Monday, 4 August 2014

Money and then, beautiful things :-)

[Translated from the original spanish version by Natalia Molina. Thank you and congratulations to the new mummy ;-)]

- "In Mozambique you can not make friends"

This statement, coming from a beautiful woman from Granada, burnished by the waving flames of New Year's Eve bonfires on the beach of Mozambique Island, came as a shock. We are waiting for the dawn of New Year with some Japanese women on this island joined to the mainland by a narrow bridge that reminds me of Cádiz, the Silver Teacup, but with old colonial houses and an Arab center of winding houses (vertically and horizontally) lit only by the embers of coal stoves and the stars...

- "They always expect you to pay everything, and they themselves do not feel able to be friends of yours. So they may be more or less nice, but I’ve been working here for three months and there is no one I consider my friend, as an equal."

The conversation is interrupted because she goes for a walk with her group of Spanish friends and her Mozambican date (that, you can find in Mozambique ;-). The thing is the money issue also causes me a headache: not knowing if the people are friendly because they think you're going to pay for everything or because they like you. And I have a good solution. Lately I have been bringing out the topic with everyone I meet, boring them. And I let my right-wing side of brain talk, but the left-wing side steer, so in the end I still give people the vote of confidence and invite then from time to time.

Because if they are not friends, how can I call Luis, when we arrive home and tell his lover stories of the day in two languages, Portuñol and Portuguese, his face changing its orography to the rhythm of dancing candlelight? He tosses in seismic guffaw remembering the drunk man who slept from bump to bump. And joyful rivers of tears flow through the previously dry valleys of his cheeks cleaning the dust on the road when we reached the part where I throw up because of the clattering (and some beers) and people say I do it so they leave me a seat. And then comes a calm.

Or what about the Masai "adopting" me, in one of the 150 means of transport I take on my way to the Tanzanian border with the impressive dignity of his red cloak covering his shoulders: he moves out of the front seat to let me sit, while he gets wet upstairs without losing elegance, taking a fold in his cloak out of nowhere to cover his head.

(not his best photo but I wanted you to see Tanzanian version of the omelette ;-)

And he shares his room with me in Dar es Salaam and loses some of his composure from laughing when I call him Baltasar on The Kings day or when I say that I'm already a White Masai, when he hides my belly in the legendary (and now magic ) red cloak. And not only his composure but also the voice between baritone cocks to see the rush that hits me when I get to find .. coffee ! Or now that he’s gone and I'm still at his house and he doesn’t stop calling me...

If those are not friends... just for the girl from Granada, for her info ;-)

A really warm hug from Dar es Salaam !

Monday, 28 July 2014

Magic for beginners: The Griot (or The Magic of Words)

[Translated from the original spanish entry by Nuria. Thank you Nuria!!]

We got to the end of our adventure.

(Aaaaaaawww, I can hear you shouting out of disappointment. But I just meant our adventure… in the traditional villages of Senegal ;-))

After spending the night at the police station…!

(Guys, if you don’t keep it down I can’t move on! Goodness me, you are really pushing it today! It is true, though, that I went a bit too far ahead of the story… Let’s go back then!)

When we said goodbye to the villagers who had treated us so well, we left without The Fighter. Already purified over ritual baths, protected by his gri-gri and honouring his hot-headed character (“all of you fighters are crazy”, he greeted the wizard!), he headed back to Dakar in the hope that he would get his wife back and he wouldn’t be caught again dressed up as a woman and saying weird things in the river…

Problem is that I had run out of water the night before, so I’d been drinking from the well whose water had been boiled in the all-sorts-of-old-flavours-tasting pot and just kindly “filtered” for me with the first t-shirt they grabbed. Add that to the smoked taste of firewood, and that water was… it was… the opposite of an add by Coca-Cola, to put it mildly. So when we arrived in Fatick and I spotted an ATM (we also had run out of money, hehe), I leaped on it and, as soon as I left, I started dropping that delicious liquid to the four winds while shouting “we are rich” and “no more misery” while Pape was roaring with laughter!

Good stories of my journey. But we were not caught by the police because of that! Basically Pape bumped into a friend who was on his night shift that night at the police station, and since he was on his own, we made him company over tea and slept “locked up” in the police mosquito net. 

(Sorry, back to the point… Let’s talk about African minstrels, the great storytellers, and about dynasties… the griots!)

We need to wake up early today as we’ll finally arrive in Diakhaw, the historical capital of the Kingdom of Sine (from the ethnic group of Serer), whose royal family are the ancestors of… my friend Pape! And because we belong to the family, we gain access to the grounds of the old Palaces, surrounding the Baobab and the tombs of the legendary kings who had ruled over this region since the 14th century. But we didn’t come here to see some tombs. We came to see this lovable woman.

It’s my great honour to introduce you to Princess Coumbody, daughter of Mahecor, the last King of Sine. And as you can see from the picture… she actually looks like him!

It is touching to hear this woman saying that for his whole childhood she couldn’t cry. Although it was not due to obligations of the post, but because “my dad was so good, he loved us so much, that commanded for us to have everything we wanted: clothes, sweets, toys… And I remember how the griot would take me over his lap and tell me the most amazing stories until I would fall asleep. It’s only now, when I see that my sons and grandsons won’t be able to enjoy the same life of absolute happiness I had, when I really feel like crying…”

And just to avoid the ocean coming through the beautiful blue eyes of this last Princess of legend, I take out my phone to show her the picture of her cousin, Pape’s grandma (to whom we went to ask for permission in Dakar to attend the rituals, and who suggested us to do the “sweet” sacrifice of inviting children in the neighbourhood for lunch). What is my reaction when I see her taking my phone over and kissing the screen, a great expression of happiness on her face. (My grandma, la Elvi, could have done exactly the same thing ;-) )

We leave her memories behind and the Palace too, looking for N’ deye Faye, a griot we heard about because of her great musical talent. However, we could have never imagined she was actually going to sing for us the history of Coumbody, the last Princess of Sine!!!

Pape is genuinely touched. He couldn’t believe he would be able to gather the best griot women in the historical capital to sing about the feats of his family. The magic in those words and music are touching a secret fibre inside him, a fibre that connects him to his ancestors, his land and, if may say, to the millenary oral tradition of the African continent (and Mankind!).

N’ deye Faye’s powerful voice revives in front of us not only the wise King Mahecor, but also Coumbody’s mother, and the father of her mother who fought for his ancestors’ beliefs and for freedom in the bloody battle against the Muslims who wanted to impose their religion. Her voice, supported by her partner sitting next to her and repeated in a surrounding eco by the other two, is as if Ceddo was being projected in front of us, a movie by the great Senegalese film-maker Ousmane Sembène (you have to watch Xala, by the way).

And after she finishes, she also begins to recall her childhood and tells us about how her father (last official griot of one King of Sine) used to leave the house early to gather the rest of the royalty griots over the rhythm of his drums to sing at the gates of the Palace, which however they wouldn’t be allowed to enter. Or how her grandfather used to wake her up some times in the middle of the night to test her on the genealogies they’d been studying during the day. “But what I liked the most was to help the griot women in the family so that I could learn their songs and have fun singing with them”.

“I got married and went to live with my husband, an amazing griot too, but I didn’t work as a griot. It was only after the death of my husband, because I needed to feed my children, that I started to go back to the old words and rhythms, and started to sing at weddings or baptisms from families that were linked to my family as griots. And every time I sing and bring the old stories back, I feel the same joy I had as a child. I think I’ve always wanted to be a griot…”

We say goodbye in fascination. As we are leaving, Pape, who is still impressed, tells me that he cannot believe how I dared to ask them about the “burials” inside the Baobab! This is one of the most enigmatic facts about the “caste” of griots. So close to royalty, but at the same time with so many rules to remind them about their inferiority. In the royal family’s environment we had been told that if a griot was buried like the others, the land would turn infertile. Something they could not confirm is if that was meant to be derogatory, but N’ deye’s version is quite different:

“Only the greatest griots were granted the post-mortem right to have their bodies sheltered inside the trunk of the Holy Baobab.” And it seems that his grandparents’ generation was the last one to be granted that honour.

