Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A new Trip Advisor Review!

We used to have Trip Advisor reports  every other week but now we are lucky if we have a couple of visitors a month to the hotel, so this five star review was a nice surprise! And particularly since the staff managed this all on their own.
“A wonderful place”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed yesterday NEW via mobile
We visited Djenne and stayed at Djenne Djenno. The place is by far the best in town. The rooms are very nice, with a mixture of traditional decoration and modern comfort.
The food was very good and the staff very welcoming.
Stayed November 2016, travelled with friends 


 And that was not all today! There was also a nice Tweet from a happy Australian MaliMali customer:

PM Newton

Nov 23
Gorgeous cool cotton for summer + bag. All the way from @MaliMaliSophie in Djenné to me. (Cats not included)
Thank you!

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Musical Medley

London showed me its  most disagreeable face as I landed at Heathrow on Friday:  grey skies, drizzle and temperatures which appeared  sub-zero to me.
Nevermind. There were lots of consolations, mainly of a musical kind because I am staying with  David and Jeremiah and that  always turns into a musical Odyssey. This time it started with my watching a  DVD of Don Giovanni from Glyndebourne at night alone since my hosts were out somewhere. But this inspired us and  the following  morning  we dug into David's inexhaustible library of DVDs and played all the greatest performances from Don Giovanni: the best Donna Elviras and the best Donna Annas of all time etc and what David called the 'Duel of the Basses': the final of Don Giovanni with the Commendadore, Leporello and Don Giovanni himself.
 I  dragged myself away from this aural feast  reluctantly only to plunge directly into another one of a very different kind: Saturday afternoon live Bebop at the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove.  I met up with my old friends Pia, Andrew and Yonatani at this this legendary Ladbroke Grove watering hole which is just across the road from my flat, now let. We saw the Steve Fishwick/Alex Garnett Quartet. Pia is an expert at finding interesting performances at fun venues. We have all seen the trumpet playing Steve Fishwick before, that time it was in another venue that Pia found many years ago...

 I  have a store of special places in my memory: places  far out of the ordinary; places which are so unusual that only a fabulous reality could possibly make them up-one's imagination would never be inspired enough. I call them  my seven wonders of the world. One such place was called  BB's.
We would all meet up once a week at Liverpool Street station then get on a train which took us to Forest Gate, far  away in East London suburbia. We would walk down an unassuming street like many others lined with small terraced houses in this somewhat down at heel neighbourhood until we reached a house which had a sign above its entrance advertising  "The East London Dancing Club". We had arrived. Inside  the host greeted us, BB, a Jamaican devoté of Jazz, Blues and just about any other music which could be performed in his house- the whole place  was turned into a club where we saw New York Tap Dancers as well as Bebop with Steve above; fabulous blues singers from Croydon and  jazz pianists from Chicago. I do not think the performers were paid, but nevertheless everyone wanted to perform there. Half way through the evening BB would serve up a generous buffet of good Jamaican fare, Jerk Chicken and the like. One paid whatever one wanted to contribute- I remember once I had forgotten to bring cash but BB just told me to 'dig in' anyway.
 BB has now left this world alas (Pia and Andrew went to his well frequented funeral) but he and his wonderful East London Dancing Club certainly lives in our memories for ever.

The music did not stop at the Elgin on Saturday. I had to rush on to the ENO where I was meeting David an Jeremiah once more at 6pm and we saw a performance of 'Lulu', an opera by Alban Berg based on the 'sex tragedy' plays of Wedekind. All dissonance and German Expressionism- fabulous sets by William Kentridge. Musically not quite as impossible as I had imagined, in fact I liked it although I felt it could have benefited from some editing... too long. David wrote this review:

And that was not all by any means on the Musical front.  The following morning I met Andrew and Clare at sung Mass at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington which featured organ Prelude by Bach, Exultate Deo by Palestrina, Our Father by Rimsky -Korsakov, Agnus Dei by Mozart and Toccata by Egil Havland.
Then we all went back 'home' to Jeremiah and Davids for lovely Sunday lunch (pork with crackling!)  where more music flowed: A friendly argument had erupted: who is the greatest? Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan? All the four others at the lunch ganged up on me and had the bad taste of believing Leonard Cohen should have been the one to receive  the Nobel Price instead of Dylan. (Now, I do like Leonard Cohen too of course but even he himself realized he was in the shadow of Dylan...) Anyway, we staged a 'duel' between the two greats. Two numbers were to be played by each. The Leonard Cohen Camp chose one called 'Joan of Arc' and one 'Anthem'.   I chose 'Hard Rain' to represent Dylan as well as 'Lay down your Weary Tune'.   The outcome was unclear since we all stuck to our convictions...

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Some corner of a Foreign Field/That is forever England

For the first time I have spent Remembrance Sunday in Bamako, where I  took part in a moving ceremony at the Christian cemetery given by  Alice Walpole, the new British Ambassador (with Lt Col E Coward above). Wreaths were laid a  at the grave of a British soldier who served and died in the second world war. His  body was repatriated to Mali since his parents lived in Bamako.
The ceremony was followed by a reception at the British Embassy Residence.

