Saturday, November 15, 2003

An African Tale

To Kevin and Will

The sun was setting in Zululand. On the dusty road, a traveler was approaching a small village. In the twilight, its straw roofs seemed like gold - yet nothing was further from the truth, for its villagers were paupers.
-Good evening - said the traveler as he approached a hut. My name is Wernher, and I think I lost my way. May I spend the night as your guest?
- Sawubona - said the villager. I am Malusi; you are welcome in my house - but it won’t be too comfortable for a Mzungu, for the roof is broken, you can see the moon through it!
- I love the moon - smiled the man. In fact, that is what I do for living. I build rockets that go up there, and one day we may even go to Mars!
- The Moon and Mars have been above us yesterday - said Malusi. They will be above us in a thousand years. But, my family won’t last many years. We are hungry and ill – wouldn’t the money you burn in the sky be better spent here, on earth?
Wernher felt embarrassed. Maybe Malusi was right. Maybe space exploration wasn’t such a good idea when other people haven’t got a roof above. He promised to convince his government that what they were doing is wrong, and that he’ll return one day with food for Malusi’s people.

The sky has already darkened when Malusi saw two people approaching. He greeted them, and offered them hospitality - for they seemed tired from carrying a giant bird.
- My name is Wilbur, and I thank you for your kindness. My brother and I need a rest indeed, for tomorrow we shall try to fly. This thing of wood and cloth will carry us to the sky, where only the birds dare.
Malusi approached the device, and said: It is an amazing thing indeed - but with the materials for your bird, I could cover my broken roof, and make enough bows and spears for all the villagers to hunt. We are poor, and hungry. Isn’t this bird a waste of useful stuff?
- Wilbur is my brother - replied Orville - and so are you. We never realized that, instead of trying to fly like the birds, we should rather help others walk in dignity on the ground. Thank you for opening our eyes.

In the shadow of the night, Malusi could distinguish the approaching silhouette of a man.
- Sawubona - said Malusi - and welcome to my village. Will you be my guest for the night?
- Thank you - replied the traveler - but I am in a hurry. I am a painter - said he, pointing towards his canvas - and tonight is a beautiful night, and I feel so inspired, I need to paint it. Don’t you think the stars are amazing tonight? And by the way, my name is Vincent.
- Yes, the stars are beautiful - conceded Malusi. But so is my daughter Lindiwe. And, while the stars clothe themselves with the mantle of the sky, my daughter hasn’t got much to put on. I beg you, sir, those pieces of cloth - may I make a dress for Lindiwe out of them?
Vincent turned towards the man. He no longer saw the stars above. Instead, he saw them reflected in Malusi’s tears. There was a starry night, inside a pair of starry eyes. He could only care.

It was almost morning when Malusi received the visit of another drifting traveler. His name was Galileo - he said - and he was an astronomer. He was carrying a strange pipe - he called it a “telescope” - and he was claiming that through it he can see the skies closer.
-I am an old man - said Malusi - and my eyes are no longer good. May I have those pieces of glass inside that pipe so that I can better see my way?
Galileo was moved. His world capsized. At the end of the day, he realized that the Earth was indeed the centre of the Universe.

All over the world, inspired by the examples of Wernher, Wilbur, Orville, Vincent and Galileo, people understood that, instead of looking above, they should rather look around themselves. And, having to keep their eyes permanently open to the material needs of the others, they lost the ability to dream.

Virgiliu Pop
Lille, November 15th, 2003