Well, rather than writing this from the hotel as planned, I am still at the 'Clic', one of Djenne's two internet cafes, stuggling to get this bulletin sent off before the next power cut... It seems that the hoped-for (and payed-for)internet connection at Hotel Djenne Djenno was impossible after all, as I had suspected. After about 3 hours of intensive telephone contact surgery with the Orange people in Bamako they have now seemingly given up. But that is the least of my troubles.
What did I say about the travelling taking much longer than the physical displacement? I have now arrived in Djenne. Of course I arrived, officially, on Wednesday the 18 June, but my real arrival was around 18.00 the following day when the full force of Africa hit me in all its permutations. First in the form of a violent dust storm followed by a down-pour and a tempest of biblical proportions which tore several doors off their hinges and forced bucketfuls of water through the wooden shutters into the rooms, bringing cascades of water pouring over my delicate wall paintings. So far so good.
But that is only the force of the elements. That is nothing. The real challenge for me here in Africa is my relationship with my staff. I had promised myself never to be angry any more. I was going to be calm and gracious and float about in a nice big hat smiling and saying gentle and encouraging things to people. This new persona didn’t even last long enough for me to deliver the presents I had brought for the staff, so now I am sitting here with a heap of Rooney and Gerrard T-shirts which I no longer feel like handing over.
Last night in the middle of the tempest, I went out in the rain to see what was going on- I saw the forecourt rapidly filling up with water, because last year we had blocked the escape routes in order to prevent the floodwater from entering the hotel garden. Of course we forgot to open up these holes once the rains and the floods had subsided. But now a critical situation was fast developing- we needed to start pumping. I found all my staff huddled in the guardian’s hut. ‘Put on your yellow rain outfits, bring the pump and the buckets and come and help!’ I shouted. ‘We don’t have any rain outfits any more’ came the reply. ‘ Why not? I bought rain outfits for everyone last year!’ I retorted irritably.‘Yes, but they are all broken, they were very bad quality’. “But why on earth did you buy bad quality?’ ‘We didn’t know they were bad quality’. Meanwhile the water is rapidly rising.
‘xxxx the rain outfits, just get out here, and now! ( my gentle, large-hatted, lady-like persona is rapidly melting away, seemingly in exact proportion to the mud which is sliding down the facades of my hotel)
‘But it is 18.30. and I am finishing my shift now', comes the reply from two of my employees. ‘OH NO YOU’RE XXXXXXX NOT!!!!’ YOU GET YER ASS OVER HERE AND START PUMPING DAMN IT!!!!
So here I am, the following morning, surveying the ravage of last night. And it is not only the storm damage I survey. It is the ravage of my good intentions. How will I be able to maintain good working relations with my staff?
How can I run a hotel to European standards with a staff who has never seen a European hotel? Some may ask: Why should you run a European standard hotel, this is Africa after all. Indeed, they may well be right. But the European tourists who come here have no mercy. When they see a white woman running a hotel in Africa, they want European standards. People who live in Europe, Bamako or even Mopti have absolutely no idea what it is like to try and run a hotel built out of mud in Djenne…
But then, in the middle of thinking: what am I doing here? Why on earth do I want to carry on?
Africa reminds me why I am here.
I take Napoleon for a ride over the ancient burial ground of Djenne-Djeno, the archaeological site just behind the hotel, and let him graze a little on the fresh new grass that has started to spring up. The stillness around us feels like a meditation. The last sun of the day turns the Sahel colours around us into a soft velvet apricot. A lone Fula shepherd passes with his flock, his stick slung across his shoulders. He is outlined against the hazy golden backdrop of the great mosque in the distance. Suddenly I am once more convinced that this is the most beautiful of places. It is still the place where I can create something much greater than anything I could hope to create anywhere else. It is still the most exotic of all places, far far away: it the place where my rainbow ends. That is why I am here.