So I grin at Pape and leave thinking that only big poets, those who have the power to revive the great feats of their ancestors, deserve to be close to their God, embraced by the Holy Baobab…

Friday, 25 July 2014

Magic for beginners: The Mask’s Dance (in the amazing Dogon Country)

[Translated by Bisila Noha from the original entry in spanish. Thank you Biso!!!]

“The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place.”
Arrow of God, Achebe 1964

Through the writing of Chinua Achebe, the recently deceased writer considered the “father of African Literature”, we are going to discover one of the most fascinating aspects of African culture: the power hidden behind its masks. This discovery will take place in one of the most amazing sceneries, the Dogon Country, which may represent the very best of the continent: Serengeti – the savanna and its “Land of Endless Space”, its massive fault with the small “Victoria falls”, the villages and their architecture, and the traditions of its kind people. Wanna find out more? ;-)

After leaving you breathless with the picture of the Bandiagara fault, I think you should wander around one of the villages that are embedded in the cliffs. To do that, though, you will first have to hop onto a truck’s roof, walk through several villages, and then do some climbing.

Once we get to the villages “at ground level”, we learn many things about their culture, the supremacy of the sacred snake Lébé, how spiritual leaders or hogons are chosen in accordance with the cycles of the star Sirius, and that assemblies take place in the toguna. A toguna is a building whose roof is so low that no one can stand up when discussions get heated. In fact, Dogon people only consider valid words those said quietly when sitting. Fair enough!

Most of their windows and doors are masterpieces: sculptures on wood depicting Dogon cosmology or the history of a given tribe. I cannot help but share the picture below with you, as it is a toilet door. Imagine what a palace door might look like!

But let’s get down to business. The word mask comes from the Latin word Masca, witch, and according to Roger Caillois (preface of Masques de O. Perrin’s book), the basic functions of a mask, like those of mimicry with insects, are:

- To disguise, hide or protect rather than portray.
- Metamorphosis. To turn into something else, to be possessed by a superior spirit whose energy or advice is needed. At the Mask Museum in Lomé, we were told that masks were originally used to ask the Spirit who was responsible of someone’s death, but also to hide the person accusing in the name of the Spirit or god, so that the culprit’s family could not take revenge. The masks are therefore linked to the death of both men and the fields, as they also are used to pray for rain.
- To drive others away. “To wear the mask, to be entitled to do so either via an induction, tests or a purchase, means to no longer belong to the frightened group but to join the FRIGHTENING ones.” This strengthens hierarchy and social cohesion.

As we have already been “inducted”, we now can wear the Kanaga Mask, the sacred crocodile. Let’s get possessed by its Spirit… Are you ready? 

Now that we are the “Mask” and that we have spent a couple of days in the forest preparing and speaking only mask language, we can follow the Chief of the masks to a terrace where we will perform the Dance which is used to pray for rain. Women and children have already left, afraid of being punished by the “police masks”. Only real men can see us and present us with offerings. We start to feel the “burden”, the presence of something superior to us and with the music and screams of our Chief we dance faster and faster and our body keeps spinning incredibly, covering the four cardinal points, as if the mask was no longer heavy and we had turned into the sacred crocodile, the world and the rain that is to fall…

Back to Achebe’s novel, in which the Mask, Agaba in this case, appears for the first time. There is a “massive stampede”, as it “was not a Mask of song and dance. It stood for the power and aggressiveness of youth”. When it gets closer to the main character the following ritualistic conversation takes place:

-Ezeulu, do you know me?
- How can a man know you who are beyond human knowledge?

Achebe, in order to show us that post-independence societies are dominated by consumerism and that in those social circles where people ask about the “health” of their Mercedes Benz when they greet each other, people cannot reply that they have sold it as they could not afford the insurance, gives us the following example: it would be as if a Mask were asked a ritual question and replied “I do not understand what you are saying, I am nothing but a man with a mask”. Both things are unthinkable in their respective worlds.

This is why we understand why Achebe, in order to explain different things at once, as only he can do, says:

White man is the masked spirit of today” 

What a different view from the unconditional love expressed towards France following its military intervention.
Oddly enough, this man is an initiate in the mask’s dance…

In case Achebe is right, I will close this post with this pic ;-)

Monday, 7 July 2014

Magic for Beginners: The sacred Baobab

[Translated by Aixa de la Cruz from the original blog entry and published in her magazine Indias/Indies. Thank you Aixa!!]

The adventure began one morning when I woke up and saw that the family was in the living room in a quieter mood than usual. One of the cousins, whom I had already met, was completely off on the sofa, expressionless, and he mechanically gave me his hand without saying a word. It’s because of Ramadan – I thought – and went to the shower. But when I came back, I found that there were more and more neighbors on the living room and my enquiries about their presence only met evasive answers, so I went out to look  for my friend in the hope that he would solve the mystery. 

It seemed that the cousin - a tough wrestler of Senegalese wrestling, jobless at the time, hardly supported by his fan club while his wife, together with his daughters, lived with her parents while filing the papers for divorce- had been found that morning, without warning, looking carefully for something on the banks of the river and dressed in drag.

While I was sleeping, they had burned some branches in the house to shoo the devil and by the time I woke up, I could see neither the devil nor the cousin dressed in drag; he was just catatonic. Little by little, after being locked down in his room, he recovered. And though he didn’t remember what happened that morning, he laughed when he was told about it and said something like:

- It must have been that bastard of my mother-in-law. She must have asked a marabou to put a spell to get my wife to divorce me.

Leaving aside whether it was really necessary to hire a wizard for his wife to divorce him, the question was: what now?

- We need to go to the village of our ancestors to ask for the protection of its god – fetish, they call it-.​- Can I go too? – I couldn’t help but ask.

And although they said I could right away, being white, the situation was more complicated than it seemed and we first had to speak with the oldest person in the village, who was in Dakar. Luckily, it was Djike, the admirable maternal grandmother of my friend Pape.

In the lively conversation that followed the initial greetings, after we told her about our intentions, I kept on hearing, after the name of the fetish, the sentence “bugul toubabs” whose meaning I happened to know: our ancestor’s god does not like whites. (I don’t blame him). Pape, without setting deference aside, explained to her that I was practically a member of the family so there surely was a way to make an exception. Djike didn’t seem too convinced and kept on giving him examples of another village where a nun had been spooked by the sight of the god who, in its animal form, came running to her because she had approached the sacred baobab.

To help defuse the conversation, we told her anecdotes of the family and showed her pictures, which she loved. Thus, when I told her everything I know in wolof, she eventually softened her position and told me that before I left Dakar I had to make a sacrifice to the fetish for him to expect my arrival.

A sacrifice!

I was already picturing myself in the middle of the city wielding a knife to cut a rooster’s throat at the location indicated… but not. It was much simpler than that. As the god happens to be fond of children, the sacrifice consisted of cooking a kind of rice pudding, though without the rice, and inviting the kids in the neighborhood to eat it. On the day of our journey, we just had to step out the door and invite them, for the bowl to be clean and shiny.

Thus, with the hope that this precaution would be enough and fighting the torrential rain as we could, we set off. Everything was slightly weirder than usual, like when we met a man who had a huge finger.

Once in the bus, while my two fellow travelers were sleeping and I looked at the landscape that became greener and wilder as we moved inland…


We had got a flat tire just beneath our seats. We were all safe and sound but… was it a bad omen?
To answer the question, we moved a bit away and the wrestler took some shells out his backpack, tossed them three times on the sand and after signaling two that were parallel but in opposite directions he told us it symbolized the departure and the return and that the disposition of the shells in-between augured the success of our purpose.

So we continued on our journey, now all of us awake. And after reaching the bus stop of the region of Fatick we had to ride some motorbikes to - through footpaths surrounded by baobabs and fields of a fresh and exuberant green color – get to the lovely village of the ancestors.

Without either electricity or tap water but with impressive kindness and the welcoming beauty of the mud walls and the thatched roofs that surrounded us in the middle courtyard of the family concession, night fell while we chained the suspension of our fasting with the greetings, and the dinner and the stories of kings and the starry night and the grandmother telling us about that one time in which the fetish, in its serpent form, appeared to her in the barn… And little by little we fell peacefully asleep with our dreams only upset by maybe the encounter that would take place in the morning under the sacred baobab.

