Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Burnt Out Case

I am becoming a sad character in a Graham Green novel. My recent attempt to go back to Djenné failed miserably.  
I went to Djenné with every intention to pick up where I left in mid August. I am still not well but I thought I would take it easy and try to run on half engine speed to start with. But already on the journey something weird happened: as I was approaching the town my fever returned and  I started feeling really sick again. As I arrived in my house in Djenné- which surrounded by water at this time- a stench of cadavre greeted me. I looked out of the window and saw a dead sheep floating swollen stiff with rigor mortis just outside. I went to the studio and found that during my absence for six weeks two thirds of my patterns had been chewed up by termites IN FRONT OF THE WORKERS who had noticed nothing.
I went into town to be present finally at the opening of the Djenné Museum after five years ( a scandal of huge proportions: built by European money but never opened ) but I had managed to get permission let us use it for an exhibition of Djenné manuscripts and a conference. I managed to drag myself in to town for this important event and on the way I looked at the mountains of filth everywhere  where the barefoot and naked children are playing with old razor blades merrily chucked on the ground by the Djenné population. That night I developed a terrible diarrhoea, I vomited and did not sleep a wink. I decided I had to leave Djenné immediately and after breakfast the following morning I signed cheques for the salaries for the next two months for hotel, studio and library staff, then I fled.
I saw nothing beautiful and wonderful in Djenné any longer. I saw only filth ignorance greed and impossibility, and where I used to feel compassion and an urge to help I now felt totally overwhelmed with a sense of impotence and a certainty that I would either go mad or turn into a monster if I stayed.
Djenné is hard as a diamond. I will cut myself to shreds if I attempt to stay: my body told me in the most forceful language possible to go. Life in Djenné can only be attempted in perfect health.

I am in Bamako at Eva’s now once more. She insisted I came back. Keita is here too, going through the last of his treatments for this time around, feeling relatively fine and doing well.
I am leaving for London on Monday where I will try and regain my health again to return with renewed vigour and enthusiasm ready to celebrate, hopefully with joy,  the ten years anniversary of that momentous day when I first walked into Djenné with Pia, Andrew et al  and my life changed forever.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Turbulent Times...

A turbulent time  has passed. It is merciful how in the middle of disasters and tribulations providence arranges things to be just about bearable, or at least manageable: let's take the last ten days. Keita had been bedridden, in pain, on morphine, unable to move or even go to the lavatory on his own. I was able to help and we pulled through- towards the middle  of last week he was more or less back on his feet again, and on Thursday he was able to have his forth all important treatment.

Meanwhile I plummeted. I had not fully recovered from my own illness and suddenly I was very sick again with severe diarrhea, fever, extremely low blood pressure (70/40) strange palpitations, bref, I was so weak I could hardly stand up. Last Tuesday I was admitted to a private clinic here where they rehydrated me with a drip, and put me back in reasonable shape again as well as taking plenty of tests  including a coloscopy with biopsies the results of which will be winging themselves hither from Germany in a couple of weeks only.
As if this was not enough drama, Eva flew off to Burkina Faso last week (where she is also ambassador) and arrived smack bang in the middle of a Coup d'Etat. She managed to  get back here again a couple of days later (the same day as I  was discharged from the clinic) and played us the recording she had made with her mobile phone from the balcony of her hotel in Ouagadougou featuring mortar fire and machine gun salvos.

Today Keita will leave for Segou and Tabaski with his other family. I am staying here until the weekend when I will return to Djenné if I am strong enough.  This week is more or less a long holiday beginning tomorrow with the Malian Independence Day and on Thursday it is Tabaski.
People are leaving  Bamako on trips to what is regarded as safe areas: Sikasso, Kayes; south to Kangaba etc. No Embassy staff are allowed to travel to Djenné of course.

Eva has never been to Djenné and it is unlikely that she will be able to go on a private trip since she cannot herself do something she tells her staff they are not able to do.
So I came up with what I believe to be a wonderful  idea which I  suggested to Eva: she should travel incognito. She and I would dress up in full black burqa, and Denis her cook and sometime driver would be disguised as a gulf potentate who would  be driving his two wives  to Djenné to worhip at the Djenné Mosque for Tabaski. This suggestion was received with  a lot of laughter from  both Eva and Denis. I guess I must also clarify that my inspired idea was sadly not accepted .The thing is: I was really serious. My friend  Karen of Toguna Tours, one of the only still operating tour organizers here has a client who wants to go to Timbuktu. Karen has said that she is prepared to arrange a trip to Djenné, Mopti and the Dogon country but that she cannot help her to get to Timbuktu. That trip, along a lonely piste through the desert between Douanza and Timbuktu is considered to be too dangerous. Now, if I wanted to go to Timbuktu I would take one of the local taxi brousses that travel that way every day, but I would travel in full burqa. I believe it would be a safe way to go.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A Haven at Eva's and Kindness from the Sleeping Camel

