THE PASSING OF AN AFRICAN REVOLUTIONARY
Trip Start Apr 07, 2012
38Trip End Dec 15, 2012
Nfally Souane was dead.
This cuddly 78-year-old, who'd undermined French rule during
colonial times and expressed solidarity for great African leaders, had
passed away. On September 29th, 2012, two months after he'd hosted me.
Even when I visited him, his health wasn't that good. He got malaria
and stumbled around, dizzily.
I sent my condolences to the family. "Sindi indigallah," was what one said at times like these in Senegal.
I was sad. Because I didn't know who else to tell of Nfally's
death, I told the only African revolutionary I knew in Guinea-Bissau:
Sixty-seven-year-old Babacar Saar lived on the other side of
the road from Father Luigi's house. In fact, the two men had cooperated
in making Luigi's first NGO, which provided fishermen with motors in
exchange for money to be paid later, until the price of gasoline rose
too high to make this project feasible.
Today, Babacar was the head of a housing complex that
included a few large buildings and which sometimes had electricity at
night. He had four wives who sold vegetables in the local market and
dried fish in Bissau. He'd had more than fifteen children, one of whom
maintained an Islamic study center in his yard. Also in this yard,
fishermen constructed giant canoes. A small beach lied behind Babacar's
He had the same light-tannish skin as his daughter, Tida. He
rested in his chair and wore silk, maroon Islamic robes. He couldn't
speak Bijago, because he was a Fula. He couldn't speak Portuguese,
probably because he didn't want to. He and I spoke French together. The
old man spoke softly, happily.
He told me he'd fought the Portuguese during Guinea-Bissau's eleven-year war for independence. that ended in 1973.
In 1968, his right knee was filled with shrapnel, but he
continued fighting. The ugly shrapnel remained in his kn! ee to th is
day; it hurt him whenever the tide was coming in. Doctors called him,
Sometimes, pieces of shrapnel worked their way out of his
knee, as one did this October. I congratulated him once he told me
He said the Guineans had had no military technology. Fighting
the Portuguese, they stayed in the forest. Meanwhile, the Portuguese
recruited seventeen-year-old Guineans, by threatening to kill their
parents if they didn't fight for the Portuguese side.
The Guineans had been aided with arms from Russia. Perhaps in
exchange for this, Babacar traveled to Russia at some point to serve
Russian interests in Chechnya.
The Guineans were aided with troops from Cuba. Babacar
commented that Fidel Castro was "brutal". I asked what the Cuban troops
had said of Castro and Che Guevara. He said, "Some said good things,
some said bad things."
The Guineans, themselves, had a great leader during their war for independence. His name: Amilcar Cabral.
Nobody ever talked about Cabral these days, at least no one
ever talked about him to me. I only read a bit about him in Luigi's
He'd had a great vision for the independent Guinea-Bissau.
Freedom and equality were the rights of all people regardless of
ethnicity or color, he believed. People mustn't give up their ethnic
heritage nor traditional beliefs in order to be welcomed as valid
members of the nation, as they were forced to do under the Portuguese.
In one speech during the war for independence, he said: "We
intend to build a nation in which everyone, regardless of where he came
from, can live, work, and think freely. The only requirement is that he
respect the leadership of others."
In addition to the leadership of Cabral, this country-to-be
was gaining unity through the adoption of a national language, Creole.
Though derived from Portuguese, it included traditional Guinean
grammar. It enabled people of different ethnicities to be friends, and
to do so ! speaking a non-colonial language. Indeed, the colonialists
had considered it a "badly-spoken Portuguese" and banned it.
In spite of the wrongs committed by the colonialists, Amilcar
Cabral never antagonized the Portuguese people. He believed it was not
only the oppressed who needed liberation but also the oppressors. He
realized that the people of Portugal were currently being oppressed as
well, by their dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. When Guinea-Bissau
would achieve its independence, the Portuguese troops were allowed to
Unfortunately, Amilcar Cabral died on January 20th, 1973, eight months before independence.
I wanted to ask Babacar what he knew and thought about the legend of Cabral.
But, Babacar was hospitalized during my last two weeks in his country, with high blood pressure.
I went to visit him in the hospital. I wanted to greet my friend.
But, all he did was sleep.
I wished he'd return home soon.
In the meantime, I figured the least I could do for him would be to keep his gorgeous, voluptuous daughter company.
On my second-to-last night in the archipelago, the moon was
full and the tide was high. So, Babacar's proud daughter and I went
swimming. Short-haired Tida Saar wore a maple bikini, and sat in the
surf. She whispered, "Te amo muito." (I love you a lot.) This evening
would surpass my slam dunk in the Rymarov Basketball League as being
the best moment of my trip. It was my thirty-third birthday.
Walking home, I was happy. I knew I loved her, too. I loved her because:
She drew pictures in the sand. She played soccer aggressively.
She had a sweet, squeaky voice that became more loving the more I knew
her. She wore torn, silk nightgowns during the daytime. She suffered
for those whom she loved: her closest sister had died as a teenager; a
boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident; she maintained a relationship
for two years with a British boyfriend who would never vi! sit her.
"Quem sofre, vence," she said. (Who suffers wins.)
We enjoyed our last night together. And then, on October 28th, we said good-bye. I would go to spend six weeks in Morocco.
I hoped she wouldn't suffer for me. I felt consoled to know
she was remaining with the person whom she loved most. Her
ten-month-old baby, Baby Erwin.
I was going to miss those two.
Thanks, Bijagos and non-Bijagos, for a great stay in your land!