23rd of December was the 10 year anniversary of the opening of the hotel. But perhaps it was better like this: A Christmas in Djenné sans Keita is quite inconceivable.
It seems that whatever plans I have had about my future have been speedily rearranged by a power outside my own control. My plan was to leave Djenné around June, to find a nice big house in Bamako with a swimming pool and a few good rooms with en-suite bathrooms in which I would run a Bed and Breakfast. I would also continue MaliMali on the premises and  have both a studio and a little shop. Then I would travel up to Djenné every month perhaps to see the project out at the library.
This is not going to happen. I have been to my GP here in London and it had been decided that I must come back soon not only to have the heart operation but to address some serious problems with my spine. I am not to ride any more. No more promenades with Petit Bandit towards nightfall by the river.
This is not new.  It has been happening and worsening for years, but has been put in the shadow of Keita’s health problems which were much worse.

But I have nevertheless spent a lovely Christmas in London with Andrew, one of my friends who came to Mali on that first auspicious trip. We hosted Christmas Day dinner for mutual friends including the lovely Pia, our Swedish friend who also travelled with us to Mali: everyone mistook her for our daughter.  Jeremiah and David, also Mali veterans were also invited, and a few others. I made flags for the Christmas tree representing all the different nationalities present: British; Swedish, Hungarian, Austrian, Irish and Jamaican, since Andrew is a white Jamaican, born in Montego Bay, where his arrival  into this world was assisted  by  Dr. Marley, the cousin of Bob Marley’s dad.  (After such a tedious blog post once more, I am glad to have been able to slip that interesting bit of information in for some light relief.) Flying back to Mali on the 4th.

Pia and Andrew having Boxing Day Breakfast.

Monday, December 19, 2016


The telephone rang this morning at 8.30. I saw that it was the Hammersmith Hospital. 'Oh, how considerate of them' I thought as  I lifted the telephone to my ear to reply. It was today that I were to have my Ablation, a small intervention on the heart, to make it beat normally again.
Frequent readers of this journal may remember that the day after Keita's death, on the day of his funeral the 27th of March, I suddenly developed this heart condition which means that the heart beats with a strange irregular rhythm, which has been kept under control with medication for the last months.
But the phone call  wasn't to tell me to get up and to get ready for my 11 o'clock appointment at the hospital. It was to tell me that it had been cancelled. They had had an unusually large number of people coming in during the night with very serious heart conditions so therefore my non-urgent intervention had been postponed because all the beds were taken.
I am only in the UK for this reason.  This operation has already been cancelled and rescheduled a  few weeks ago which made it necessary for me  to cancel all my Christmas plans in Djenné- Birgit was coming out and maybe Andrea from Brazil. We were going to have our last Christmas together with all the usual  Djenné trimmings, only  sans Keita... There was going to be the 100 cataract operations in his memory for Christmas and his family was coming to Djenne from Bamako and Segou. But no: I had to reschedule everything and change my airline ticket at large cost. But of course I realized that it had to be done so I made the arrangements and the ticket was changed to the 4th of January.
And now I was told that this new arrangement also had to be changed! They just told me that I would receive a letter with a new appointment. Of course I cannot stay here indefinitely just waiting for an appointment. I am staying a few days here and a few days there with kind friends. My own flat is let.
I have many people in Djenné who are waiting for me to arrive so they get paid: at the library, at the the studio at the the hotel!
I told the clerk at the Hammersmith Hospital  that the new appointment will have to be in April (when I always go to Europe for a couple of months anyway) because  I have to go back to West Africa to see to my work. I have investigated the situation and I am entitled to treatment on the National Health Service here because I am working on a contract through the British Library. I even have a letter from them to this effect so there is no problem about that side of things.
I understand that they are over-stretched and that the NHS are in a crisis situation, therefore I am loath to really complain about my treatment- I have always received a very fine service from them, not least  last year when my amoebic dysentery crisis was dealt with so well by the Tropical Diseases Unit at UCH.
But this new drama is very unfortunate and I feel totally flattened by it. I will have spent nearly two months in Europe to virtually no avail... But I will try and see the sunny side of this. I have managed to arrange my new British Passport, I have spent some peaceful time with my mother and step father and I have made some new friends and enjoyed the company of old and dear friends... all that is not in vain of course.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adventures in Northumberland

The idea of not being totally in control and not quite knowing what is around the corner has always held a certain appeal for  me and I suppose I have chosen to conduct my life so that there is a good measure of surprise and chance involved. This applies mainly to my interactions with other people and I think I used to like having  a hotel because there were always interesting unknown people turning up at the hotel in the good old days.

