Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Last Days?

Back from a whistle stop trip to Timbuktu once more: this time a helicopter took me and a group of about twenty UN soldiers from Burkina Faso and Senegal to the fabled desert city from Sevaré. I was excited like a child at a fun fair and couldn’t stop grinning all the hour and a half it took us to arrive, flying quite low over the semi desert where a surprising and confusing amount of silver waterways glittered in the sun: not all connected to the Niger it seemed.

 I went to Timbuktu once more in order to try and negotiate with the three manuscript libraries who had asked me to try and help them to find funding for digitization. London had given me until the last day of March to put a proposal together to the endangered Archives Programme and meanwhile another funding body had shown interest: the Hills Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota who already sponsors the digitization effort underway in Bamako with the manuscripts of Timbuktu that were removed during the Jihadist occupation.
Three intense days in Timbuktu and the appropriate papers signed as well as the all important proposal sent off, I was once more back in Djenne last night. Although I will no longer live in Mali, the project in Timbuktu may bring me back a few times a year, inshallah...

I am acutely aware that these are some of my last days living my old life here: in fact there are only two weeks left. Yes, I will be back in June, as always, but only to pack up and close.
I am beset with problems: ‘what will happen to Petit Bandit?’ is just one of the urgent questions that is keeping me awake at night and have to be solved somehow. I can’t sell him.

There is quite a lively horse trade here in the neighbourhood of Djenné, but the horses are all used to pull carts. My poor ‘Petit’ has never had to work in that way for a living and wouldn’t understand, so they would beat him. I have contemplated having him put down, but that too is of course unheard of here. But today we arrived at an answer to this one problem at least: my old friend Haidara the horseman and marabout came to visit. I offered him to take on Petit Bandit, and he was happy to accept. No money will change hands: I will even give him my saddle and bridle. But I know that Haidara will look after him because he too loves horses. On the 13th of April, the day before I leave for Bamako and Europe, I will ride him over to Haidara’s...

Today three people have spoken to me of their fears for the future. I do not think I am exaggerating when I see real fear of hunger in their eyes. Dembele has already spoken to me about his situation: he doesn’t sleep at night for worry. How will he feed his family? And today came Al Hadj, who no longer works here. He literally has no food for his family and he was about to be thrown out of his lodgings with his wife and young child because he has not been able to pay his rent since his work came to an end here.  I found him something of course- fortunately there is still some funds in MaliMali Projects. Some hours later came Karamogo, our English teacher, who wanted an advance already although it is only the first of the month and he has just had his salary. “But how are you going to manage later on?” I asked. “And when I leave?” Karamogo did not know that I was leaving. He became quite upset and angry even: “But you can’t leave! You must reconsider! There are too many people who rely on you. It is God who has put you here to help us! He won’t allow it!” This sort of emotional blackmail and wild exaggeration would normally either have made me laugh or made me angry, if it hadn’t been so clear that he meant what he was saying, and that he too saw the spectre of hunger looming.
Finally Maman came to see me. He too spoke of not being able to sleep at night for fear of the future. He said- and I know this to be the truth- that he has no one to help him, no older brothers or uncles or relatives who can chip in to help if he no longer earns a salary: he is the only one who is responsible for his own family which includes his mother back in the village of Tabato. He had been making a plan during his sleepless nights however, and this he wanted to share with me:
Could he and Baba try and take on the hotel if they came to an agreement with the owner of the lease? It is true that in the last few months we have had some people here and we have almost made ends meet. There are rumours about UN forces arriving to Djenné- if that were to be the case; then perhaps the NGO’s would come back, and that would mean hotel trade. It is true that Baba and Maman know how to look after the hotel quite well and Papa knows how to prepare food. Perhaps they could do it without me? I agreed that it might be worth talking to Baba Hotel (the owner) and asking him if they could pay him the lease cost by the month. Maybe it could work somehow...


Blogger David said...

First distressing, and then hopeful: the last idea seems to me a brilliant one, as Maman seems like the salt of the earth (he wasn't yet part of the staff, of course, when we visited). And otherwise, what would become of the building? Would the lease owner want it pulled down or redeveloped? If he loves his town as much as you and those two stalwart members of your staff do, I hope he would do the right thing. I guess sporadic visitors would be better than none. None of my business, but I'd love it if you could manage that transfer.

8:06 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Yes, David, I would love that too. But it would have to be theirs and their responsibility- I would have to hand it all over. Baba Hotel, the owner of the land is only interested in making some money but has no idea how to run a hotel which claims a modicum of standard- perhaps he would be sensible enough to understand that leaving them to run it would be in his interest and he would keep out of it. I wanted to take all signs down and officially close the hotel at the end of June so that I would not be associated with the hotel any more; knowing that it would deteriorate rapidly under his management. But if we manage to sort something out I will leave the signs up and I will let them call it Hotel Djenné Djenno still. Let's see...

9:46 AM  

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