‘Keita has just had his 2nd treatment and is feeling good” I wrote in the entry below. Here he is that same evening with Eva’s cat Sotis on his lap (the cat loves Keita). But that picture marks the the end of the plain sailing days alas...
 For four days he had been able to drive our car to the hospital called Point G, receive his treatment and drive home again; have dinner with Eva and me in the dining room and all seemed almost rosy. But suddenly, overnight, he developed severe pains in his lower back and he became almost unable to move. His lab tests also showed signs of an infection, so his doctor decided not to go ahead with the third treatment but instead to give him a week’s rest with antibiotics. So here we are: Keita finally started on the Morphine after all since he is in severe pain. He does not leave our bedroom anymore and our friend Dr. Guida Landouré passes by with a nurse in the evenings to tend to what is needed. I felt I had to ask him if he thought we shouldn’t call the rest of Keita’s family? He relieved me by saying he didn’t feel it was at that stage yet.

Meanwhile he has to have blood transfusions and here in Mali one has to bring a donor to the blood bank when one needs blood. On Saturday I decided to go back to my old haunt the Sleeping Camel and see if I could find some volunteers. And lo and behold, there were not only one but three volunteers from the staff: Djenneba the cook (who modelled MaliMali’s new collection last September when I took pictures at the Sleeping Camel) and Bintou, also from the kitchen staff as well as Abdoul from the garden staff. Here, in a bad picture are the three heroes at the blood bank, having given their blood. I wanted to give them 5000FCFA each but they refused categorically. ‘OK, but take the money anyway and  give it to someone else who really needs it’ I suggested. ‘In that way you will have done two good deeds!’ They still wouldn’t hear of it.

So, what do we do? I stay here at Eva's with Keita all day since I too am not totally well- still taking tests and suffering from extremely low blood pressure (80/60). We watch Fela Kuti or Johnny Clegg or Phil Collins (favourites of Keita’s and the latter of all Africans I know) on You Tube; we snooze; I try and keep  in touch over the phone with the studio, the shop, the library and the hotel. Eva comes and says hello before she leaves for some glamorous diplomatic reception. I stay up sometimes to see her for a night cap when she gets back. Certainly, in this sorry business, there are golden aspects: Eva does not mind our staying here and we could not dream of a better place to be.

Next week will be deciding of course: can Keita go on with the treatment? I must finally leave for Djenné again and his other family will have to pick up- but that is next week. Much can happen: he can get better for instance. Sometimes  I feel certain of that and then I am able to cheer him up a little: we make plans; we talk of getting the old Mercedes in shape again, ready for  the lovely trip we will make to the Ivory Coast when Keita is back  on his feet. But sometimes of course I am not so sure... an enormous question mark hangs over our existence.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A New Trip Advisor report for the hotel!

 One of the few hotel guests who stayed in August , Imri from Chicago University who was studying at the library just wrote this review for us! (and he did it without prompting from me or the staff!)
This was of course a cheerful bit of news for Keita and me to come across  this afternoon  as we are resting at Eva's! 
 Keita has has his second important treatment today, and he feels good.

"A Wonderful Place to Stay in Djenne”
Reviewed 1 week ago

Djenne-Djenno is a top-notch hotel with beautiful decor, great cuisine and drinks, and above all the very authentic (and unique to Djenne) adobe architecture. You are guaranteed to have an enjoyable time as Sophie (the owner) and her dedicated staff work hard to make sure you will have an excellent experience. Despite the occasional unrest in northern Mali, Djenne is located in a safe part of the country where the locals are very happy to welcome foreigners. Therefore, I would say that in Djenne you will feel very safe. Of course it must be said that no trip to Mali would be complete without venturing to Djenne, and once you do make sure to stay at Hotel Djenne-Djenno where you could relax after exploring.
  • Stayed August 2015, traveled solo

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pictures and dresses

Keita has arrived in Bamako and yesterday we ate Poulet Yassa at la Senegalaise as usual.
The picture is hanging at an evermore precarious angle and this time it is seemingly even being propped up by a broom.  I am trying to resist a childish idea that it is somehow a barometer of our life situation. Forgive the quality of the picture,  Keita refuses to let me  get near the  picture to try and straighten it and gets very cross with me if I try. (see comments on June 29 blog).

