Sevare, Easter Sunday.
Extreme heat. Impossible to do anything. Torpor descending. Sitting at 'Le Repos de Dogon', Sevare, the hotel where we all stayed in January. I have left Djenne to go to Easter Mass and hopefully to meet up with Monsignor Georges Fonghoro, the bishop of Mopti as well as M. Joseph Guindo, the director of the new St. Joseph’s Technical College, with whom I had corresponded before leaving England. I might eventually do some voluntary teaching work in the tailoring department- read online about the new college and its 60 sewing machines.
Have just had lunch with Kansaye who arrived from Bamako early this morning. We were also joined by Bernard, an old Frenchman who is here to check on a dam building project in the Pays de Dogon- rainwater is to be gathered to enable water to be gathered during the rains to lengthen the period of cultivation by another three months per year.
Bernard and I are the only people to stay at the hotel just now. We spent last night together having dinner in candlelight since the electricity was cut, talking about Africa, love and life. I recited what I remembered of Rimbaud’s 'Le Bateau Ivre'- a fair amount by now. Bernard is at least seventy and is having an affair with a local woman of 21- couldn’t stop talking about her. He is cultured and we amused ourselves by behaving in an old-fashioned European way throughout dinner, a game enhanced by the incongruous setting:
‘ Madame la Contesse, aurait-elle l’obligeance de bien vouloir m’accompagner a l’opera ce soir?‘ said Bernard with all the flourish of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Bernard was charming albeit slightly ridiculous. (but as my Algerian poet friend whom you will meet in a couple of days rightly pointed out, we are all ridiculous sometimes). He could easily have been the main character in a lost Moliere play called le Vieillard Amoreux. Not only was he smitten by a young African woman, but like a true Frenchman he felt compelled to try his luck with me too. When I had gone to bed and almost fallen asleep there was a knock on the door. ‘puis-je entrer?’ je dois t’embrasser et t’expliquer quelque chose important' I laughed and told him to go to bed. Then, about half an hour later, he came back: ‘ Mais je ne peux pas dormir, je dois te voir! This time I pretended not to hear…
The lovelorn Frenchman and I went to mass this morning, and he had me photographing him kneeling by the statue of a black Virgin.The church was filled to bursting point and the fans high in the ceiling were woefully inadequate to cool the breathless April heat but nothing could diminish the infectious joy of the African Easter celebration. It was a medley of the familiar and the exotic- snippets of Gregorian chant interwoven seamlessly with pure West-African rhythms from the 20-strong choir. The solemnity of the eucharist finally gave way to a rapturous crescendo and finale as the congregation danced in and through the pews to the rhythm of the big drums; the women ululating and everyone clapping their hands, smiling and laughing with an unselfconscious joy impossible in Europe.