Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Cavalcade



Well, instead of the present being a time of solitary reflection during the sad wrapping-up of my Djenné life, these months are proving to be so jam-packed with  important events that I have had not a second to spare... One major event is rapidly followed by the next, all deserving of proper entries in this journal! So I will just sketch out briefly here all the things that have happened and are happening:


The manuscript library has had a visit in January from two intrepid specialists who do not worry in the slightest about travel warnings: Michaelle Biddle from the Wesleyan University in New England came to talk to Saadou about watermarks and to teach the library staff how to separate pages that have become glued together. She was accompanied by Maria Luisa, our Italian conservator.

Then came my old friends, a rather glamorous trio of adventurers I call the three Musqueteers: Nicholas Mellor,(centre of the toubabs) visionary and entrepreneur  with the cutest  accent anglais  and Anthony Sattin, (right) distinguished writer from England with le charmant Axel Charles-Messance,  the French drone pilot and film maker  I call TinTin. They were here on a mission to teach local people to fly drones over the World Heritage Sites in order to preserve cultural heritage in endangered areas of political unrest. Theirs is a pilot project only at this stage, but with the potential to be used as a model for other areas around the world. Alas we didn’t get very far- that is to say, the Prefect (highest authority in Djenné) said NON. A proper high level authorisation was needed to fly drones in the current climate of heightened security. However, they managed to teach three local people and make a small film: The rest will hopefully follow in March when they return armed with the proper authorizations.

And what happened next? We moved swiftly on to the visit from Keita’s family from Bamako and Segou for the ceremony to Keita’s memory; a Fatia or a reading of the Koran with all the Grand Marabouts de Djenné, organized on our land by the library staff: Yelpha and Garba etc. Everyone who had known Keita was invited and it was a solemn and moving occasion: our old friend Dr.Guida Landouré came all the way by local bus from Bamako just to be present. Keita's sister Djenneba to the right below.

With all these people  in Djenné from Keita’s family we decided to have a party at night, and Maman took advantage of the party in order to celebrate his wedding to Oumou. They have been married for years and have a little daughter called Sophie already, but this was, in keeping with Malian traditions,  the second part of the wedding, the part in La Mairie.


Keita’s best friends were invited to this dinner and we had the Balafon orchestra from Souala village who had not been here for years: a fun evening with much dancing from Maman of course, and Papa, as usual when he had finished in the kitchen. Almost like old times... Hans, my Swedish Dutch friend who comes every year happened to be passing through with his Lettish  friend Maris, thus adding to the festive atmosphere. And as if this was not enough, there was also Dr. Faira and the Cataract operation team, who joined the evenings dinner and fun.


The following day, at the Djenné hospital, came the inauguration ceremony for our fifth free cataract campaign for a hundred people given by MaliMali and sponsored this year entirely through my cousin Pelle Kronqvist and Nanni his wife. This year the operations were given in memory of Keita, his family was present at the inaugurations ceremony and a minute’s silence was observed. ( Keita's first wife Mai third from right, and his daughter Nene with me below)


And then came Timbuktu... I had been invited to represent the Djenné Manuscript library at a conference held by UNESCO on the pillage of World Heritage archaeological sites and the illicit trafficking of cultural objects – including the danger to manuscripts etc. So I went off happily in a UN plane to five days in Timbuktu where after the conference we were regaled by the crepissage of the 14th century  Djingareber Mosque- a very different affair from that of Djenné’s mosque, but with its own quite particular charm.
I was also invited to dinner by the wife of Saadou Traoré (our new manuscript expert in Djenné) at his old house in the back streets of Timbuktu behind the Djingareber one night. Madame Traoré sent her nephew with a little motor bike to pick me up at nightfall at the Auberge du Desert where I was staying. Only a motorbike is able to get through the small sandy alley ways of Timbuktu: the following morning I received a telling off by UNESCO and UN personnel who were absolutely horrified that I had been riding around Timbuktu on the back of a local’s motorcycle, and returned back way after the kerfew... I was not aware that there was a kerfew even!

Returned happily to Djenné yesterday and having a few days to recover from all this excitement before leaving for Bamako on the bus on Saturday morning. I am meeting a Swedish Documentary film crew who are going to spend ten days with me: making a film about me and my life! Oh dear. I am going to have to be fascinating for ten days in a row...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How it works..

Well, I didn’t need to have been so coy because Saadou ( right above) and Ousman were not in the slightest bit embarrassed to talk about these things but took it quite in their stride. I found out that the aim of the maraboutage concerning sexual potency is to make a man able to perform frequently.
It is a question of quantity: if a man has four wives he is supposed to give them all equal sexual attention, as well as treating them equally in every other way.  
 And according to Ousman and Saadou there is no excuse even later in life: if a man takes a new young wife, that doesn’t mean that he is allowed to drop his attentions for the older one, on the contrary she is not likely to be forgiving in that respect- this is all according to Ousman and Saadou who only have one wife each. One can perhaps understand why- it all sounds a bit hectic...