So, well, here we are and if all goes well Keita will have his first  treatment with his new drug early Monday morning. I am on antibiotic injections because of a banal infection so will probably be back to my normal self in a few days inshallah.
I am still in feud with the library and to that I have added the MaliMali Studio yesterday with  Maman as the biggest culprit: it is he who cuts out the garments. We have to send a shipment by Fedex to an American  lady and it should have been sent in the past week. But when the garments arrived in Bamako from the Djenné studio I noticed that our classic Robe Empire had been cut with a seam in the front! This might seem like a bagatelle to most people, but it would be impossible in my opinion to send the dress in that condition. Now I became my usual charming self and barked down the telephone to Maman and Dembele that they would redo the dress ''I don't care how you do it'. I don't care if you work all night!'. It means of course first dyeing the fabric, then painting it, then washing off the mud at the river,  then cutting it out- without front seam!- and finally giving it to Alpha to sew, and all by tonight when it has to be given to the Djenné bus which leaves for Bamako Monday morning...
Meanwhile we are both resting in Eva's lovely place all day today, feeling very grateful for this island of peace and comfort.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


 I am overjoyed to be able to add a postscript to today's gloomy Jeremiad: the agents in charge of the shipment of Keita's  drug  have finally called me: it will be winging its way to Bamako via Air France tomorrow and we will be able to pick it up the next day!
( picture courtesy Birgit Snitker)

Bamako Blues

I am sitting by the Niger river watching the little islands of vegetation which dot the river at Bamako float by. These green island formations are of varying sizes : from the size of a football to that of a largish carpet. They can produce a fun illusion: when I look at them travelling past from the vantage point of my veranda here, I can make a switch in my perception to make believe that it is I who am travelling past  and watching the stationary ‘islands’  from my river steamer.
This pleasant ‘river steamer’ is the Swedish Embassy Residence and it is to here I have taken my refuge. Eva is away on business but kind as ever she has let me stay here anyway, and it is here that Keita will stay too when his life saving medicine finally turns up.

And that marks the end of the pleasant communication. We now have to turn to the rest which is a long list of woe. I have been sick since the 14th of August: in Djenné I was treated  twice for malaria and once for typhoid, the two diseases they understand there. Since there was no improvement I decided to leave for Bamako and darling Keita arranged for our friend Boubakar to drive our old Mercedes up to Djenné to pick me up last Friday. Keita joined us in Segou and came down to Bamako to install me at Eva’s and take me to see a doctor. The doctor could not find anything wrong with me apart from a low blood pressure, but I was given a whole list of tests to do at the laboratory. The fact is that I have been plagued by recurring high fever and blinding headaches so there IS something wrong, although as I write this I do feel better and think that whatever it is it may be on its way finally.
I have made my own diagnosis: I think I have been suffering a physical breakdown brought about by a nasty combination of stressful and disappointing events, however much I normally pooh-pooh such ideas. My life in Djenné has had one golden aspect in the last few months: I have managed to find more funding than ever before for the manuscript library and feel immensely proud of what we are achieving there. That is in fact almost the only reason for my remaining in Djenné now: the hotel is certainly not worth it , and MaliMali is not really doing as well as I had hoped. So the library was my life and only raison d’etre in Djenné and I was prepared to see out the next phase.  At the time of my falling ill something happened at the library: the staff went  behind my back and decided something without consulting with me and without warning me that they had changed any plans. It is not the first time this happens: I am a woman and I am in charge of a project involving a lot of men who have never spoken to a woman before except for asking her to bring the food. Nevertheless, I have taken it very badly and see it as a betrayal. I have told them I want a written apology or I will pull the plug on the projects. 

Nevertheless It goes without saying that Keita’s health is over riding all other concerns. This is undoubtedly the largest worrying factor, and the Bamako agents who have been in charge of the delivery of Keita’s drug- without which he will certainly die- had told us it would take around two weeks to arrive from France. The time is now creeping up to a month and still no drug. Keita is complaining of increasing pain from his back which is, as we know, riddled with tumours. Add to this the events in Palmyra and the recent fighting in Kidal  which threathens to undo the fragile Malian peace accord and the witches brew begins to thicken.
Mean while at the hotel our new new employee Al Hadj had fallen ill and spent a couple of days at home. A l Hadj took over when Karim our little Griot decided to leave to devote himself to music full time. His job is therefore to clean the rooms and to look after the animals. I had been ill too for a couple of days but decided I needed to make a little tour to check that everything was OK. I asked Boubakar the old gardener: ‘You are making sure the horse is getting some food of course?’ and then I find out that Petit Bandit has not eaten for nearly three days! Boubakar says: ‘it is the job of Al Hadj to feed the horse, and he is not here’. I think it was this moment that made me withdraw from life into a shell like existence. As a sort of self preservation I have spent about a week thinking about nothing but the plot of Downton Abbey, refusing categorically to approach any subjects that touch my reality, since thinking about anything at all in my real life would immediately trigger the fever and the headaches. I do believe I am on the mend now because I have been able to write about this and I am still feeling OK. The Keita situation is getting impossible: is he going to die just because of the incompetence and bad handling of this shipment? I can’t bear it –feel the head ache coming on again….