I am beset with Djenné problems although I am far away
now in the little town of Bollnas with my mother and MNH. We walk by the newly
frozen lake, we drink lots of coffee and eat lots of little cakes- a Swedish
habit I have long since forgotten. We watch the news about the newest terrorist
disasters, this morning about the siege of the Radisson hotel in Bamako.
It is sadly becoming clear that life will probably
never resume in Djenné in the way it was during the golden days in 2006-2011 when there were plenty of tourists. The hotel will probably not be able
It is also becoming clear alas that the MaliMali studio will never
be able to continue without me. Dembele and the team have had only one proper
order which they have dealt with themselves while I have been away. A couple
of lengths of hand woven furnishing fabric for an English interior decorator,
who paid the full online tariff. It was a pattern they know well so I let them get
on with it, thinking it would be OK and that I must let them have some freedom and trust them.
Keita always says that I am too controlling and I must learn to delegate. Dembele
has after all worked with me for nearly ten years now on the bogolan, and it
was he that taught me.
I have had a message from the decorator who has now
received the fabric. She doesn’t exactly complain but she says that it is
different from the sample and the printing is not as clearly defined. I have replied
that hand woven and hand painted fabric will never be absolutely the same -
which is true. But I have a very strong feeling that if I had seen it myself I
would have told them to redo it. The sad truth is that I am actually not
controlling and neurotic, I just can’t trust them to do the job properly. I have
reflected that hardly anyone does any clothing manufacture in Mali or in Africa
for that matter. On the surface it looks perfect- low wages and plenty of people who want to
work. But no one comes here to set up in business. There is a reason for it- quality control is
extremely difficult as anyone knows who have tried to manufacture here.
And meanwhile at the library there are bigger
disasters unfolding. I have brought with me the hard drive with the results of
the last two years of digitization work. I was ill in Bamako at Eva’s when this
was delivered to me the day before I flew out. I had not been in the library
for two months and had not been able to check it so I opened it with trepidation.
Was all the information there? I had asked the team of course to check
thoroughly that everything was in order- all the images, all the information
sheet in Excel that accompanies the images etc. In the couple of hours I had to check it, I
noticed an enormous amount of problems: a large number of images were far, far
too small and became pixellated when one tried to read them; the name/number
coding of the images was mixed up, some were horizontal, some were vertical-
all in a jumble. It was not possible to open up some files, and others had been
corrupted. The Excel sheet with the metadata was simply missing altogether.
I had no choice
but to bring it to London in the state it was and handed it in to the
British Library at the offices of the Endangered Archives Programme last week.
And today came the response I had expected. Basically confirming and adding more
fuel to to my conclusion that it was in a pretty appalling state. I believe
that it can be sorted – most things can after all- especially since we do have
a new project and the staff will have to work overtime and evenings to correct
the shortcomings of this project.
But the uneasy reality is that the team is just not able to
do their job! The person in charge of the digitization work is the biggest
problem and should never have been given this position. Even with all the training
in the world he is not capable and should be sacked. We have had enormous and
ongoing problems because of this man’s utter incompetence. But he comes from an
old Djenné family and is a relative of the village chief etc. He was imposed on
the library in the beginning in 2009 by the library management committee as an “IT
expert”. This was because he had an old computer and he was able to open Yahoo
email accounts for people. Now, the library committee, as some may recall, is made up
of 20 Djenné grandees who represent the manuscript owners. Some of them may not
be able to read, but they have undeniable power in that without them there would
be no library or new manuscripts arriving. It has therefore been necessary to make
compromises, and this ‘IT expert’ is one of these. But I think I am no longer
going to be able to continue under these circumstances- I will have to insist
that he is sacked when I get back to Djenné.
But it is not just him- why did the other members of the
team not react or notice any of these problems with the hard drive?
Why do we have such difficulties in Djenné? It is not
my imagination- it is unbelievably difficult to do things there, and I am not
sure that I will have the strength to carry on battling on all fronts...
I sat on my sunset terrace in Djenné in the beginning
of August discussing these sorts of problems with a young Israeli scholar from
the University of Chicago who was studying at the library. He had never been to Africa before and some
things appalled him: the archivists’ non-existent sense of order for instance, and their inability
to keep manuscripts in any form of alphabetical order on the storage shelves.
Now this is a minor problem as far as I am concerned: they are at least kept in
family collections and the archivists are after all able to find a manuscript when
asked. The scholar also told me that their grasp of Arabic was pretty rudimentary. Yes, our archivists have only been local Koran
We went on to discussing how some observations and some experiences
could lead one to become a racist. I maintained, and I still do,
that if either he or I had been born in Djenné we would be the same. If one lives
in a mud building with hardly any furniture or textiles and one is surrounded by
illiteracy, ignorance, disease and maraboutage
and the highest intellectual level is supplied by the Koran school one has
absolutely no other reference points and one is not able to do many things like quality control for instance.
This is what I believe, but it doesn’t take away the fact that it is almost
impossible to achieve new things in Djenné.