At dawn, with the rooster crowing and the movement that began to be felt in the family concession, the three of us woke up and got out of the bed with mosquito net we had shared.

During breakfast, we were informed that they had already spoken to the guardian of the sacred serpent, the old man in charge of the rituals beneath the Sacred Baobab.

- He’s so old that when he talks to you, you are going to be under the impression that he’s about to die at the end of each sentence.

It perhaps is necessary to clarify that in the Senegalese tradition, some trees are the official residence of many supernatural beings such as the djines, but above all, the baobab is the link with the ancestors: it is the place to which they came to make their sacrifices to the protectors. Thus, unlike Eastern and Southern Africa where the ancestors are directly invoked – they sometimes even speak through the shaman, in a trance -, here the god or the protector is invoked and he becomes the mediator between them and their ancestors.

But the question was still in the air: was a white going to be allowed to the rituals to which – as I was told – no other toubab had ever been allowed to? We didn’t have much time to wonder because they soon came and told us that the old man was waiting for us at the Sacred Baobab.

Once again Pape had to make use of his good manners and diplomacy to convince the old man, who only gave in when Pape accepted – not without fear - to take the consequences that might derive from the transgression.

So I followed them to the Baobab where, first for Pape and later for the wrestler, the guardian would open the little thatched hut where the pumpkins that contain the water mixed with the sacrifices offered to fetish were kept. He would directly address the god pronouncing the name and family of the person that was about to perform the ritual bath, asking him first permission and then his protection and blessing.

The solemnity of the situation was perceived in the delicate sound of the leafs beneath the baobab, in the silence as Pape retreated behind the screen to perform the sacred bath in which he couldn’t get either his hair or his face wet, as the tradition commands. Then it was the turn of the wrestler, the true reason of this journey to the heart of Senegal, who repeated the ritual to cure himself of the outbreak of insanity that had supposedly been caused by a marabout at the request of his mother in law to prompt a divorce.

Everything seemed to have successfully concluded but the old man stayed seated beneath the baobab and surprised us all with the question:

- Does the toubab want the blessing of Loungoulgne too?

They all remained speechless and turned to me. This wasn’t planned. We were hoping he would let me see the ritual, but it didn’t cross our minds that he would let me perform it. I gladly accepted although – I was told – first they would have to ask for the permission of the fetish that, if denied, would manifest somehow, for example by tainting blood red the water of the sacrifices in the pumpkin.

I nodded again, left Pape with my camera and approached the sacred Baobab, still bathed in light, as a requestor.

Everything went smoothly. The water didn’t turn red, so the god had accepted that I performed the ritual. After listening to the words of the old man, I went to the wooden screen on which I left my clothes and took a bath as indicated. Although a bit  nervous, I felt as if I was bathing at the same time with the water and with the rays of light that seemed to fall warm and generous on us, blessing us too.

The ceremony was over and, when I tried to thank the old man with my just learned words in Serer – here they didn’t speak wolof any more – he burst into laughter and told us again, apparently touched, that it was the first time in his life that he or his ancestors had allowed a white to perform the ritual. He seemed really content and relieved that everything had been OK.

Once purified by the ritual, we went out to walk through the fields that seem to share the magic of the sacred baobab. The limpid, somehow primordial green seems to surround the men that work the soil in the company of their children in a magnificent vignette amidst the infinite plains.

Little by little the night fell and with it came the stories, but this time we were at the neighbor’s house because she was famous for her skills as a narrator. The surprise – in addition to the woman’s proposition that I married one of her youngest daughters – came when it was the children who - one after another, occupying the center of the group and following their mother’s indications – told the stories. About the clever hare who fooled the rabbit by pleading his hair with the branches; or about the father who tried to impose the rule that nobody who was late for lunch would eat and eventually he was the one who got punished…  All of them were told in a mixture of serer translated to zolof and then to French, striving to preserve the songs and gestures and the magic.

With these stories night fell and dreams came. And I remembered the sacrifice I had had to make before starting the journey, inviting the children in the neighborhood.

And just before I fell asleep, I wondered whether these children would be the true god of the sacred baobab. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

L’indomptable Ken Bugul, la lionne de la littérature africaine

[Traduit de la version original espagnole par Anissa Dab (Merci Anissa!!!)]

Pieds nus, et avec son simple boubou blanc à pois colorés, apparaît au milieu des ouvriers Ken Bugul, avec retenue, comme si elle voulait feindre une vieillesse qui ne l’avait pas encore atteinte.

Nous entrons dans sa maison, sobre et confortable, dont le seul “excès” est un splendide trône du Benin entouré d’étagères de livres, et nous commençons tout de suite à parler de son livre Le Baobab fou ; de la magie des baobabs sacrés qui protègent et punissent le peuple qui les vénèrent, qui rient, pleurent et rêvent avec ce peuple ; et aussi de SON baobab (un véritable baobab en particulier) auquel elle cherchait à s’identifier à cause de la solidité et de la force de ses racines.

- Je l’ai tué. Il est mort pour que je puisse vivre…

Cela ne me servait à rien de connaître l’histoire du roman, sa propre histoire à elle. Une petite fille séparée de sa mère prématurément et sans explication. Une jeune femme qui, alors qu’elle avait réussi à partir pour l’occident, n’y trouve pas ses racines perdues. Une femme qui, en rentrant dans son pays, retrouve son baobab, toujours debout, qui a l’air toujours vivant, mais…

« J’avais rendez-vous avec le baobab, je n’y suis pas allée et je n’avais pas pu le prévenir, je n’ai pas osé. Ce rendez-vous manqué l’a rendu très malheureux. Il est devenu fou et mourut peu de temps après. » (page 181)

C’est vraiment arrivé ? Un baobab peut mourir de chagrin ?

- Pas UN baobab, LE baobab. Au Sénégal on voit beaucoup de baobabs, des arbres comme n’importe quels autres. Mais dans chaque village il y a un baobab sacré, un arbre complètement lié à la vie des gens de ce village qu’il connaît et qu’il protège. Et lorsque d’un seul coup, sans tomber malade avant, il meurt et tombe au sol, les gens savent qu’il est mort pour les sauver d’un grand danger.

Dans mon cas, je sais qu’il est mort pour que je puisse, après mon expérience traumatisante, commencer une nouvelle vie. 

Je fais le commentaire que le livre a l’air d’être écrit en pleine crise émotionnelle, avec une structure parfois démembrée qui exprime très bien les sentiments du personnage.

-Lorsque j’étais en Belgique j’écrivais très peu, seulement quelques notes, nostalgiques de mon village natal, qui avaient aussi un baobab dans leur titre. Mais le livre je l’ai écrit dix ans plus tard, après l’expérience terrible que j’avais vécu en France - maltraitée par l’homme qu’elle aimait, racontée postérieurement dans Cendres et Braises - et dont je suis sortie à ramasser à la petite cuillère.

Certains de mes amis avaient gardé mes notes. Je leur ai demandé qu’ils me les envoient mais je me suis rendu compte que cette histoire n’était plus celle que je voulais raconter, et ainsi j’ai écrit le livre sans consulter ces notes.

Et comment avez-vous réussi à vous "enraciner" à nouveau ? -demandai je, pétrifié dans mon fauteuil, fasciné par la force de cette femme si courageuse -Avez-vous essayé de reprendre contact avec votre mère ? 

-Tu dois prendre en compte l’importance de la pudeur en Afrique. Tu ne peux pas aller directement voir ton père ou ta mère et leur dire que tu te sens abandonné ou quoi que ce soit. Il existe la figure de l’oncle maternel pour parler à la mère (ou de la tante paternelle pour parler au père), mais dans mon cas il était déjà mort, je ne pouvais donc pas passer par lui.

Ma relation avec ma mère n’était pas froide, mais elle n’était pas non plus intime. Et c’est quelque chose que je n’ai jamais pu récupérer. Quand je suis revenue de Belgique j’ai vécu avec des amies, pas avec des membres de ma famille, j’étais déjà une femme indépendante. Mais par chance il existe d’autres racines, une autre union avec son village et sa terre natale. 