Evelyne Decamps the new French Ambassador was very chatty and friendly and  said she was worried about my being in Djenné alone and in her view very much a kidnapping target. ( I am surprised and flattered that she even remembered who I am!) Yes, perhaps I am a target, but I must have been that for many years now...

I have spent a couple of lonely weeks in Djenné when much has happened on the world stage: a new American president was elected for one thing. This turned out to be  a very different occasion to the last time I stayed up all night to watch an American election at Hotel Djenné Djenno... that was eight years ago and the hotel was full of tourists. There were different nationalities watching in different rooms- I was with the American Peace Corps in the  Kassonge Room and we watched CNN. The bar was for the French and the Peul Suite was were the Italians were watching: A joyous occasion. At four o clock in the morning when it was clear that Obama had won an Italian woman experienced a surfeit of joy and ran into the garden and grabbed the night watchman and kissed him on the mouth. Everybody's choice of president was elected;  Keita was still well and life was sweet .. Now I am tired of  of being horrified about the result so we shall just pass over it.

What else? We had a lecture  for the manuscript owners who have entrusted their manuscripts to the Djenné Manuscript Library by Saadou Traoré our new manuscript expert who was explaining what he has found of particular interest in the manuscripts: there is plenty. I was particularly excited by a manuscript from November 1755 which talks about the shaking of the earth: this was the Lisbon Earth quake which was felt as far as Djenné! More about this shortly on the Library Facebook page.

 I am on my way to London in a few days time where I will have my small heart operation.
I also need to say a big  thank you to those kind and generous readers of this journal who have come to the rescue of Malimali Projects!  Because of  recent donations we are now able to continue with our monthly support to the adult literacy class, the English class; Madame Koita's orphans  etc. at least for a few more months.  We are also able to sponsor one more calligraphy competition at the Djenné Manuscript Library! Hurrah and thanks!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Well, Blow me down...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Varied Bamako Visit.

The last ten days have been spent in an interesting suspension between the finest luxury available and  the hardships of Mali.  The first of these states came about because of HRH Prince Carl Philip of Sweden who just left Mali where he had spent some days visiting the Swedish UN troops. He had dinner at Eva’s Residence the other night. So far so good with the name dropping. 

  Now I would love to say that I met the gorgeous prince but alas I did  not. I spent a few evenings filled with culinary delights though, as Eva and I tried out the recipes she was serving at the gala dinner which was so full of four-star generals and other glittering officials that there was no space left for an odd one out like me. Sometimes Eva thinks it is fun to let me be there too as a sort of mascot or curiosity, like the last time I was in Bamako and there was a dinner for twelve with no less than nine ambassadors present. I sat next to the German ambassador and on the other side there was the new French ambassador, the very chic Mme Evelyne Decorps who had just arrived to Mali the day before. We had a fun conversation about fairytales in German - I try out my German on His Excellency Herr Becker whenever I see him and he is very kind and polite to me and doesn't laugh too much.  Madame Decorps  spoke fluent German.

 The other side of the coin, the hardships of Mali, was supplied by my bus journey back and forth to the capital: a gruelling experience at the best of times but getting worse since the road is so bad now between Djenné and Segou. I believe that no one who has any power ever travels on this road now- they all fly up to Mopti on UN planes and are not aware of the degraded state of the road. There are plenty of colour and excitement on the road though as consolation: I would recommend anyone who wants to see the ‘real’ Mali to take a long Malian bus journey: gruelling but strangely up- lifting. 

There is almost no breakfast in the world that can equal a freshly caught and deep-fried fish with lots of salt wrapped in a piece of old cement bag on the banks of the Bani at dawn while waiting for the ferry .

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cap in Hand

This is very boring. I am forced to come begging for funds. Not for the hotel, of course, nor for MaliMali Studio, but for MaliMali Projects. We are stone broke. MaliMali Projects is the branch of our association MaliMali which supports some grass root community projects here with a sum of money every month. We need 150 000FCFA ( now about £200 or E 230) per month to cover the costs of M. Diarra’s adult literacy evening class; Madame Koita’s orphans, the support for Mamadou the handicapped boy and Karamogo’s English lessons as well as all the various small demands each month for help with medicine or just a few francs for food. ( see  and

When the hotel was running properly it was easy to find this money if the funds we received from elsewhere were not sufficient one month. But now there is no money coming in from anywhere. There are not even any orders for MaliMali Studio, so it is not possible to come to the rescue. I still have to stay here to see the library projects out, but the idea of staying and not being able to find this money every month is really disturbing me.

Not everything is bleak however: We are doing the 100 free cataract operations again this Christmas, this time in memory of Keita. This is once more sponsored by my cousin Pelle and his wife Nanni. This is a great gift to the town of Djenné. Keita’s  family, Mai and children;  sisters and cousins  will come up and  stay at the hotel. There will be a public Fatia at this time. It will be a fine memorial to Keita.

Should anyone feel they have a few extra pennies to spare for our other monthly support activities in Djenné, please visit either www.  and go to the Donations page; visit or contact me via There are financial accounts available to see for anyone interested in giving a donation.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Tabaye-Ho, or the River Festival of Djenné.

