Monday, June 26, 2017

Swedish Hostage

The Swedish hostage Johan Gustavsson has been released. He was taken hostage in November 2011 in Timbuktu  together with a Dutch national and a South African National. That event marked the beginning of the end for the happy Mali I had known during the first years of my life here.
The Dutchman has been released some time ago: the Barkane forces (the French military contingent still present in the Sahel) stumbled across him by accident when they were "cleaning up" a terrorist encampment in the northern desert. It appears that he had been severely brainwashed, had converted to Islam and his reunion with his wife was not a success. Let us hope that Gustavsson has fared better. The circumstances of Gustavson's release are still unknown. I am about to call Eva to see if she has some news...he has apparently just landed at Arlanda in Stockholm. More later...

And apart from this joyful news, there has of course been Eid Al-Fitr. I went with Elisabet and Henri to the place of communal prayer behind the hospital. This is where the Djennenké men pray twice a year- now and at Tabaski- because the place in front of the Great Mosque is too small to hold them all. Yelpha officiated for the first time.
 Towards sunset I had a visitor on the terrace: Babou Touré from the library, resplendent  in Grand Boubou wishing me 'Sambe Sambe', the traditional greeting both now and at Tabaski.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wrapping Up

Back in Djenné for some time now,  deep in what I knew would be a difficult time: the final wrapping up of Hotel Djenné Djenno.
People are coming and going, arguing about the prices of mattresses, hoping for a bargain. Some are hoping to pick things up for free, ‘for old time’s sake,’ but I am driving a hard bargain. Actually, I have now decided I am going to leave it all to Maman and Baba, and I have explained to them it is in their interest to sell the stuff for a good price: they are the ones who will benefit since I intend to split the proceeds between the four remaining staff members: Baba Papa, Maman and old Boubakar.

Elisabet and Henri are here for the last bit, filming me. We decided to rough it and go up to Djenné on the local bus, which broke down of course, although it was quickly mended again. I thought it would be good for them to see a vignette of ‘real Mali’, which is always encountered on this bus trip. It is good to have them here in Djenné. I think I would have been even sadder without them. I now have someone to drink my last sunset cocktails with...Their presence also causes some friction, since this is not really a happy time for me. In fact it is quite stressful, since I am also trying to organize the Timbuktu project which is proving quite a difficult puzzle to put into place.

Last night was the night of Destiny: one of the last night’s of Ramadan, when the Angel of Destiny walks across the heavens and picks out the souls he will gather up in the following year. Keita and I sat under the stars just two years ago and listened to the chanting which drifted across from Djenné’s fifty Koran Schools. (see July 14, 2015).  Keita was ill already, but we put our fingers up to the Angel in defiance and told him to get lost. Then we started planning for our next holiday to see Ann in Guinea. Alas, the Angel did take Keita after all, and he nearly caught me too...

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Making of the Cake

Today was Swedish National Day: lots of flags fluttering cheerfully in the summer  breeze in idyllic Torekov where I am spending my last days in Sweden before flying back to Mali on Sunday.
 I am working non stop  trying to finalize my re-submission of the  proposal to the British Library for the new manuscript project with the three libraries  in Timbuktu who asked me to help them. London is  proving quite difficult this time around, although I think they do want to do it. They are just quite embarrassed about the fact that I am not an Arabist and a scholar in this field I think, and they wish I were someone else 'more suitable' doing the job, rather than an ex inn-keeper. It would  look better on paper. The fact is that knowledge of Arabic is not really necessary to be the project manager for this, and in any case noone else has had the idea and presented themselves...

 Emails are flying backwards and forwards across the ether between me in Torekov, the powers that be in the British Library in London and Father Columba, the Benedictine friar in Minnesota whose institution the Hills Museum and Manuscript Library will be the largest sponsor of the project.
It is like putting the ingredients into a complicated and difficult cake mixture: will it rise? Well, yes, it looks like it will, with or without London:  Fr. Columba has assured me they will go ahead, and beginning August. There was one important proviso still missing  though,  without which nothing could happen: the go-ahead from UNESCO and the MINUSMA (the UN forces in Mali) in Bamako. They have to endorse the project and it is they that have to arrange the flights and the transport of  material to Timbuktu with the UN flights. And yesterday I received a message of blessing from Hervé the UNESCO boss in Bamako:  the most important ingredient has  now been added to this cake mixture!

Therefore, it looks as if my withdrawal from Mali will be done in a much gentler way than I was fearing: I am writing into the project that I will return every three months to Mali to oversee progress of the work in Timbuktu. At that time I will also be able to pop into Djenné and check the  work which is still happening at the Library there where our Malian manuscript expert Saadou is working on a catalogue of the Djenne Manuscript Library's collection. The hotel will be closed but I still have my land where the studio and my house stands. And otherwise there is always the Campement Hotel...
 Perhaps the MaliMali studio could  still be up and running? I am able to take 43 kg back to London every three months: that is a lot of fabric and clothes with free transport to Europe. Perhaps I can sell it in London?
I will meet Elisabet and Henri the documentary film makers again in Bamako. They are hoping to catch my closing of the hotel and the wrapping up of my Malian life.Here they are in Bollnas, Sweden a week ago, where they were filming me and my mother. I am still quite mystified about why...
We will travel to Djenné on the local bus together Thursday week. That should keep Henri the cameraman happy filming all day...