Pour sortir de ces souvenirs douloureux, mais tout en continuant à discuter de son premier livre, elle loua sa fierté en parlant de la bisexualité/homosexualité, lorsqu’elle découvrit que son compagnon en Belgique avait des « tendances homosexuelles », et elle le compare à un « esclave de la famille ».

- Mais autrefois, l’homosexualité était totalement acceptée au Sénégal! - me répondit-elle en riant. - Gor-Djigen, comme on l’appelait, homme-femme, était respecté malgré ses manières - et elle se mit tout naturellement à imiter les gestes et les façons de parler de son "esclave". Je pense que son génie comique est l’aspect le plus méconnu de cette femme aux multiples facettes, mais elle remplit de moments tordants le reste de la conversation.

En Afrique nous continuons d’appeler gentiment "esclaves" les descendants des véritables esclaves qui appartenaient à la famille. Ou bien aux cousins paternels qui en théorie sont nos esclaves. Mais ils aiment bien cela, c’est une façon pour eux de se sentir "liés" à la famille. L’appartenance, le fait d’avoir sa place dans la société est très important. 

Par exemple, quand tu t’en iras, ma fille pourrait venir me dire – et à nouveau elle reprit son rôle d’interprète – qui est ce badolo qui est venu à la maison à une heure pareille et sans apporter ni pain ni rien pour nous inviter à petit-déjeuner ? -et on se mit à rire tous les deux, moi un peu "pris en flagrant délit" par cette accusation soudaine !

"Badolo" est un terme dépréciatif bien que parfois il soit utilisé gentiment, pour faire référence à un homme commun, qui n’a pas de caste, qui n’est ni griot, ni de famille royale, ni artisan…D’ailleurs les griots pour l’embellir, quand ils veulent te faire payer un petit quelque chose en chantant tes louanges t’appeleraient "guer", c’est un euphémisme. Comme tu n’as pas de caste, tu devrais être un érudit ou quelqu’un d’important. 

- Et vous, de quelle caste êtes-vous ?

Badolo affirma-t-elle, et nous éclatons tous les deux de rire.

Il faut aussi tenir compte du fait que durant la crise des années 80 et les plans d’ajustement structurels très durs imposés par la Banque mondiale, le Sénégal a du demander de l’argent aux pays arabes, qui ont envoyé des "infiltrés" dans notre pays, qui essayèrent d’implanter leur façon de voir la religion, la sharia… Et c’est en partie pour cela que le Sénégal souffre aujourd’hui de "squizophrénie" perdu entre ses propres traditions, les différentes versions de l’islam et le capitalisme. C’est bizarre que l’on parle de cela maintenant en référence au "Baobab" alors que c’est le thème du livre que je viens de terminer. 

Mais avant que la conversation ne s’engage vers l’actualité, je ne veux pas manquer l’occasion de lui poser des questions sur l’expérience qu’elle raconte dans Riwan ou le Chemin de Sable, où au retour de son expérience traumatisante en France, la femme "libérée" et occidentalisée devient…la 28e femme d’un marabout !

- Ce fut une expérience merveilleuse. Mais je n’étais pas exactement son épouse. Un marabout, comme tous les musulmans, ne peut avoir que quatre femmes. Une doit venir de sa propre famille, une autre d’une famille érudite, une autre d’une famille royale et la dernière d’une famille différente. Les autres sont "taco", ce qui signifie "le lien" - répète-t-elle en serrant les poings avec force pour souligner l’importance de ce "quelque chose" immatériel qui les unit.

Je le connaissais depuis petite. Et quand je suis revenue de France dans un état lamentable, tout le monde me rejetait (c’est pour cela qu’aujourd’hui je ne dis presque à personne que je suis là, c’est dur d’oublier comment ils m’ont traitée). Je vins à lui pour recevoir une aide spirituelle et il m’a soutenu et donné des conseils et de la tendresse. Un jour il me proposa le "taco". Mais cela n’a rien à voir avec le sexe, il avait déjà plus de quatre vingt dix ans ! Et moi je ne vivais même pas avec lui. J’allais le voir presque tous les jours, à pieds, et c’est pour cela que le livre s’appelle "le chemin de sable". 

Le marabout accueille souvent chez lui des femmes rejetées par la société et il se lie à elle pour les valoriser, leur donner confiance en elles. Imagine, non seulement il te dit que tu vaux quelque chose, mais en plus il décide de se lier à toi. Cela te fait reprendre beaucoup de confiance en toi. 

En plus, les autres femmes du marabout m’ont beaucoup appris. A moi, supposée femme "libérée" - on revient au mime – mais qui comme tant d’autres femmes en occident était obsédée par l’idée "d’avoir" un homme, dominée par l’idée de possession et par la jalousie.

"Mariétou, occupe toi de toi" me disait-on en se riant de mes histoires en occident, où tout le monde attend le prince charmant. "pourquoi attendre ?" Et ils avaient raison. Partager la vie de ces femmes m’a apporté la paix nécessaire pour refaire ma vie, lire, écrire, et m’occuper de moi.

La conversation dérive vers les mariages bourgeois d’antan en Europe, où les époux avaient des chambres séparées, ce qui paraît indispensable à Ken Bugul.

- Moi, je peux seulement aimer quelqu’un qui soit supérieur à moi d’une certaine façon. Qu’il ait une passion. Ou plusieurs. Un musicien, un peintre comme Picasso (enfin, non, il avait un caractère trop spécial), mieux, Dali. Quelqu’un qui n’ait pas besoin de moi tout le temps, que me laisse avoir ma vie. L’important c’est que lorsque nous sommes ensemble, notre conversation, notre "lien", soit spécial. 

Ce que je veux c’est un amant,  pas un mari » – conclut-elle, catégorique et souriante.

- Et vous pourriez accepter d’être la seconde femme de quelqu’un? 

- Pfff –elle s’incline dans son siège – ça c’est seulement pour les grandes personnalités, un génie, un marabout…qu’ils en soient capables. Mais oui, si je peux faire ma vie et que lorsque nous sommes ensemble, le lien est spécial, oui, ça me convient – ponctue-t-elle d’un sourire un peu ironique.

C’est impossible d’écrire tous les thèmes qui surgirent dans la conversation, ni comment on en vint à parler de nous retrouver dans l’Himalaya, son grand projet.

- Moi je vais monter sur la cime de l’Himalaya, même si cela doit me prendre le reste de la vie – dit-elle sans se troubler. Et si elle n’était pas Ken Bugul, personne ne croirait qu’elle parle sérieusement…

Ken Bugul, qui en wolof s’signifie "celle que personne n’aime" (parfois utilisé comme stratagème pour libérer un enfant d’une mort prématurée qui l’attend), m’assoit sur le trône du Bénin pour une photo, me serre dans ses bras et m’accompagne, pieds nus, vigoureuse, en saluant les ouvriers par leur nom. Elle ne peut plus cacher son énergie débordante et quand la voisine s’approche pour lui raconter se problèmes et lui demander conseil, il est clair que son nom d’artiste n’a rien à voir avec la réalité de l’amour et de l’admiration qu’elle inspire.

Elle ne s’en va pas, une fois m’avoir mis dans le taxi –le chauffeur est un aspirant gendre, m’informe-t-elle – avant de m’avoir donné deux bises et m’avoir serré la main gauche, pour assurer que nous nous reverrons.

Il va donc falloir que je commence à préparer mes bottes pour l’Himalaya…

El médico que leía a Chinua Achebe

Publicado originalmente por José Naranjo el 04-11-2013 en Gracias Pepe!!!

Castillo de Elmina, cañón et César Pérez

¿Se imaginan hacer un viaje en el que, cargado apenas con una mochila y saliendo de Sudáfrica, pasen por Botsuana, Zimbabue, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Ruanda, Uganda, Kenia y Etiopía para luego dar el salto a Senegal y continuar por Malí, Burkina Faso, Benín, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria y más allá? ¿Un viaje en el que conozcan a cientos de personas, descubran culturas increíbles y disfruten de lo mejor (también de lo peor) de África? Pues dejen de imaginar porque les voy a presentar a César Pérez, el médico burgalés que se enamoró de la literatura africana y que empezó su romance con este continente por donde deben empezar las buenas historias de amor, por la pasión del descubrimiento en vivo y en directo, sin intermediarios.

