"Western Africa 2012" story # 18

Ziguinchor, Senegal           August 13, 2012

Once my passport had been decorated with a green-brown-and-red visa to Guinea-Bissau, I decided not to go to this nearby country immediately. I would wait a while. I would savor the visa. Just like a bad guy in the movies, who savored the moment before he realized his dream of killing the good guy.
     But, unlike the bad guy in the movies, I wouldn't be stopped from achieving my life dream of killing the good guy - I mean, of going to Guinea-Bissau.
     Actually, I decided to spend a few more days in southern Senegal because a ferry which I needed to catch in Guinea-Bissau (I'd be going to some islands there) wouldn't be leaving for some time. I remained in the jungly Casamance Region of Senegal, though I was too tired and poor to travel around exploring it. I continued to stay with the hospitable family of Aida the Coffee Princess. I had little to do but watch the family's movements - like a dog does with his master - knowing that food was going to come but not knowing when.
     Sometimes, I walked around the family's town.
     Young men sat outside at spinning wheels, fabricating womens' dresses. The bright purple, orange, yellow, turquoise strings were wrapped around pegs twenty feet away from the young men, so that as the men pulled levers and punched buttons there was always forty feet of thread coming their way. The men sewed quickly, their wooden machines sounded like typewriters, and the thick threads were beautiful. It was a sight to behold.
     I also explored the town cemetary. It was a jungle.
     A mortar wall surrounded the cemetary. A huge, fallen tree had cut the wall open with its size. The trunk of this unusual tree was not solid. Instead, it was made of vines and branches and roots that had grown upward together and wound tightly around each other to produce a thick tree empty inside. The cutest baby goats climbed on it, and roaring pigs grazed near it. I walked past them and entered the cemetary.
     Each earthy grave was enclosed by short walls made of tile or porcelain, causing them to resemble bathtubs. Few paths led through the cemetary; ivy and sprouting trees covered everything. The dark canopies of five-story-tall trees rose and sang like fountains. Perfectly white pelicans landed heavily and awkwardly in these trees.
     Palm trees with thin bottoms and wider tops looked as if their bottoms ought to snap in half. Huge trees rose up from the ground with veins like a fat man's flabby neck; their chubby branches broke off one another at heavy angles, like a fat woman's blubbery arms.
     Yellow melons hung from trees by strings and threatened to fall on my head.
     Seeds like pink half-moons had caramel insides. Tiny coconuts had marshmallow insides.
     Muddy pea-pods could've been used as boomerangs. Red flowers turned orange with the sun behind them. Twisted algae hung down and made me feel like I was being chased through a swamp by a woman with unclean hair. There were avocado leaves, mango leaves, marijuana leaves.
     A two-foot Komodo dragon (lizard) found himself stuck in a grave. Trying unsuccessfully to climb out, he slipped around like a salamander.
     Exploring, I climbed a dark and soggy tree with caterpillar-eaten leaves. In its heights, I discovered a bird with a tail as long as his body and a moussed-back crest. This dark-green bird was beautiful, arrogant. When he used his squibbling voice, "Wibble-wibble-wibble," his neck rippled.
     Striped snails. Big snails. Moths with purple splotches on their wings. I loved being in this cemetary, because I didn't know what I was going to see next. Hawks with scary vulture heads. The living dead?
     Finally, I came to a three-foot Komodo dragon! She was banging around near the bottom of a "flabby-man's-neck" tree. When I approached, she became scared and tried to climb the tree.
     Slipping on the bark, she struggled to remain a few feet higher than my head. My animal-catching instincts came alive. I realized that if I were to toss something just above the lizard, it would surely knock her down into my grasp. It concerned me, however, that she resembled the Komodo dragon, a very poisonous lizard ...
     Just then, CRASH! She'd fallen into the leaves beside me. I was so scared, I nearly jumped ten feet into the air.

