BACK IN DJENNE I mean really.
It always takes a week or so to arrive.
There is a sort of honeymoon experience which repeats itself for the first few days back in Djenne, when I am thrilled to be living in such an exotic and legendary location; when I am in awe of the beauty of my hotel; when the staff are behaving themselves; when all seems bright. This short phase is always accompanied by a lot of Bambara speaking on my behalf, which provokes unbridled mirth in the staff.
But this time has been different. All the above symptoms apply, but at the same time I have been loath to give up Casablanca in my mind, and I have spent a lot of my waking time, as well as most of my nights, tossing and turning under the mosquito net on my verandah in the hot Sahel night, reliving the recent days in Casablanca. I don’t want to let go. I am making a sort of DVD in my mind, complete with details such as the way the key turned to open our hotel room; the sequence of movements that achieved our final mastery of how to put the wheelchair into the miniscule lift; the way the waiters looked: the funny one that Keita called ‘le Chinois’; the shopkeeper that never stopped working where I bought our pic nic lunches. I am holding on to Casablanca, although it is gone.
I am now here in Djenne alone. That is not a tragedy by any means, but it is different.
Yesterday I arrived. Not only in Djenne, but in Black Africa. My arrival was linked to the connection to the municipal electricity grid, mentioned recently. Let me explain...
Kaba, the electrician who has carried out the electrical work on the hotel since the beginning, and who is an employee of the EDM ( Electricite du Mali) of Djenne has been working quietly behind the scenes for some time to get the hotel electricity connected. The rest of the neighbourhood, however, has to wait until the official inauguration which will take place at some undisclosed moment in the future, when some dignitary is supposed to come and switch the lights on, rather like the celebrities do for the Christmas lights on Oxford Street. The installation of the electricity is there already, waiting to go, including the street lights, as mentioned in a previous blog, which are hovering ominously over the hotel with their big neon bulbs.
Djenne Djenno was supposed to receive its electricity a couple of day’s ago. I understood this to be a privilege bestowed on us because of the fact that we are a hotel and will undoubtedly be the largest consumer of electricity by far in the neighbourhood.
Passports, land leases, govenmental permits to run a hotel, various signed letters etc. (all the paraphenalia which is the legacy of the French colonial administration’s unwieldy bureaucracy) had duly been presented at the Mairie and had received the official stamps needed to furnish the dossier for the switching on of our long-awaited electricity. All that was now required was to hand over the substantal wad of cash needed for the connection to Kaba at the EDM, and to get a receipt. By that very evening Djenne Djenno, after two and a half years of hardship and enormous expense, would have its electricity. Excited by this prospect I arrived at the EDM with the money which I handed over to Kaba who was waiting.
Through a door which was ajar I saw the Djenne EDM director – an ugly and particularly odious character- sitting at the desk in his office. Since the imminent electricity connection had bestowed on me a sort of general glow of benevolence which reached out even to him, I said to Kaba: ‘I am just going to say hello to your boss’. ‘OK fine’, said Kaba. Once in the Director’s office I shook hands with him and said how very pleased I was. ‘ What about?’ he enquired. ‘Why, because the hotel is finally going to get electricity’, I replied happily. ‘Well that is quite some time off in the future’ said the ugly Director, with a face as friendly as the Grand Canyon. ‘What do you mean?’ I ventured, suddenly full of foreboding. ‘ I have been led to believe we will have electricity by the evening?’ ‘Well you are misled and mistaken. Good day’, said the Director and turned his back on me.
I was supposed to understand, somehow, that the Director was not in the know! Kaba was horrified that I had said what I did. Not only was the connection now impossible, Kaba was in the bad books. He was arranging something for me, but this was not to be discussed, and certainly should not be mentioned to the director!
How was I supposed to know that this was a secret? How can something be a secret when papers are travelling backwards and forward to the Mairie all day receiving official stamps???
I have lamented to Anne my Belgian friend, where I am now staying for a couple of day’s visit to Bamako. ‘How on earth am I supposed to understand how to behave here in Africa? I am a SWEDE for God’s sake. We don’t understand corruption or underhandedness. Noone behaves like this. And you must feel the same, surely, Anne? How are we Europeans ever supposed to understand this sort of behavior?’
‘Well, Belgians are quite corrupt actually, we are known for it’, she said, smiling blithely.