Pero empecemos por el principio. Como él mismo dice, “nací en Burgos un frío 18 de Diciembre de 1980”. Tras estudiar Medicina en la Universidad Complutense y hacer la especialidad en Medicina de Familia en el Hospital Doce de Octubre de Madrid, se arrancó a trabajar en el Centro de Salud Guayaba. Siempre inquieto, se implicó en el movimiento Yo sí Sanidad Universal, desde el que pretendía promover la atención a los inmigrantes sin papeles en contra de las medidas del Gobierno. Pero César, un enamorado de la literatura, sacó tiempo de donde no tenía para hacer el master de estudios literarios de la Complutense. Empedernido lector de autores africanos como Chinua Achebe, “el gran pionero” lo llama él, Ben Okri o Mia Couto, sus preferidos, la idea de viajar a África en cuanto acabara la especialidad le rondaba la cabeza. “Me fascinaba este continente, su cultura tradicional y quería hacer un viaje sin fecha de vuelta fija. Mi anterior gran viaje, al acabar la carrera, fue a la India. Me encantó, pero me quedé con ganas de no haber tenido billete de vuelta. Y de ahí salió”.

Lo conocí en Bamako, a la mitad de su periplo. Un amigo común que vive en Senegal me escribió un día y me dijo que César llegaba esa semana, que le hiciera un poco de Cicerone. Fuimos a tomar una cerveza y un bocadillo de brochetas al Zira, un local situado en el barrio de Hippodrome. Y empezó a contarme. Y yo no podía parar de escucharle. “¿Qué es lo mejor que te ha pasado?”, le pregunté yo. “Todo”, dijo él, “desde el saxofonista de Ciudad del Cabo que desde el primer día te invita a una barbacoa en su casa, ver a las ballenas congregarse en la puntita sur del continente, un hipopótamo que entra tranquilamente en tu hostal a orillas del delta del Okavango, saltar al vacío en las cataratas Victoria, nadar con delfines en Mozambique tras dejar al pintor callejero que te ha acogido en su casa, ver los leones en su espacio infinito del Serengetti, escapar de una situacion delicada rodeado de masais con machetes -gracias a los amigos, como siempre-, dormir en la misma cama con un soldado tutsi de los que liberaron la ciudad durante el genocidio ruandés, que te ofrezcan hacer espionaje industrial... o que una faringitis se convierta en una aventura en medio de las tribus del sur de Etiopía, sin electricidad ni cobertura, donde los niños salían corriendo aterrados cuando me quitaba la camiseta porque nunca habían visto un blanco con pelo en pecho”.

Y seguía hablando y hablando. “Y el cambio en África occidental, con la sensualidad de su arena cálida que te acaricia los pies, las manos que se juntan en el gran bol de comida compartida y el sol y los dioses que parecen bendecirte en un baño ritual en el Baobab Sagrado... Malí, con la misteriosa danza de máscaras en el pais dogon y la historia fascinante de sus tres imperios, donde tuve el privilegio de ser el primer turista en llegar a Gao desde 2009. Y tras la pesadilla de visados en Burkina Faso y Benín, descubrir la cotidianidad del vudú en Ouida o Togoville con los niños saltando entre las estatuas de los dioses y la vendedora de naranjas contándome entre los árboles de las raíces enlazadas que todavía espera ese hijo que nunca llega... Y todos los escritores que me han abierto las puertas de sus casas y del alma de este misterioso y querido continente que te golpea y te abraza a partes iguales. Que te remueve por dentro y te hace pensar como a Itxaso, una masai vasca que conocí en Tanzania, ¿qué será de mí cuando esté lejos de la inmensidad de África?...”.

Habla de escritores, porque el viaje no es sólo placer. Su idea es conseguir contactos en las universidades y hacer entrevistas a distintos autores, allí por donde pasa, para una futura tesis sobre literatura africana en torno al realismo mágico. En su blog, Lolyplanet, César va escribiendo su diario de viaje y colgando pequeños vídeos en donde muestra desde una fiesta Ashanti en Koumasi (Ghana) hasta la mezquita de Djingayreber en Tombuctú (norte de Malí). Y también en su bitácora, que se acerca con curiosidad y enorme respeto a decenas de culturas con las que César tiene la ocasión de compartir, recoge algunas experiencias negativas, como cuando le atracaron en una playa e intentaron violar a su acompañante. Sin embargo, salvo esta dura experiencia, a su juicio “lo más dificil ha sido aprender a gestionar la diferencia en la forma de tratar con el dinero que tenemos africanos y occidentales".

Según César, "la sensación de que cualquiera puede estar siendo simpático contigo porque cree que al final le vas a dar dinero, aunque no sea solo por eso, es muy desagradable. Sobre todo cuando lo mejor que tienen es su genuina y legendaria hospitalidad. Nosotros somos más cartesianos: o lo hago por amistad y es completamente gratis o es un negocio y fijamos el precio de antemano. Ellos son más flexibles o relativistas, como eres mi amigo solo espero que me des un poco de dinero; pero es que ademas le dan dinero hasta a su abuela cuando van a verla y si no tienen dinero, no van. En África occidental, sobre todo en Senegal, se mezcla con esa cultura maravillosa que tienen del compartir. Es el país donde yo he visto más claramente que cualquiera puede entrar en una casa y comer del bol comun donde come toda la familia. Pero esperan que tú hagas lo mismo, y como eres blanco y se supone que eres rico, en teoría te toca poner siempre y más”.

Viaja con lo puesto. Intenta gastar lo menos posible y se va quedando en alojamientos baratos o con gente a las que ha contactado previamente a través del sistema de couchsurfing. Es de buena conversación, excelente diría yo, y de un mal gusto terrible a la hora de elegir camisa. Pronto volverá a España, pero en su pequeña mochila traerá tantas maravillosas sensaciones y recuerdos que harán que este viaje le marque para toda la vida. Compartir con él un pequeño tramo de su alucinante experiencia fue todo un placer. Compartir con ustedes las peripecias de César, el médico burgalés que leía a Chinua Achebe, es abrirles la puerta de un viaje extraordinario. Asómense a su blog y véanlo ustedes mismos.

Le médecin qui lisait à Chinua Achebe

Originalement: José Naranjo | 04-11-2013

Traduit par: Sara Ortega Nieto (merci Sara!!)

Chateau d´Elmina, canon et César Pérez

Pouvez-vous imaginer de faire un voyage où, en portant seulement un sac-à-dos, vous sortez de l'Afrique du Sud, vous passez par Botswana, le Zimbabwe, le Mozambique, la Tanzanie, le Burundi, le Rwanda, l'Ouganda, le Kenya et l'Éthiopie, pour aller plus tard vers le Sénégal et continuer par Mali, Burkina Faso, Bénin, Togo, Ghana, Nigéria et encore plus loin ? Un voyage où vous connaissez des centaines de personnes, découvrez des cultures incroyables et vous profitez du meilleur (et du pire) de l'Afrique? Arrêtez donc d'imaginer car je vais vous présenter à César Pérez, le médecin de Burgos qui est tombé amoureux de la littérature africaine et qui a commencé son histoire d'amour avec ce continent là où doivent commencer les bonnes histoires d'amour, par la passion de la découverte en première personne, sans intermédiaires.

Mais commençons par le début. D'après ses propres paroles "je suis né à Burgos un froid 18 Décembre de 1980". Après avoir étudié la médecine à l'Université Complutense de Madrid, et avoir fait sa spécialité de médecine générale à l'Hôpital Doce de Octubre à Madrid, il commença à travailler dans le centre de soins Guayaba. Toujours inquiet, il s'est impliqué dans le mouvement  Yo sí Sanidad Universal (moi oui santé universelle), à partir duquel il essayait de promouvoir l'assistance aux immigrants sans papiers contrairement aux mesures du Gouvernement. Mais César, amoureux de la littérature, trouva du temps là où il y en avait pas pour faire le Master d'études littéraires de l'Université Complutense. Lecteur acharné d'auteurs africains tels que Chinua Achebe, "le grand pionnier" d'après ses mots, Ben Bokri ou Mia Couto, ses préférés, l'idée de voyager en Afrique dès qu'il finisse son spécialité commença à lui tourner la tête. "J'étais fasciné par ce continent, sa culture traditionnelle, et je voulais y faire un voyage sans une date de retour fixe. Mon précédent grand voyage, après avoir fini ma licence, fût en Inde. J'avais adoré, mais j'aurais voulu ne pas avoir un billet de retour. Et de là l'idée".

