Lia Karavia, Grecia
THE AIRPLANE FLIGHT OF SADA WEÎNDÉ NDIAYE
Sada Weîndé Ndiaye was born in a village of Senegal. His parents and all his siblings, from the youngest, who could hardly stand on their legs, up to him, the eldest, used to sit on the ground round a big clay bowl at dinner time. They took some food with the fingers of only one hand and brought it to their mouth, without dropping a single grain of the rice or whatever else the mother had cooked in the big cooking pot hanging over the fire. Besides cooking, it was her job to make the fire, out of dry wood and twigs. Her art was to make it in such a way that little smoke would come from it; otherwise the food would become smelly. However hungry they might be, their movements were not hasty. Even the toddlers knew that they should not prove greedy. They followed the rhythm of the family, without ever trying to get one mouthful more than the others.
It was clear from the start that Sada Weîndé Ndiaye was an intelligent boy. He was also very studious, without neglecting any of the jobs that were his responsibility for the survival of the family. Everybody offered ungrudgingly all they could in that struggle. The little ones, who were not yet fit for work, took care of the babies; from keeping them clean to feeding them and lulling them to sleep. They saw to it that all went well up to when the grown-ups returned home. They knew that only thus would the others manage to nourish them. The heaviest work was of course for the father, and they all respected him for it. Next to him was the eldest son, who would even find time to read something for them before turning to his study.
Each child would find his way in life step by step, according to his abilities and the opportunities existing in the village or a little further. But they all knew that Sada Weîndé Ndiaye deserved to be sent to the city for studies. They had a woman relative in the capital, Dakar, and they asked her to allow him to sleep in a corner of her home, and to have some food out of the family clay pot. She accepted gladly. One more mouth to feed was not a great problem. Surely, the tall slim boy would give them a hand in the necessary tasks. And perhaps in his company her children would become more hardworking and diligent.
Sada Weîndé Ndiaye became a teacher. He never kept away long from his native village. Each time he had some free days, he went to his home and sat with all the others in the circle round the family clay pot. Then his siblings would ask him about the big city. He would tell them a few things about the city and many things about his schoolchildren.
At some point of time, Sada Weîndé Ndiaye made his own family. And, naturally, their first acquisition was the pot which would feed the couple and their children.
He stood out for his good work and his insatiable thirst for more knowledge. He wrote articles in the reviews and he wrote poetry. The day came when he was named Superintendent of Education.
Whenever Senegalese who lived abroad visited their country, they were happy to be in his companion. And several of them had made a career, mainly in French-speaking countries, in the fields of sciences, arts and literature. Even the ex-President of the country, Leopold Sedar Senghor, lived in France the past few years. His poetry had perhaps gained him more fame than the high office he had held in Senegal for nearly two decades, till 1980.
A fellow citizen of Sada Weîndé Ndiaye, a distinguished lawyer and writer, talked warmly for him to the Belgian organiser of the Biennales Internationales de Poésie, which used to take place up north, in Knock, and more recently in Liege, each with a different subject. And that Belgian sent him and invitation and an air-ticket.
The subject that year, 1988, was “Poetry and Space”. Among the official speakers was also Buzz Aldrin, astronaut of Apollo XI along with Neal Armstrong, in the very first landing on the Moon.
Sada Weîndé Ndiaye had never entered an airplane. He felt no fear, but his heart fluttered like a bird, because he felt so ecstatic. When the plane took off and was in the air, he looked down. How small everything looked, until it disappeared in the distance! And he looked up, at the immensity of space. All this had made him drunk. It was his first drunkenness, since he drank no alcohol at home. He felt something like dizziness, like gaiety, and also like something heavy.
He arrived modest, cordial and serious at the same time. He was still ecstatic. He found himself in the huge halls of the Palace of Congresses and he walked around like a child who discovers new worlds, unafraid. It was surely a great moment in his life, but he was fully conscious that it was just a moment. While it lasted, he kept smiling to everybody, like a child in search of friends when he finds himself, a bit lost, a bit lonely, away from home.
He listened carefully to all the speakers. At lunchtime, he sat at one of the round tables, where delicacies were offered to the participants. He ate unhurriedly. There was just one thing that bothered him: each one had his own plate and no one offered to take or give a bite to his neighbour. He tried with me once, after we had become friends. He offered me his best bit of food. Unaccustomed to such gestures, I refused politely. He looked at me sadly. “If you came to our home, would you not eat with us out of our pot?” I felt ashamed. I nodded, stretched my fork and took his offer out of his plate. He smiled. “I invite you to our home”, he said.
After the first days, with the great speakers and their great speeches about poetry and space, towards the end, there came his turn. He went to the podium without haste, following the rhythm of respect to others, which he knew since his early childhood. He looked at us, as if he looked at each one, and said few things. His was the shortest speech of the congress. He said that he was coming from the most beautiful country of the world, Senegal, and that while flying for ten hours at 10.000 meters he felt the emotions the first astronauts must have felt. “But an airplane is a commonplace means of travel, you will say. For astronautics, it already belongs to the Paleolithic Age. But when I saw from up high the clouds underneath, I thought I was travelling in space. I imagined that our home, the Earth, might be further up, above the airplane. There was no up and down for the first astronauts. There was none for me. Everything was in the centre and everything was at the ends of the universe. For the first time, I did not feel as a Senegalese, but as a Russian and an American, a Spaniard and a Belgian, a man who feels proud of the adventure he is achieving and he also feels awe for his daring. And the Moon? It is where, often at night, the glances of the people meet. And the galaxies? I knew that the greatest galaxy of creation is the galaxy of our fraternity”.
I am paraphrasing a minimum of the minimum he said.
For years after the Biennale, while flying to the most remote corners of the earth, from the Arctic Circle to South Australia, from Africa to India, from Salvador to Nepal, I planned to land in Senegal one day, look for Sada Weîndé Ndiaye, who had invited me to sit in the circle round their common pot.
Years go by. During my longest flights, up high, I always think that for me the greatest, the important, would be a short flight to the sparsely populated country of my friend-of-a-few-days; to a country bathing in the Atlantic Ocean, but lying so near us, at two paces from our sea, the Mediterranean. And I know that my most thrilling experience would be to sit with my friend’s family and put in my mouth with the fingers of one hand a mouthful or two out of his family clay pot.