Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Embarrass de Richesses

Considering this is supposed to be my final days here, and that by now  I expected to be  wrapping up my life in Djenné in a spirit of melancholiaI instead continue to be swept up in one absorbing event after another.  The hotel is having plenty of visitors: last weekend Eva arrived from Bamako with a team of Swedish UN officers.

She had finally been able to organize this visit, after much difficulty with the Swedish Foreign Office.  We had a lovely time and were amazingly well looked after of course by the diligent soldiers who took three hour night passes to patrol the hotel and
grounds, and even included my land and the house where I sleep.

Eva visited the library of course, and later we had the traditional Djenné Djenno cocktails on the roof at sunset. Then at night after our dinner we had the comfortable chairs put out in the garden and rigged up a film viewing under the starry sky lit by the full moon.  And what did we see? The African Queen!

I was able to take advantage of their air conditioned armour-plated 4X4s and got a blissfully comfortable lift to Bamako where I had been invited to take part in a UNESCO conference on the protection of cultural heritage in zones of conflict- the concluding part of the conference I had attended in Timbuktu. Once in Bamako I moved in to Alice Walpole’s Residence (the British Ambassador) where I met up with Nicholas Mellor – and later Axel- two  of my  three Musqueteers: (see blog a Cavalcade below) who had come out from England to take part in the conference and also to try to finally get up to Djenné to complete their aborted attempt to map the Djenné-Djenno archaeological site and the town of Djenné by drones.

The conference was, like all conferences I should think, a mixture of the tedious and the fascinating, as the various delegates presented their contributions. One participant was everything but boring: the wonderful little Dominican friar Fr Najeeb Michaeel from Mosul, Irak (above with me and Hawa Touré of the Fondo Kati library Timbuktu ). He described how he had saved thousands of priceless manuscripts from ISIS, just days before the Jihadists arrived in Mosul. He joined us for lunch and on the second day Alice the British Ambassador also turned up, providing  much needed credibility and cudos to me and the Djenné Manuscript Library by supporting the British Library Project there - we tend to get forgotten sometimes. Fr Najeeb said grace in his mother tongue Aramaic, the language of Christ!

There is something quite amazing cooking with the owners of three Major Timbuktu manuscript libraries: the ones that stayed in Timbuktu and hid their manuscripts in situ during the Jihadist occupation.  The rest joined Abdel Kadeer Haidara’s famous rescue mission when hundreds of thousands of manuscripts were removed from the occupied Timbuktu. These three remaining library owners have asked me if I can’t try and organize something with the EAP- the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library- since we are now wrapping up the projects in Djenné. This is of course a very exciting idea....UNESCO is organizing a ticket for me to fly up to Timbuktu again on the UN plane  to try and sort out our proposal by the end of March. If something goes ahead maybe this will enable me to get back to Mali now and then...

There was a lovely birthday dinner in Bamako given for me by Eva whose chef Denis had made me a strawberry and cream birthday cake, and now I will have to become an unbearable name dropper for which I apologize profusely but there was an Embarrass de Richesses of Ambassadors  present because the very nice Paul Folmsbee, American Ambassador to Mali also joined Alice and Eva...and of course Axel and Nicholas were there too.

And finally, this weekend I once more went to Djenné in the comfort of an embassy vehicle: this time it was Alice who had also been successful, finally, in persuading her Foreign Office that it was OK to let her travel to Djenné: she came escorted by two armed officers but her people were in civilian clothing. Axel and Nicholas finally managed to finish their mission and Alice did marvels for the prestige of the Manuscript Library with the local officials.  In the end all ended up  well in the best of all possible worlds...


Blogger Susan said...

You have been through such a lot; it's wonderful to see this report of so many good things tumbling in one after the other. A belated happy birthday to you, as well!

2:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

How enriching that you met the good man who saved the manuscripts in Iraq. A rich time indeed. It can't be that you are really tying things up, can it? I can no more believe it than I can get my head around Trump being US President...

9:22 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Thank you both, dear friends!
Yes, it is amazing what comes tumbling in... I am sort of going with the river's flow, guessing what bits of the rapidly flowing flotsam I am supposed to be grabbing on to in order to try to build up what is coming next. It is a helter-skelter ride but so far I seem to be holding on Alhamdilullah!

9:47 AM  
Blogger mary said...

And long may you cling on and enjoy every moment of your exciting new ventures. It very much sounds like the dawning of a new era for you in Mali not the end of your time there at all. Thank goodness, because how would we all manage without our Djenne missives?

10:10 PM  

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