Je lui avais connu à Bamako, à la moitié de son périple. Un ami commun qui habite au Sénégal m'avait écrit un jour pour me dire que César arrivait la semaine même, et que je devais jouer pour lui le Cicerone. Nous sommes allés prendre une bière et un sandwich de brochettes au Zira,un local situé dans le quartier de l'Hippodrome. Et il commença à me raconter. Et je ne pouvais pas arrêter de l'écouter. "C'est quoi le meilleur qui t'est jamais arrivé ?", je lui ai demandé. "Tout", il m'a répondu, "dès le saxophoniste de Cape Town qui depuis le premier jour m'invita à une barbecue chez lui, regarder les baleines se réunir dans la pointe du continent, un hippopotame qui rentre tranquillement dans ton auberge à bord du delta de Okawango, sauter dans le vide dans les Chutes Victoria, nager avec les dauphins au Mozambique  après avoir quitté le peintre errant qui t'a accueilli dans sa maison, voir les lions dans l'espace infini du Serengeti, s'échapper d'une situation délicate entouré de massais avec des machettes - tout grâce aux amis, comme d'habitude-, dormir dans le même lit avec un soldat tutsi de ceux qui ont libéré la ville après le génocide rwandais, qu'on te propose faire du espionnage industriel... ou qu'une pharyngite devienne une aventure au milieu des tribus du sud de Éthiopie, sans l'électricité ni réseau mobile, où les enfants couraient épouvantés quand j'enlevais mon t-shirt car ils n'avaient jamais vu un blanc avec des poils dans la poitrine".

Et il continuait à raconter et raconter. "Et le changement en Afrique de l'Ouest, la sensualité du sable chaud qui te fait des caresses aux pieds, les mains qui se joignent autour d'un bol de nourriture à partager, et le soleil, et les dieux qui paraissent te bénir lors d'un bain rituel dans le Baobab sacré... Le Mali, avec sa danse mystérieuse de masques dans le pays dogon et sa fascinante histoire sur ses trois empires, où j'ai eu le privilège d'être le premier touriste à arriver à Gao depuis 2009. Et après le cauchemar avec les visas au Burkina Faso et le Benin, découvrir le quotidien du vaudou à Ouida ou Togoville, avec les enfants qui sautaient entre les statues des dieux et la vendeuse d'oranges en train de me raconter entre les arbres de racines liées qu'elle attend toujours à cet enfant qui n'arrive plus... Et tous les écrivains qui m'ont ouvert les portes de leurs maisons et de l'âme de ce mystérieux et bien-aimé continent qui autant te bat que te serre dans ses bras. Qui remue quelque chose à l'intérieur de toi et qui te fait penser comme Itxaso, une massai basque que j'ai connu en Tanzanie, qu'est-ce que je vais devenir quand je serai loin de l'immensité de l'Afrique?..." 

Il parle d'écrivains, car le voyage n'est pas que du plaisir. Son idée est de se faire avec des contacts dans les universités et de faire des entretiens à des auteurs différents, là où il va, pour sa thèse future sur la littérature africaine autour du réalisme magique. Sur son blog, Lolyplanet, César écrit son carnet de voyage et il poste des petites vidéos où il montre dès une fête Ashanti au Koumasi (Ghana) jusqu'à la mosquée de Djingayreber au Tombouctou (Nord du Mali). Dans son livre de bord, qui s'approche avec une grande curiosité et un énorme respect aux dizaines de cultures avec lesquelles César a l'opportunité de partager, il reprend aussi quelques expériences négatives, comme quand il est attaqué dans une plage et on essaya de violer à sa compagne de voyage. Cependant, mise à part cette expérience très dure, il juge que "le plus difficile a été d'apprendre à gérer la différence qui pressentent africains et occidentaux dans leur façon d'agir avec l'argent". 

D'après César, "le sentiment que n'importe qui  est sympa avec toi parce qu'il croit qu'à la fin tu vas lui donner de l'argent, même si ce n'est pas que pour ça, est très désagréable. Surtout quand le meilleur qu'ils possèdent est leur magique et légendaire hospitalité. Nous sommes plus cartésiens : soit je fait ça pour amitié et c'est complètement gratuit, soit c'est du business et on fixe le prix avant. Ils sont plus flexibles ou relativistes : vu que tu es mon ami j'attend seulement que tu me donnes un peu d'argent ; mais plus que cela, ils donnent de l'argent même à leurs grandes-mères quand ils vont les visiter, et s'ils n'ont pas d'argent ils n'y vont pas. En Afrique de l'Ouest, surtout au Sénégal, ça se mélange avec leur merveilleuse culture du partage. C'est le pays où j'ai vu le plus clairement que n'importe qui peut rentrer dans une maison et manger du bol commun duquel mange toute la famille. Mais ils attend de toi la même chose, et comme tu es blanc et on suppose que tu es riche, en théorie tu dois toujours donner et donner".

Il voyage avec ce qu'il a sur le dos. Il essaye de dépenser le stricte minimum et il reste dans des logements pas chers ou chez les gens qu'il a contacté au préalable à travers le système de couchsurfing. Il a une bonne conversation, excellente à mon avis, et un goût horrible pour choisir des chemises. Il rentrera bientôt en Espagne, mais dans son petit sac-à-dos il ramènera tellement de merveilleuses sensations et souvenirs qu'il sera marqué à vie par ce voyage. Partager avec lui un petit trajet de son incroyable expérience fut tout un plaisir. Partager avec vous les péripéties de César, le médecin de Burgos qui lisait à Chinua Achebe, c'est vous ouvrir les portes à un voyage extraordinaire. Penchez-vous sur son blog et découvrez-le par vous mêmes.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Interview with Mia Couto

[Translated from the original spanish version by Sara Estima. Thank you Sara!!]

- What can I do for you

The question comes as the sound of waves of a calm sea. This man of serene blue eyes and bright smile asks me this question. But it turns out that this simple man in jeans and short-sleeved shirt is one of the best living Portuguese language writers. So this straightforward question and equal treatment put a smile in my face that will not leave me during our entire conversation.

We start talking about magical realism, although “those who invented that word were not writers”, and he tells me that the major difference between African and Latin American writers is due to the greater influence of the Catholic Church in Latin America, because “here the deceased never leave”. Although people go to different churches, the vast majority still believes in their ancestors and keeps some of the traditional culture.

The problem lies in the rigid European rationalist system (I don't recall his exact words), although “back there people also believe in horoscopes, even over the internet”. I soon kind of forget that this was supposed to be an interview and we keep going back and forward on our theme, as if we were in the sand paths of Maputo’s surroundings.

I tell him next that I was impressed to know that a book so mature, so full of subtle, relaxing, deep images, so full of Mozambique, of all its stories was written before the end of the terrible civil war that devastated his country. Ignoring the compliments as if they hadn’t been told, he acknowledges that “I was also surprised. I did not want to write a book about the war and, if ever so, only much later. But it happened like that. I suffered a lot writing this book, because at night stories came to my mind, I was visited by friends who had been killed in the war. And I had to find a PLACE OF PEACE inside me. That is why I had to write this book.

I'm so delighted with his reflections that it is almost too hard to go on, but the characters slowly come to help me, like Virginia, the woman of Portuguese origin who reinvented her unknown Portuguese family “as my parents did; they used to tell stories of a Portugal to which they could not return to during the dictatorship. Their stories gave me an imaginary family and that seemed very important to me.” He will not give me any clue about which, amongst the stories, correspond to traditional beliefs and which ones are invented, though he maliciously smiles avoiding my question, telling me that “in the town where I lived the colonization was very difficult and the town was not easily controlled; so if I crossed the street I could play with black and Indian children. I learned their language and they told me their stories. Upon returning home I translated those stories to my family. That is when I began to realize that something was lost in translation.