A very long time ago before I had a hotel in Djenné I went to a party in London and the conversation turned to motorcycles. The chap on my right said that he had once won a motorcycle whilst playing poker in Ibiza. ‘And where is it now?’ I asked. ‘Well; that is the thing’, he replied. ‘I have never seen it. It is a Moto Guzzi Lemans Mark 11’ he added casually. Now, as everyone who is at all into motorcycles knows, this is a Prince amongst vintage bikes.  ‘It is in Glasgow’ he continued, ‘and I have never got around to picking it up’. I had just passed my motorcycle driving test in London so I said: ‘I tell you what: why don’t you buy me an air ticket to Glasgow and I will pick up your Lemans and drive it to London?’ He agreed and before I knew it I was on my way, clad in leather and clutching my helmet on the commuter plane to Glasgow.
But before I left I spoke to my friend the jewellery designer Neville and he said: ‘If you are in Scotland you must visit my friends ...... and ...... in Edinburgh. They will be delighted to put you up for the night. Here is their telephone number, just tell them you are a friend of Neville’s.’So I decided to go back to London via Edinburgh and I called them up: ‘Hello! My name is Sophie and I am a friend of Neville’s’. ‘Who is Neville?’ came the reply in a pleasant Edinburgh brogue. ‘Well, he is a friend of Duncan’s, you know the one with the red beard, the painter’. ‘Never heard of him' said my potential host. ‘Oh, really?’ I was becoming rather crestfallen and had started giggling. ‘But never mind about Duncan, what is it you want?’ continued the Scot. ‘Well, Neville told me you wouldn’t mind putting me up for the night’.... ‘Oh he did, did he?’ Giggles on both sides of the phone by this stage. Well I can’t see why not. We have a dinner party tonight but we can always make another place at the table. ‘And he gave me the address.
It turned out to be in one of those glorious grey stone Edinburgh Georgian town houses. The dinner was sumptuous and the company was thrilling and fun. I was given a lovely room. The following morning I left on the Lemans, my hosts waving energetically on the doorstep, not knowing who I was and I myself not having any idea where I had been and very happy to keep it that way.

There were often people at the hotel with whom I had brief but deep conversations. They sometimes said to me. If you’re ever visiting Avignon/Vienna/Lyon/Montpellier/Northumberland etc you must pop in and see us.
Sometimes they kept in touch, often via this blog with the occasional comments etc. Because I saw so many people all the time in the heyday of the hotel it was sometimes difficult to remember exactly who the people were who sent me messages. So when I decided to go and visit Monique and Pascal in Lyon I was not quite certain that I wasn’t mixing them up with Brigitte and Jean-Paul from Avignon. But as soon as I got off the train and saw them, I remembered of course and I spent the most wonderful time trabouling and frequenting the Bouchons of Lyon with them. . The same thing happened just now. Mary has been a frequent commentator on this blog since she and her husband John  were at the hotel in 2012, when it was already regarded as out of bounds by the foreign office warning sites. They had been the only ones at the hotel and they had visited with another couple, having dinner but sitting at another table with their friends while Keita and I were apparently dining at a table next to them. This scenario now seems so idyllic to me... We did also manage some Djenne Djenno cocktails on the roof and some conversation it appears.
And now, four years later, I have visited them on their farm in Northumberland!  I am on my way down to London on a faulty train and will alas miss the funeral of my dear friend Sara...
But have had a lovely, muddy time on their 500 Acre farm just south of the Scottish border. John and Mary’s son George, an astonishing six foot seven handsome giant with a large black beard took me around the estate on a sort of muddy mini jeep to see all the wonders, which included Limousin bulls that looked absolutely terrifyingly dangerous, and they were too, as George assured me. I couldn’t help thinking how some people, like MNH Gillis takes on a resemblance of the animals with which they have a close affinity: Gillis looks like the elks he used to hunt and care for all his life. And George? Well...
Mary and John and I went to the island of Lindisfarne in order to count their cows as soon as I arrived. (John above with me at Lindisfarne). During a couple of months a year they keep about ninety cows and the same amount of sheep on the island to graze- it is necessary to keep down the vegetation and prepare the ground for the rare orchids that grow on this island in the spring, where Henry VIII smashed up the ancient Abbey where the Lindisfarne Gospels had been written many centuries ago.
At night we had lovely farmhouse fare thrown together by Mary seemingly effortlessly. I met some of their friends, an accomplished bunch of artists and writers/ organic millers who were active in the area on the side of the angels, i/e campaigning for wind power mills etc.  Then the music-loving John played me Karkar on the Spotify (music was one of the reasons they went to Mali) before we started jumping up and down frenetically to Morrison Hotel...All in all a Very Fun Time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Flooded out in Islington

 I arrived back from a pleasant week in Sweden with my mother and MNH (Mother's New Husband, or Gillis, my lovely step father) to spend a few days with my old friends Cressida and Paul at Angel Islington.  They had arranged for an adventurous time for me, knowing how easily bored I am. After a chatty and jolly but  relatively conventional evening on Sunday, the fun started at 6am the following morning with excessive  banging on front doors in the street below and loud shouting which we took to be the boisterous  arrival of some neighbour who had been over-indulging at a pre-Christmas party.
But then we heard something that sounded like a waterfall and at closer inspection it turned out that Charlton Place (one of the streets off this main road above) had turned into a rapidly
 flowing  knee deep river and it was the Police and the fire brigade that were banging on people's doors to evacuate everyone. A mains water pipe had burst on Upper Street and some time earlier than the above picture was taken a geyser higher than the buildings had been gushing forth.
We were all helped to ford the rapids, held by the hand by police officers and escorted to a local pub, the Steam Passage, where the kind land lord had opened up his doors and was busy serving tea to all the evacuees. Here are  Paul and I drying our feet. At the next table sat Cressida's neighbour, Karen Armstrong the well known writer on religious affairs.

We were offered alternative accommodation at the local Hilton Hotel courtesy of Thames Water, who were regarded as the villains in this catastrophy: they did not arrive on the scene until about 10 in the morning when the gushing water was  finally stopped  and the damage could begin to be assessed. By that stage millions of pounds worth of of damage had been caused in the basement floors of the expensive houses in this well heeled neighbourhood.
But it was interesting to see something like this unfold in London and to try to imagine what would happen in Mali in a similar sort of disaster situation- it  happens all too frequently of course. One had to admire the efficiency of the emergency services and the comfort of a highly developed Western society: there were loss adjusters arriving  on site from  the early morning and every one who had been involved will of course be able to claim insurance. How different it would have looked in Mali where insurance hardly exists and where everyone would have taken the blow with the knowledge that it was the will of Allah ...