Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

So ended the last missive. But things are not so rosy if one dares to look at the other side of the coin...All is not well in Djenné.
Alice made a courtesy visit to the Prefect of Djenné, and I accompanied her. He was quite open about the present precarious situation. “The insecurity is creeping ever closer to Djenné”, he admitted.  There was an attack on the Carrefour about a week ago. The scenario seems to be the same at every attack in the neighbouring villages: a handful of youths arrive on mopeds and start shooting at a guard post of Gendarmes from a distance. This time there were four attackers. The six gendarmes all fled, leaving their weapons for the attackers to pick up. Having helped themselves to the weapons they then burned whatever they could set light to and disappeared.
The targets are always Malian soldiers or anyone employed by the Malian state such as teachers. The schools in Tenekou and Mourha have closed a long time ago now. But the closer villages, such as Maman’s home village Tabato, and the town of Mounia at about 40 k from Djenné have both just closed their schools a couple of weeks ago. The teachers have been threatened: “ If you don’t leave we will come and kill you”. These are teachers who are not from the area, they have been placed there as civil servants and a far from their homes. It is no wonder if they leave if the Malian state cannot protect them by sending well trained soldiers and Gendarmes.
The attacks in Central Mali and in and around Djenné are not directed against foreigners at the moment at least. But they are very demoralizing for the population and the Malian state seems to do nothing about the fact that a large proportion of school children no longer have schools to go to.
And in Djenné itself the continued lack of tourists is taking a very heavy toll on the very fabric of the town- the mud buildings are crumbling for lack of maintenance. On my walk around town with Alice I noticed that even very important buildings like the historic ones next to the village chief’s are in a very bad state of repair. And I know that one of the Trois Foyers: the three houses of the Moroccan ruler in the heart of Djenné has partially collapsed. Babou Touré, its owner explained to me why it is more difficult to keep the houses in good repair now. “In the old days the neighbours all helped each other with the yearly ‘crepissage’ (mud plastering). The rice husks from the rice harvest were saved and for free. But now  no one will work for free anymore, and the rice husks are no longer for free. Everyone has to have a smart phone and a moped and satellite TV, and that is all expensive so everyone wants money for even the smallest favour.”
Of course there is also the sense that mud is the past and cement is the future; and there is no revenue coming in through tourism to justify the continuation of mud building.
But there are also other forces involved it seems. One would almost say a wilful destruction  of the mud façades. How could one otherwise explain that the town's newly aquired solar pannelled street lights are being installed with out any consideration whatsoever to aesthetics or even practicality? Here is one that has literally destroyed the mud façade of one of the Djenné houses!


Just to end this Jeremiad on a sad but rather comical note, I went to the post office yesterday. The post office is one of the civic buildings that is totally crumbling. Inside I had to shout for some time before the post master turned up, yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Is there any post for B.P. 40?”.  I asked. “Yes, he said, “there are some letters. “ Then he asked me if I had paid my postal subscription for the box (there is no box actually, one just says the number). Of course I had not. “But if you give me a receipt I will pay you now” I said. He arrived with a large dusty ledger which he opened. The last entry was in 2014. And the one before was in 2013. And they were both to me! We now came to an arrangement:
“Since I am the only person in Djenné to ever pay my subscription, I think you should deliver my post to me!” I suggested, rather forcefully. “Yes”, he agreed meekly. “I will do that!”.



Blogger David said...

Quite a bombshell after all you've maintained about Djenne. I'd seriously recommend that you move your centre of operations to Bamako, if you're still thinking of remaining in Mali. Prends garde!

4:33 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

I still maintain that nothing has ever happened in Djenné. And I don't think that toubabs are threatened at the moment, as I said. Anyway, I will be leaving as you know, although not really because I am worried for my safety.

4:55 PM  
Blogger mary said...

Another reflective account of life as it really is. Do you consider yourself a photo journalist, I wonder? So sad about the mud buildings, the change in attitudes about helping each other out but worst of all those poor children who are no longer able to go to school. I am relieved that you feel no threat and long may it continue to be so. Take care. FYI:Those beautiful big cows you saw on Holy Island are now having their calves back here on the farm. And George has bought another bull but I have not yet seen it to check out the resemblance.

9:54 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Ah! what an idyllic place that is! What lovely memories from Lindisfarne; the Holy Island and also your lovely farm...
Much love to you all!

10:19 PM  
Blogger Pascal et Monique said...

So sad... Fais attention à toi! Aucune rationalité dans ces actes de violences... qui peuvent donc toucher n'importe qui, n'importe quand. Mais il faut reconnaitre que notre monde, dans son ensemble, est bien vulnérable! Et on ne peut pas y échapper! Il va falloir s'habituer à vivre avec! Tu es peut-être quand meme encore un peu plus exposée en étant à Djenné. So sad!...

12:33 PM  
Blogger naniepat said...

Hello Sophie,
So sad te read this post. We missed you when we came last November and as from what I understand, you may not be there anymore when we will come next Novembre? We hope your health problems are resolving and that anyway you feel better. We keep very good memories from Djenné-Djenno and will regret it if we cannot pass by anymore.
Amitiés. Annie and Michel Patureau

8:35 AM  

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