And that is when you started twisting the language, I tell him, trying to pull some information. Again, he smiles maliciously. He is famous for not giving much information in interviews, although he admits that he loved One Hundred Years of Solitude, “it is a fabulous book”, he says. And he accepts the influence of Luandinho Vieira, “but only in the way of treating language”, he explains. And I don't get any more influences from him.

But we go back to our matter of interest, the poetry that is everywhere in his book. I tell him that I do not agree with Francisco Noa (with whom I spoke and who is a lovely person) in that “the water has, in his work, an anthropophagic dimension”; on the contrary it seems to be an optimistic, fertile element, the symbol of the power of imagination or of the unconscious mind... His smile indicates that he will give it little importance, but he acknowledges that “water and more exactly rain is an element of change and also regeneration in traditional cultures”. I do not quite recall the words that followed, because he seems to talk more with his sea coloured smiling eyes. But, when his smile spreads to his lips I understand that I must say something.

I ask him the first question that comes to my mind. “You are a biologist, aren’t you? Because I am a doctor.” I am instantly ashamed of the familiarity and of the plainness of my question, but since my face is already red from the Sun, he does not notice it and answers “I see no contradiction; biology is to me a passion rather than a profession. I like it because it tells a story, the one of human beings, which, to me, couples well with poetry and literature.” As I keep silent, he goes on, “I wanted to be a doctor as well, a psychiatrist, but as I sided with Frelimo in the fight for Mozambique’s independence I had to quit medical school and then, when I went back to school, I realised, looking at my wife who is also a doctor, that I would not have time without remorse to literature, so I studied biology instead.” But before that you were a journalist, I say, actively returning to our conversation.

Unfortunately the Party made me head of a newspaper. I really enjoyed journalism but, being a government newspaper, I started realizing the difference between theory and practice. So I started growing apart from the newspaper and later the party.” I insist on that point. “The thing is that, in the so-called ‘civil war’, there was a very strong religious component, because Frelimo tried to banish traditional beliefs labelling them as ‘superstition’. That is the only thing that may explain the enormous emotional component, the level of harshness of the war.” In the book’s final speech - I ask him - when you talk about the danger of being ruled by others, are you referring to South Africa’s control over Renamo? “No, I meant a more general idea” he answers, intentionally brief. And now, the beast being dead - as stated in that speech - is the danger of civil war in Mozambique gone? “Yes, I think so”, he answers with moderate conviction, “but the beast does not die, you know, it gets smaller, tamed. That is something unpleasant about humans and wars make it visible. The friendly people you have found on your trip are the same that reached the level of savagery seen during the war.

Although he keeps giving me his attention, as people keep calling him I understand that I must end. So I give it all: And now, do you still believe in the power of literature, of imagination to make the world a better place? We had previously discussed that when he was younger he was more naïf, he believed that things could quickly change in a single generation, and that he now believed that social changes had a different timing, but he still found hard to believe that peace agreements had been signed in the time between the delivery of his finished book, his cry for hope, and the publishing of the book. So much hope and so much death. As I watched his clear and smiling eyes I was eager to hear his response.

- Yes – he answers, bluntly. And his next words dissolve as in Sleepwalking Land, turning into air, poetry and again into something physical, a book, a gift to me.

-Happy birthday – he told me. And so it was ;-)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

La sirène qui avait peur de la mer

[Traduit de l´original espagnol par Itxaso Domínguez. Merci!!!]

Son nom veut dire "reine", mais je ne l’ai sut que plus tard. Ici j´ai décide de l'appeler "Mami Wata". Quand je l'ai rencontré, j’ai vu juste une jeune femme d'une grande beauté et d’une énorme bonté qui m’aidait tout simplement à trouver un restaurant.

Quelques jours plus tard, elle était assise entre mes jambes, le dos appuyé sur ma poitrine en regardant les vagues et la ville qui les bateaux allumé dessinent dans la distance. Nous étions assis sur la plage, dans cette frontière ensorcelée entre la lumière venant de la rue et l'obscurité de la mer. Je ne pouvais pas m'empêcher de me moquer de la confession selon laquelle elle avait peur de la mer.

Et tout à coup elle pousse un cri. Et un poids énorme m'écrase, m’immobilise les bras et me tenaille le cou. Un autre cri envole la jeune fille dans l'obscurité. Je ne peux plus respirer, mais je peux charger comme un taureau blessé et le traîner par terre à coups de pied. Je parviens ainsi à créer un sillon dans le sable, jusqu’à l'endroit où se trouve l'autre, sur Mami Wata, qui se résisté farouchement.

J'ai senti la peur de mon agresseur quand je suis arrivé à me desserrer un peu pour jeter mon portefeuille vers celui qui tenait Mami Wata, comme quand on lace un morceau de viande à une bête sauvage. En tant que tel, il soulève son museau le barrage et après hésiter pour un instant, il lâche la fille et attrape mon portefeuille.

Mon agresseur, qui s’est rendu compte que je ne veux pas me battre, ose parler en premier. Je vais te tuer, il grogne. Je me retourne et le regarde droit dans les yeux. Il n'ajoute pas quoi que ce soit.

Après me fouiller, ils ont galopé. Et les gens ont commencé à arriver. Après avoir résisté avec courage, toute la peur et la colère sont sortis et Mami Wata tremblait de la tête aux pieds, tels les feuilles d’un Baobab Sacré après les rituels. Elle ne pouvait pas marcher, comme les sirènes après avoir fait l'effort de se déplacer de la mer à la terre où tout pèse. Et elle pleurait. Elle pleurait pendant qu’une femme qui avait été attaquée la veille nous a aidés à arriver rapidement à l'hôtel "car sinon, la police arrive et ça sera pour le pire. Ils veulent aussi du fric." Elle pleurait pendant qu’elle montait les escaliers, et elle pleurait toujours, même si de façon plus calme, quand on l’a mit au lit.

Calme-toi, c'est fini, dis-je pendant qu’elle pleure pour nous deux, pour nous nettoyer de la haine et la bestialité humaine. Ce qui importe, c'est qu’ils ne t’on pas pas touchée, que nous sommes en vie et que c’est juste le cou qui nous fait un peu mal.

Une douche fraîche lui redonne le contrôle de sa belle peau, lumineuse comme si elle avait toujours des écailles, mais douce comme si elle venait de naître dans mes bras. Et ses mots arrivent enfin.

Si j'ouvre mes yeux, je le vois à nouveau qui s’élance contre moi – elle me chuchote. C'est normal, c'est le choc, je lui dis, mais cela aussi va passer. Regarde dans mes yeux...

Je pense qu'ils ont mal choisi, je pense alors que je la prends dans mes bras. Ils ont prit mon argent (ce qui serait le pire en Europe), mais je suis reste avec ce qu’il y a de meilleur en Afrique. Ils ont prit ses morsures de serpent et ses cris, mais elle m’offre ses caresses et ses baisers, cette belle sirène. Ceux qu’ils n'ont même pas su reconnaitre.

Je me souviens de la façon dont elle m’expliquait qu’elle faisait ses études de sociologie pour  contribuer au développement de son pays, en particulier pour récupérer les enfants des rues qui sont instruits dans la loi du plus fort. Elle m'a montré les blessures de sa ville, les lieux de prostitution et criminalité. Et elle travaillait pour ne pas avoir à dépendre d'un homme ou à accepter la polygamie qui avait tant vexé sa mère.

Je me souviens des histoires de son grand-père sur les blancs qui sont venus enlever les sirènes grâce à des pièges de miroirs, ou le rêve de son professeur de philosophie d'être aimé au moins une fois dans la vie par une sirène, d’accord avec ce que certains villageois avaient raconté avec fascination...

- Je ne vais pas laisser que tu partes jusqu'à que je ne te vois pas sourire, je lui dit en mettant de façon théâtrale mes lunettes scotchées. Et la magie est faite.

Mami Wata soulève son corps de statue de bronze et s’habille soigneusement. 

L’Afrique gagne. Une des meilleures femmes continuera de lutter chaque jour pour guérir les blessures de sa ville, qui sont maintenant les siennes. L’Afrique gagne parce que Mami Wata la déesse des eaux, la reine des sirènes a fait face à ses pires craintes, s’est levée à nouveau, et continuera de se tenir les pieds sur terre pour changer son monde.