This joyous celebration of the Hunt and the River, perhaps as ancient as the town itself, is a thriving, private Djenné affair where no one cares that there are no tourists around.  The only tourists that ever witnessed this in the past happened upon it by a happy coincidence. Just like that other eye- popping Djenné spectacle, the mud plastering of the Great Mosque, the Tabaye-Ho is conceived as a neighbourhood competition with the young men from the eleven neighbourhoods of Djenné taking part and attempting to exceed each other in hunting and in pirogue racing.
The competition starts with  their hunting prowess: the pirogues leave early in the morning for the shores in the bush where the meagre remaining Malian fauna, already hunted more or less to extinction,  is savagely pursued with spears and shotguns. The bounty is then hung on poles and displayed on the pirogues as part of the parade up and down the river banks of Djenné.

The last time I was a spectator at Tabaye-Ho was in 2014, but that year hunting for bush meat had been prohibited because of its association with the Ebola crisis.
The river is an inlet from the Bani which encircles Djenné for most of the year, making it an island. Tabaye-Ho always happens sometime in October when the water stands at its highest after the rainy season, and this year the water is abundant. I was of course alone as a toubab spectator, but I am now treated like an ‘honorary man’ and was welcomed by the town’s people by being given a chair close to the Prefect  under the awning which is stretched out on the banks of the river at  Konofia.   At about 2pm we saw the proud arrival first of all of the  large and magnificent  Konofia fleet of pirogues, followed by the boys from Djoboro and later Yobokaina, no less splendid, waving a hundred Malian flags and proud of their good  hunt, displaying dozens of  rabbits, a fox or two as well as some large bush rats. 
 There followed the 4pm  prayer  pause after which  I  continued to the  Djoboro neighbourhood  in the company of Diakité, the new chef of the Mission Culturelle in Djenné, who was witnessing  this spectacle for the first time and confessed that he was impressed. He was taking notes, hoping to bring this event to the attention of the world and to interest the Minister of Culture for a visit next year. He wanted several changes to be made though such as the  building of proper spectator stalls rather than having the population milling about in such a disorganized way; a nightmare for security staff he said.  I secretly prayed that his plans would fail. 
 We sat down in the shade of a large Nem tree at the port of Djoboro, next to my old friend the super elegant Badra, always in spotless grand boubou,  the kin- tigi (neighbourhood chief) of Djoboro who I know through the library.

While we sat at the port of Djoboro the youths were getting ready for the pirogue races , donning their neighbourhood colours and beginning to practise. There were pirogues occupied by small boys only. I asked Badra if he remembered taking part as a boy. ‘Yes of course’, he said. ‘ We all remember it, it was the best day of the year!’  We noticed a man swimming in the water: Badra told me he was a ‘fou’,  an old man, Djennépo,  who spent all his days in the water, praying and laughing. A Bozo of course: the fisherman’s tribe and the people of the water. The people on the shore greeted him kindly and soon he returned to the water.

Soon the racing pirogues from the other neighbourhoods started to parade before us:  none so splendidly decked out as the Sankoré boys in their red hats. 

 The racing pirogues are made in a village near Mopti my other neighbour told me. ‘I am worried about the future of the racing though’.   He went on to explain that  in other years a great race is held in Kouakouro, not far from Djenné on the 22nd September, the Malian Independence Day, and people come from miles away to take part. This year, however the race was not held because Kouakourou is part of the areas close to Djenné that have experienced terrorist attacks.

A pirogue appeared with a crew who wore elaborate and interesting waist coats: ‘What neighbourhood do they represent?’ I  asked my neighbour.  ‘They are the  Rimaybé of Dioboro, he replied, to my astonishment.  The Rimaybé were the slaves of the Fulani. Nearly two hundred years ago when Sekou Amadou sent his army to conquer Djenné for his Macina Empire his cavalry was Fulani and his infantry was made up by Rimaybé slaves: Fantassins Rimaybé  (see blog The Siege of Djenné below). But now, there are no more slaves, surely? Why should these men want to be associated by their former position as slaves? I receive no satisfactory reply.  Mali is full of mysteries. The slaves of the Touareg are called the Bella. There are apparently both Rimaybé and Bella who are willing to countenance the fact that they were slaves in the past.

 I continued  to the neighbourhood of Sankoré, passing by the stricken bridge where dozens of Djennenké were watching the races as the pirogues passed under it. At the lovely port of Sankoré  a party was in full swing and the women were dancing to the sound of flutes and drums- they urged me to join them and I did of course, having first greeted Babou Touré the kintigi of Sankoré and my collegue at the manuscript library.

 By 6 pm the official business was all over.  I walked home slowly through the winding streets of Djenné in the soft evening, greeting many I knew on the way back who had brought chairs to sit by the river to watch the spectacle.  It struck me how many people I do know now: the manuscript library has been a key that has opened a part of ancient, traditional Djenné to me.
Once back I  repaired to my sunset terrace where I continued to watch the last pirogues parade in the distance. Tonight the boys will play the drums and the flutes and the girls will respond with their calebashes  covered by cowrie beeds  until late in all the neighbourhoods of Djenné.