I returned to the home of Aida the Coffee Princess, where I'd be safer. Once there, I settled for catching a toad.
     Aida was just one of twenty-two children whom her father, Nfally Souane, had had. Nowadays, this man with a sweet, shaven head and sad eyes remembered the dates when all of them were born. Many were born within a few months of another, as Nfally's two wives had often been pregnant at the same time. Eightteen of the children and one wife, Dienaba, were still alive. Some of his children lived in France.
     The only birthday Nfally wasn't sure of was his own. Records hadn't been kept then. Officially, he'd been born in 1936, but an elder sibling claimed he'd been born in 1934. Perhaps to make up for his lack of a true birth certificate, he'd collected all his official documents since adulthood. Reclining in his favorite chair, he opened up his collection to tell me some stories.
     In 1957, Senegal was still under French colonial rule. Young Nfally was hired to an administrative position and immediately got renounced by his French boss for rebellious behavior. The Frenchman had ordered Nfally to accept a bicycle with which to do his job, but Nfally refused it four times because the bike was in poor condition.
     Around this time, Algeria was fighting for independence from France. France was forced to offer its colonies a vote, in which they'd choose "oui" to remain with France, or "non" to separate. Nfally was supposed to work at the voting booth. Beforehand, he suggested to his superiors that surely everyone would vote "non". Hearing this, the French authorities relieved Nfally of his duty.
     The French president, General Charles de Gaulle, traveled to Africa to campaign. In Dakar, he said, "Qui veut l'independence, car il la prend, en votant 'non' a le referendum de 28 Sept., 1958." (Who wants independence, let him take it, in voting "no" to the referendum of Sept. 28, 1958.) Of course, de Gaulle was campaigning for people to vote "oui".
     De Gaulle traveled to the French colony of Guinea-Conakry. The Guinean independence movement was led by a charismatic man named Ahmedh Sekou Toure. He would be debating against de Gaulle.
     The streets of Conakry filled with Guineans who'd come to accept de Gaulle. They dressed in white. Sekou had told them, in the event of violence, to turn the other cheek.
     "Nous preferons la pauvrete dans la liberte que la richesse dans l'esclavitude," Sekou said during the debate. (We prefer poverty in freedom to wealth in enslavement.) The debate frustrated de Gaulle so much that, upon leaving, he forgot his hat.
     In the referendum of September 1958, Senegal and most French colonies voted to remain with France. Only Guinea-Conakry voted "non". (Nfally had saved the results of the vote - as well as a copy of Sekou Toure's speech versus de Gaulle. The Guineans had voted "non", almost unanimously.) The French granted Guinea her independence. A cry for autonomy was heard elsewhere. France soon awarded independence to its other colonies.
     But, France continued to despise Ahmedh Sekou Toure, who became Guinea-Conakry's first president.
     In 1970, a boat carrying white and black mercenaries sailed from the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau to independent Guinea-Conakry. This French operation arrived during the night, during the holy month of Ramadan when many Guineans were fasting. The mercenaries killed three hundred of Sekou's men. Some mercenaries were killed, too. Their boat left Conakry by morning. Sekou was still alive.
     In Senegal, Nfally Souane heard about this and was disgusted. He wrote a memo expressing solidarity with Guinea. The other members of his office signed it. (And now, forty years later, he read it aloud to me and his daughter in university.) Speaking about the aggressors, he'd written words like "imperialists", "bourgesie mercenaries", "perfected weaponry", "PORTUGUESE ROBOT". He compared their motives to those of apartheid. He said, France had understimated the unity of Guinea.
     Wow. Nfally was a true African revolutionary!
     Discussing modern politics, Nfally informed me that Africa had lost faith in Barrack Obama. The U.S. had intervened in Libya. Africa disagreed with this move. (Nfally was also upset the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, had betrayed his former ally Qaddafi by joining the Libyan rebels in Benghazi.)
     Nfally said, Qaddafi had done a lot for his people. The international community, by failing to encourage peaceful talks between Qaddafi and the rebels, had failed to help resolve the conflict democratically.
     If Nfally would've written a memo about the U.S. intervention in Libya, he probably would've given it an ending similar to that of his 1970 memo:
     "Vive la Revolution Africaine, Vive la peuple de Guinea, Vive A. S. Toure!"
     (Long live the African Revolution, Long live the people of Guinea, Long live A. S. Toure!)

Long live Nfally Souane,
the Modern Oddyseus!

Much thanks to Nfally Souane, Dienaba Balde, Satu, Ndi Awa, & Ngone for the place to stay!

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