Et c’est moi qui gagne. Car personne ne peut jamais te voler l’amour d’une sirène...

Monday, 19 May 2014

The untameable Ken Bugul, the lioness of African literature

[Translated from the original spanish version by Diego Urdiales. Thank you Diego!!]

Barefoot, wearing a simple colour-dotted white kaftan, Ken Bugul appears parsimoniously amongst the workers, as though feigning an old age that she is yet to reach.

We go up to her home, sober and comfortable, with a splendid Benin throne surrounded by bookshelves as the sole note of flamboyance, and we start by directly talking about her book “The Abandoned Baobab”, about the magic of the sacred baobab which protects and punishes the people that worship it, which laughs, cries and dreams with them, and about her own baobab (a real and specific one) with which she wanted to identify herself, with its robustness, with its strong roots.

I killed it. It died so that I could live… 

Knowing the story of her novel beforehand ―her story, ― was of no use. A girl separated from her mother at a young age and without explanations. A young woman who, after managing to travel to the West, is unable to find her missing roots there. A woman who, after returning to her country, finds her baobab again, still standing, still apparently alive, but…

I had an appointment with the baobab, I didn’t go but I couldn’t warn it, I didn’t dare. That meeting I didn’t attend caused it great sadness. It went crazy and died shortly after.” (p. 181)

Did that really happen? Can a baobab die of sadness?

Not a baobab, the baobab. In Senegal, you can see many baobabs, trees like any other. But in each village there is a sacred baobab, a tree completely linked to the life of that village, which it knows and protects. And when suddenly, with no prior sign of illness, it dies and falls to the ground, the people know that it has died to save them from some danger.

In my case, I know it died so that I, after my traumatic experience, could start a new life.

I point to her that the book seems to have been written in the midst of an emotional breakdown, with an often dismembered structure which reflects very well the feelings of the main character.

While I was in Belgium I wrote very little, just a few notes of homesickness about my birthplace, which also carried the baobab in their title. But I only wrote the book ten years later, after the terrible experience I went through in France, ―abused by the man she loved, which she later related in “Ashes and Embers”― which left me in tatters.

Some friends had kept my notes. I asked them to send them to me, but I realized that was no longer the story I wanted to tell, so I wrote the book without looking at them.

And how did you manage to “take root” again? ―I ask her petrified in my armchair, fascinated by the strength of this brave woman. Did you try to recover the relationship with your mother?

You must consider the importance of modesty in Africa. You can’t directly go to your mother or your father and tell her that you feel abandoned or something like that. There is the figure of your maternal uncle to talk to your mother (or paternal aunt to talk to your father), but in my case he was already dead, so I couldn’t resort to him.

My relationship with my mother was not distant, but it wasn’t intimate either. And that I couldn’t get back. When I came back from Belgium, I lived with some friends, not with relatives, I was already an independent woman. But luckily there are other roots, a union with the people and the birthplace…

To go out of those painful memories, but still talking about the first book, I praise her braveness to bring up the subject of bisexuality/homosexuality when she discovers that her partner in Belgium has “homosexual tendencies” and compares him to a “family slave”…

But homosexuality was fully accepted in Senegal before! ―she laughs. Gor-Djigen, as we called him, man-woman, was respected in spite of his manners ―and, full of naturalness, she starts imitating the gestures and way of speaking of her “slave”. Humour is probably the least well known register of this multifaceted woman, but it fills the rest of our conversation with hilarious moments.

In Africa we still affectionately call “slaves” the descendants of the true slaves that belonged to the family. Also our paternal cousins, who are theoretically our slaves. But they like it, it’s a way of feeling “attached” to the family. Belonging, having your place in society, is very important. 

For instance, when you leave, my daughter could come and tell me ―again, her acting in full flair― “Who was this badolo who came home this early and didn’t even bring bread or any breakfast?”― and we both start laughing, myself a little ashamed by the sudden accusation.

“Badolo” is a derogatory term even if it’s sometimes said affectionately, to refer to the common man, who has no caste, who is no griot or royalty or craftsman… In fact, if griots wanted to embellish their speech when singing your praises, to get some money from you, they would call you “guer”, a euphemism…  As you have no caste, you must be a scholar or someone important.

And what caste are you?― I ask.

Badolo― she states forthrightly and we both burst into laughter.

You must also take into account that, with the crisis in the eighties and the tough adjustment plans from the World Bank, Senegal ended up borrowing money from the Arab countries, which sent “undercover” envoys to the country and tried to impose their way of seeing religion, the sharia… And that is partly the cause for the “schizophrenia” that present Senegal suffers from, amidst its own traditions, the different versions of Islam and capitalism. It is surprising that we are now talking about this referring to “The Abandoned Baobab”, given that it is the subject of the book I have just finished.

But before the conversation diverts towards the pathways of today, I do not want to miss the chance to ask her about the experience she relates in “Riwan or the Sandy Track”, where, after coming from the traumatic experience in France, the “freed” and westernized woman becomes… the 28th wife of a marabout!

It was a wonderful experience. But I was not exactly a wife. A marabout, like any Muslim, can only have four wives. One must be from his own family, one from a scholar family, one from a royal family, and finally one from a different family. The rest are “taco”, which means “link” (“le lien”, in French) ―she repeats as she clinches her fists to stress the importance of that immaterial “something” that bonds them.

I knew him since I was a child. And when I came back from France in tatters, everyone rejected me (that is why now I hardly tell anyone that I’m here, it’s hard to forget how they treated me). So I went to him for spiritual help, and he supported me and gave me advice, and tenderness. One day he proposed me “taco”. But this has nothing to do with sex, he was already over ninety years old! I didn’t even live with him. I walked to see him almost every day, which is why the book’s title is “the sandy track”.

Oftentimes, the marabout shelters women who have been rejected by society in his home, and he “binds” to them to give them value, self-esteem. Think about it, not only does he tell you how much you’re worth, he even chooses to bind himself to you. That makes you recover a lot of self-confidence. 

Moreover, the marabout’s other wives taught me a great deal. Me, the supposedly “liberated” woman, ―we resume the pantomime― but who, like many women in the West, was obsessed with “having” a man, dominated by the idea of possession and by jealousy.

Mariétou, tend to your affairs”, they told me, laughing about my stories from the West, where every woman waits for a prince of charming. “Why wait?” And they were right. Sharing my life with these other women brought me the peace I needed to remake my life, read, write and tend to myself. 

The conversation now shifts to the bourgeois marriages in old-time Europe, where the spouses had separate rooms, which Ken Bugul finds essential. 

I can only love someone who is superior to me in some aspect. Who has a passion. Or several. A musician, a painter like Picasso (well, not him, he had too special a character, better Dalí). Someone who is not on top of me all the time, who lets me live my own life. What matters is that when we’re together, our conversation, our “bond”, is something special.

I want a lover, not a husband ―she concludes, forthright and smiling.

And could you accept being someone’s second wife?

Pff ―she leans back in her chair.― That is just for great personalities, a genius, a marabout… who are capable of that. But yes, if I can live my life and when we are together, the bond is special, yes. It suits me ―she adds with a slightly ironic smile. 

It is impossible to write about every subject that came up in the conversation, or how we ended up talking about meeting in the Himalayas, her great project.

I’m going to climb to the top of the Himalayas, even if takes the rest of my life ―she says, unmoved. And if she was not Ken Bugul, nobody would take it seriously…

Ken Bugul, which means “one who is unwanted” in Wolof (sometimes as a trick to free a child from the early death which supposedly awaits him), sits me in the Benin throne for a picture, hugs me and then walks me, barefoot and vigorous, greeting the workers by their names. She can no longer hide her overflowing energy, and when a neighbour approaches her to tell her about her problems and ask her for advice, it becomes apparent that her pen name does not match the respect and admiration she commends.

She will not leave until, having put me in the taxi ―the driver is an aspiring son-in-law of hers, she informs me, ― she gives me two kisses and we shake each other’s left hand to make sure we will meet again. 

I should start getting my boots ready for the Himalayas…