Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A protest and some bona fide hotel guests

"I always read your blog. I left mali two years ago and I enjoy hearing about your life in Djenné. When I lived in Bamako I had a travel agency together with my husband.
We operated Under the name mali Yaara Adventure Tours and our website was/is

When I read your latest blog entry I was shocked that  a "tour guide" from mali Ad
venture Tours stood you up- after  receiving  money from you! 
I don't know who that person was an I assure you that he has nothing to do with us!
Sending you greetings from Switzerland,
Haike Spiller."

 Of course, I thought at the time that the swindlers might well have just  used the name of an agency they may have worked for in the past. Anyway  I thought I should publish Haike's indignant message, to wipe the name of the agency quite clean and ready for future use!

And this last Sunday we did have a bona fide group with us who did not let us down: 17 intrepid  Italians had travelled here through morocco and mauritania in their 4X4s, just like in the old days! God bless the Italians and their total distrust and
disregard for any government warnings: especially their own!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sunset and A Malian Scam.

A rainy week has passed in Djenné, but on the 13th of August this year the sun appeared long enough to  impale itself on the central minaret of the Great Mosque.   
This event arrives a couple of days earlier every year. If I had been any good at science this might make me contemplate the reasons for what seems like an interesting  yearly discrepancy in the movement of the earth and the sun. As it is, I am content simply to enjoy the pleasant spectacle from my sunset terrace, sipping my whisky and water.
 As far as the hotel goes, there was some rare guests expected  last week end.  A reservation had been made three weeks ago by telephone from a Malian travel agency called Mali Aventure, with which we have had dealings in the past.  The reservation was for three rooms for two nights. This is a good reservation for us now, since there is hardly ever anyone here. So Baba and I spent plenty of time in the rooms to make sure everything was in good shape the day before the arrival of the group.  On the morning they were supposed to arrive, I phoned the tour leader and asked if the guests were going to have dinner and if so, if there were any special instructions re: vegetarians etc.  The tour leader said he would ask.
He did not get back to me immediately and when he did he did not enlighten me on this matter but came up with rather an irregular request: ‘We are in the Dogon country, and have just crossed over the border from Burkina. Our vehicles are stuck in the mud and we are going to have to wait for assistance. But there is  another vehicle joining our group in Sevare. I would like that vehicle to leave now and then at least that part of the group will arrive in good time to Djenne and they will eat  at the hotel.  We will arrive much later tonight.  And can you call me please? I am going to run out of credit’ And indeed the telephone went dead.
 I was beginning to feel  annoyed and had started to smell something which was likely to be a  a rodent.  It is certainly not professional not to carry enough money to be able to put in your phone if you are a tour leader in charge of a group of toubab holiday makers! Nevertheless I did not want to be unfriendly so I called him back of course, and now he put the following request to me:  ‘Can you send  75 000FCFA with Orange Money to the driver who is waiting for us in  Sevaré? Then he will be able to leave now and be with you by sunset. I will pay you when I get there, later on in the  evening. And by the way, we have decided to stay three nights instead of two. The guests will not eat tonight but tomorrow night and the next.’
The last informations were  of course welcome to a hotelier suffering from penury  and it had the desired effect in that my wish  to help increased. But at the same time there was undoubtedly a funny smell about the whole business which was increasing by the minute. ‘Now hold on here, I objected.’ For a start, why don’t you send him the money yourself?’  Or if you are in the bush and cannot send it, why don’t you get someone in Sevaré to lend him the money? You are a Malian tour operator. You must know several people to help you in Sevaré! And in any case, it doesn’t cost 75 000FCFA in petrol to travel between Sevaré and Djenné! It costs max 25 000FCFA!’  
The tour operator said that he did not know anyone to help him in Sevaré and that he had said 75 000 because their drivers normally filled their 4X4s up full tank. The deal was finally concluded in that I promised  to send 25 000FCFA by Orange money transfer  to his driver who was waiting, ostensibly, in Sevaré.
And that was of course the last we ever heard from Mali Aventure Tours.The hotel  garden  glittered in vain that night  with a multitude of little storm lamps and Keita and I dined alone under the stars so that it would look welcoming for  the vanguard group that were to arrive fom Sevaré. Of course they never did.
The next day we tried the ‘tour operator’s ‘ telephone number but he never replied again. I wonder why?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Diabolo 2: The Soap making and painting

Yesterday we went to see the Soap Woman whose name is really Djenneba. She had taken a bucket of ashes from her supply of  burned millet stalks which she stores  in several sacks ready to be used when needs be. The burning happens at the end of the harvest in the fields, and I now understand the meaning of all the fires which are dotted around the landscape at certain times of the year:  the millet stalks are burned to produce ashes which will be transformed into  potassium, used in cooking and in bogolan production. We eat it in the West too, surely? But it must be hidden in some other form. Perhaps it is lurking  in the Corn Flakes? Potassium  is an element. I find all this rather mysterious and poetic, as if we are tapping into  deep and ancient knowledge... who knows, maybe we will stumble across  the philosopher’s stone by mistake? This sense of mystery was enhanced by the conversation during the bogolan painting in Aissata’s mud vestibule later, when we talked about Tabato, Maman’s village. (It was Maman, not Dembele that accompanied me today) Aissata said Tabato used to have the best Marabouts in the old days. ‘Is that true Maman?’ I wanted to know. Maman seemed strangely bashful  at first but eventually told me that Tabato had been a village ‘where people did not pray’ (i.e. animist )until fairly recently. Aissata meant that she thought the Animist practices had been more efficient in getting things done...

The soap

Anyway, back to the bogolan: the ashes are put in a vessel which has tiny holes in it, thus serving as a sieve. Water is poured over the ashes, and slowly seeps through into a bucket. The water that is thus gained is boiled until it crystallizes into pure postassium. This is when the Shea butter enters the stage and is mixed in. These two substances are then boiled and the soap is ready. 

The final painting

This is when it is applied onto the areas of the bogolan where we want the colour to disappear and turn white.  And now the next stage  happens in a week’s time when the cloth will be washed after it has been baked in the sun every day. So we will be back again!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


Diabolo is one of my favourite villages, not far from Djenné.  We often went there with tourists and Max and the carriage. Sometimes I rode but only once on Maobi, the most loved of my horses.  Diabolo is a village with lots of horses and this made Maobi so excited that he became virtually incontrollable: we tied him up by a tree in the school yard but he stomped and neighed and threatened to uproot the tree! 
Ah, Maobi was fun, how much I miss him...