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Library stuff

Not writing much these days, I know. But I feel something stirring now so I might start again... it is something that is extremely interesting or could be quite boring really depending on one’s disposition that particular day... I have taken on the task of translating the Excel sheet that accompanies the images for the British Library project in the library. We lost Mohammed who used to do our English explanation of the contents of all our manuscripts; He got a better offer down in Bamako and that meant that he could be near his family, so understandably he left us. So now I have said I will get involved for the last nine months of the project. It is already proving quite challenging.. I am translating the information that Saadou and Ousman are giving in Arabic and French.
A thousand questions arises about a thousand things which throws light on both the similarities and the differences of our cultures. . Let me give a few examples: a typical entry, giving the description of the contents of an ‘esoteric’ manuscript:

“Instructions on how to become rich, treat certain illnesses such as sterility, head ache and  cough. How to protect oneself against witchcraft, weapons, bites of scorpions and snakes; become married,  be intelligent,  be loved, attract the admiration of people, be sexually potent and  successful in commercial transactions by the usage of verses from the Qu'ran.  Finally the virtues and merits of the chapters of the Qu'ran are given for the resolution of various problems.”

This is a manuscript for a Marabout, doing “maraboutage”, the age old speciality of Djenné, for which the town is famous throughout West Africa. This is presenting some of the universal desires of humanity: we are all looking for material comfort, admiration, protection against bad times; we all want to be loved  and successful. It is not quite clear to me what the manuscript means by being ‘sexually potent’ here. A lot of the esoteric manuscripts deal with this.  Does it mean being able to sire a lot of children? Or does it mean sexual performance during intercourse? In the West it may mean a man’s ability  to  please the woman as well as himself. Is that the same here? Do they care if a woman has sexual pleasure? Do I have the nerve to ask Yelfa about it? Yes, sure I do. Will be back with the result.
And more importantly perhaps, these ‘esoteric’ manuscripts, describing the maraboutage of Djenné, are exactly what would exacerbate any Jihadists if they were to attack Djenné. Their puritan Salafist faith  does not countenance any such practices: they see it as witch craft, tied to the earlier animist beliefs.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Almamy Korobara, Imam of Djenné 1993-2017

                              One week ago the funeral was held of the Imam of Djenné.
 After the 2pm Friday prayers Djenné's male population prayed over his body which was  laid out on the square  before the great Mosque .

,
May he rest in Peace.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A lighter mood.

In the interest of accuracy and entente cordiale I think I had better mention that (some of ) the journalists I attacked so rudely last week did actually come to Djenné in the end and we had a very nice, peaceful and useful time I believe.
And someone sent me this charming memento.
To think that Tintin was 'ere !
My favourite Grand Marabout Yelfa Djeité- probably to the lower right in the drawing has been put on the list for possible new Imams...







Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fed Up with Lily-Livered Journalists

I understand that tourists may not be willing to visit Djenné or Mali because of the perceived danger and the blanket 'NO!' which emanates from all foreign office travel advisory websites. But I am less tolerant of the journalists and  other professionals who are making their living from reporting from here. What happened to the intrepid war correspondent? Why do these people think they are able to do their job- often highly paid- from the pool side in Bamako?
This year started well for the hotel. Or at least so it seemed on paper. There were going to be several teams of journalists and others arriving, making documentaries, articles etc. about Djenné. But one by one these teams are cancelling their reservations. WHY? What on earth has changed?
If you are frightened by the distant events in Gao, which seems to be the case, why did you chose to be a journalist in the first place? And I am talking also about  those journalists who feel they can carry out their job in Timbuktu, watched over by UN security forces, but feel that Djenné is too dangerous for them. Go home!
Nothing has ever happened in Djenné : still! Sure it is possible that it will one day but meanwhile, surely, as a journalist, your work must continue? You are not a dentist. You are not a 'management consultant'. You are not an insurance broker. You are a journalist. Do your job or if you do not dare, change it! Go and take up your alotted place amongst the safe jobs of your home country where you belong.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Farewell Sau.


I am still here, although I have been lying low for some time. Now speaking from Bamako, but leaving for Djenne once more tomorrow morning in the old Merc at 6.30.
I am in Bamako for the condoléances for Keita’s Tante. A lovely old woman who I saw just two weeks ago when I arrived in Mali again after my European trip. She was  so full of life and energy.  She hugged me and seemed genuinely happy to see me: the widow of Keita, her favourite.  She was struck down by a heart attack three days ago and a very large funeral was held yesterday. Above is a picture of Keita and La Tante in 2016, a couple of month before Keita left us.  I was certain she was going to live to a hundred. She was certainly in better health than I am- or at least so it seemed.

Once more I sat yesterday with the mourning women in the house where Keita grew up for another funeral. It is always a cathartic experience- one shields one’s face with one’s headscarf and then it is OK to just cry. Tears flow for the person deceased, for others that died before, for one’s own future demise and for whatever one feels like crying for. All very useful for clearing away bottled up anxiety.

I was hoping to leave tomorrow morning for Timbuktu on the UN plane. I had been invited for a conference staged by UNESCO concerning the pillage of Malian artifacts such as those found in archaeological excavations and the sale/export of ancient manuscripts. But because of the terrorist attack on a military camp in Gao this morning which has claimed up to 50 casualties the conference in Timbuktu has been postponed to a later date. The UN plane which was to take us to Timbuktu has been requisitioned  for the transport of  wounded to Bamako for specialist care.
More soon inshallah.