Wednesday, 30 March 2016
K'an bεn, Keita
Oumar Keita and Sophie Sarin photographed by the great Malick Sidibé at Hotel Djenné Djenno, 2007
Gone far too soon, but Keita lived longer than anyone ever expected since his second wife and loving partner of 10 years, our Sophie Sarin, went to the ends of the earth to find cures and stavings-off of the myeloma that gradually, with remissions, wore down his resistance. She was trying, with expensive medication from India, to the last. A French drug wrought miracles for about a year.
I trust Keita's Malian family, including his first wife by whom he has two children (update - three, Sophie tells me below, proving how much time has passed), realises all that. For one thing especially they owe Sophie eternal gratitude - that the treatment she sought out in Casablanca got Keita walking again. His mother lived to see that, and to have hope, before she died.
I wish I could find that first photo I took of Keita in his workroom at Djenné's hospital - that would have been Christmas/Tabaski of 2005. Communication wasn't always easy given my far from perfect French, but the last time we spoke, over the phone while Sophie was here for supper on her last visit, was unforgettable for his big, deep laugh at something I said. We also spent quality time together in Meknes, Morocco, when they both joined us at the Riad Lahboul for a couple of nights. Above, the two in the main square; below, in the Riad, Keita in his most splendid boubou.
I know that Keita was the rock Sophie needed, both in her life generally and during her time (ongoing, of course) in Djenné - his presence smoothed over difficulties and allowed her to be her usual outspoken self. He'd always have wise judgment to give in conflicts with staff and locals. I never knew a gentler yet more manly, natural soul.
We have yet to hear from Sophie of that no doubt harrowing but - I hazard a guess - still extraordinary week by his bedside at the hospital in Bamako (he became unconscious on Good Friday and died on Easter Saturday). Hope we can be of support to her when she returns. Meanwhile, our thoughts are with her. Echoing the last line of her latest blog entry: Rest in Peace Oumar Keita, Mandé Massa.