2005-11-21

taking God for granted...

this is from Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who was a mail pilot between the world wars, and this book is an account of some of his flights. Something to consider - how many of you have wept at the sight of a tree? What do we take for granted in life?

But we were not always in the air, and our idle hours were spent
taming the Moors. They would come out of their forbidden regions
(those regions we crossed in our flights and where they would shoot at
us the whole length of our crossing), would venture to the stockade in
the hope of buying loaves of sugar, cotton cloth, tea, and then would
sink back again into their mystery. Whenever they turned up we would
try to tame a few of them in order to establish little nuclei of
friendship in the desert; thus if we were forced down among them
there would be at any rate a few who might be persuaded to sell us
into slavery rather than massacre us.

Now and then an influential chief came up, and him, with the approval
of the Line, we would load into the plane and carry off to see
something of the world. The aim was to soften their pride, for,
repositories of the truth, defenders of Allah, the only God, it was
more in contempt than in hatred that he and his kind murdered their
prisoners.

When they met us in the region of Juby or Cisneros, they never
troubled to shout abuse at us. They would merely turn away and spit;
and this not by way of personal insult but out of sincere disgust at
having crossed the path of a Christian. Their pride was born of the
illusion of their power. Allah renders a believer invincible. Many a
time a chief has said to me, pointing to his army of three hundred
rifles, "Lucky it is for France that she lies more than a hundred
days' march from here."

And so we would take them up for a little spin. Three of them even
visited France in our planes. I happened to be present when they
returned. I met them when they landed, went with them to their tents,
and waited in infinite curiosity to hear their first words. They were
of the same race as those who, having once been flown by me to the
Senegal, had burst into tears at the sight of trees. What a revelation
Europe must have been for them! And yet their first replies astonished
me by their coolness.

"Paris? Very big."

Everything was "very big" - Paris, the Trocadero, the automobiles.

What with everyone in Paris asking if the Louvre was not "very big"
they had gradually learned that this was the answer that flattered us.
And with a sort of, vague contempt, as if pacifying a lot of children,
they would grant that the Louvre was "very big."

These Moors took very little trouble to dissemble the freezing
indifference they felt for the Eiffel Tower, the steamships, and the
locomotives. They were ready to agree once and for always that we knew
how to build things out of iron. We also knew how to fling a bridge
from one continent to another. The plain fact was that they did not
know enough to admire our technical progress. The wireless astonished
them less than the telephone, since the mystery of the telephone
resided in the very fact of the wire.


It took a little time for me to understand that my questions were on
the wrong track. For what they thought admirable was not the
locomotive, but the tree. When you think of it, a tree does possess a
perfection that a locomotive cannot know. And then I remembered the
Moors who had wept at the sight of trees.

Yes, France was in some sense admirable, but it was not because of
those stupid things made of iron. They had seen pastures in France in
which all the camels of Er-Reguibat could have grazed! There were
forests in France! The French had cows, cows filled with milk! And of
course my three Moors were amazed by the incredible customs of the
people.

"In Paris," they said, "you walk through a crowd of a thousand people.
You stare at them. And nobody carries a rifle!"

But there were better things in France than this inconceivable
friendliness between men. There was the circus, for example.

"Frenchwomen," they said, "can jump standing from one galloping horse
to another."

Thereupon they would stop and reflect. "You take one Moor from each
tribe," they went on. "You take him to the circus. And nevermore will
the tribes of Er-Reguibat make war on the French."

I remember my chiefs sitting among the crowding tribesmen in the
opening of their tents, savoring the pleasure of reciting this new
series of Arabian Nights, extolling the music halls in which naked
women dance on carpets of flowers.

Here were men who had never seen a tree, a river, a rose ; who knew
only through the Koran of the existence of gardens where streams run,
which is their name for Paradise. In their desert, Paradise -and its
beautiful captives could be won only by bitter death from an infidel's
rifle-shot, after thirty years of a miserable existence. But God had
tricked them, since from the Frenchmen to whom he grants these
treasures he exacts payment neither by thirst nor by death. And it was
upon this that the chiefs now mused. This was why, gazing out at the
Sahara surrounding their tents, at that desert with its barren promise
of such thin pleasures, they let themselves go in murmured
confidences.

"You know . . . the God of the French . . . He is more generous to the
French than the God of the Moors is to the Moors."

Memories that moved them too deeply rose to stop their speech. Some
weeks earlier they had been taken up into the French Alps. Here in
Africa they were still dreaming of what they saw. Their guide had led
them to a tremendous water-fall, a sort of braided column roaring over
the rocks. He had said to them:

"Taste this."
It was sweet water. Water! How many days were they wont to march in
the desert to reach the nearest well; and when they had arrived, how
long they had to dig before there bubbled a muddy liquid mixed with
camel's urine! Water! At Cape Juby, at Cisneros, at Port Etienne, the
Moorish children did not beg for coins. With empty tins in their hands
they begged for water.

"Give me a little water, give!"

"If you are a good lad . . ."

Water! A thing worth its weight in gold! A thing the least drop of
which drew from the sand the green sparkle of a blade of grass! When
rain has fallen anywhere, a great exodus animates the Sahara. The
tribes ride towards that grass that will have sprung up two hundred
miles away. And this water, this miserly water of which not a drop had
fallen at Port Etienne in ten years, roared in the Savoie with the
power of a cataclysm as if, from some burst cistern, the reserves of
the world were pouring forth.

"Come, let us leave," their guide had said.

But they would not stir.

"Leave us here a little longer."

They had stood in silence. Mute, solemn, they had stood gazing at the
unfolding of a ceremonial mystery. That which came roaring out of the
belly of the mountain was life itself, was the life-blood of man. The
flow of a single second would have resuscitated whole caravans that,
mad with thirst, had pressed on into the eternity of salt lakes and
mirages. Here God was manifesting Himself: it would not do to turn
one's back on Him. God had opened the locks and was displaying His
puissance. The three Moors had stood motionless.

"That is all there is to see," their guide had said. "Come."

"We must wait."

'Wait for what ?"

"The end."

They were awaiting the moment when God would grow weary of His
madness. They knew Him to be quick to repent, knew He was miserly.

"But that water has been running for a thousand years!"

And this was why, at Port Etienne, they did not too strongly stress
the matter of the waterfall. There were certain miracles about which
it was better to be silent. Better, indeed, not to think too much
about them, for in that case one would cease to understand anything at
all. Unless one was to doubt the existence of God. . . .

2 comments:

  1. Hi D&M

    As a one of the Er-Rguibat or ( or Rguibat) tribe. I am proud of that.
    I am not sure if all listed in the story are true specially if done by frenchmen concerning W.Sahara
    anyway
    you are doing good job go ahead

    ReplyDelete
  2. I know it's been a long time since you wrote, but I'm honored that you would visit my blog. Thanks for your comment, and I'm also honored to learn something from your people. I wish you the best of life.

    ReplyDelete