Echoes of gourds

Recently published as electronic book in Amazon:

Also in German version:





« Ceux qui sont morts ne sont jamais partis:

Ils sont dans l’Ombre qui s’éclaire

Et dans l’ombre qui s’épaissit.

Les Morts ne sont pas sous la Terre :

Ils sont dans l’Arbre qui frémit,

Ils sont dans le Bois qui gémit,

Ils sont dans l’Eau qui coule,

Ils sont dans l’Eau qui dort,

Ils sont dans la Case, ils sont dans la Foule :

Les Morts ne sont pas morts » (*) 

(*) Birago Diop, « Souffles », en Anthologie africaine et malgache, Paris, Seghers, 1962.


Madrid, 25th April 2009


Dear Rafa,

Short time after we first met in Guinea 28 years ago, I promised to write a book about that country on behalf of you. You have had to die for me to feel encouraged to carry out my promise.

Now it does not make any sense to apologize for not having done on time. People are like this: we never do things when we have been asked for but when something inside truly pushes ourselves to do them, sometimes being not able to explain why.

Today I have said goodbye to you through the glass of the South Morgue’s room 36. Your face skin which I will always remind tanned, leathery and full of big sweaty pores, seemed a translucent plaster mask; your chubby hands lay down as two boxes of consumed and tiny grey pencils, abandoned and inert on the shroud’s whiteness.

The last time I saw you alive, when we met your daughter Raquel and your other Guinea fellows, Mari Luz, Tancho and Arantxa, a magic glint of our witty and friendly Rafa’s appearance exhibited in the night gatherings of our home in Bata, although your disease’s pieceworker had already concluded the most of its lethal task. The blue brush-stroke of your eyes, framed by purplish bags of skin, was as mischievous and watchful as the one you had when you told me the endless stories of your youth in Guinea and sometimes even it wanted to faint with the same sweet and fascinated downfall which once upon the time you wrapped my body with while we danced together in the Miramar or we let us stroke by the sea and the sun on Corisco’s beaches.

After leaving Guinea, as years passed by and I moved to other houses, cities, countries and people, the physical objects that I brought as souvenirs from the country where you once were born, got progressively damaged, fragmented and even disappeared.

Memories in my mind also were binding and melting down or sometimes even fading out as the old good oil paintings.

During my last move to Madrid, all three gourds of the mvet (*) which almost miraculously had been kept entire from that time, were definitely crashed. The two small ones appeared half shattered in the bow where they were moved; the middle big one had two wide fissures all along and had the edges splintered and fragile.

If I had been a superstitious person, I perhaps had interpreted it as a bad sign, as an augury that might avoid me to tell both your and mine stories for ever. But my image in the mirror also had been embodied other subtle but persistent marks that had tarnished the clear youthful aura that I still guess when I look again at my photos of then; so the best interpretation I could give for that broken fetish was that the condition of the surrounding objects does nothing but to reflect, in its particular quicksilver, the marks that the time leaves in their owner’s heart and skin.

When I rescued the mvet among the boxes of the removal van, I inevitably thought of you. You were in Madrid and 23 years had been passed by. Was I truly going to satisfy my promise anytime?

I kept the notes I wrote then, what you dictated to me and the jottings from the books I consulted, but I had never come to read again those papers since then nor I had written a single word of such a promised book.

However, the move and the broken gourds had suggested to me this title, moreover symbolic: Echoes of gourds.

Yes, a lot of things had been broken or changed in our lives. Some of them did very well when they broke as they were empty, without content, as the gourds. However, for some of them, how I wished their sound were kept intact in my memory.

I know that it is impossible to rescue again, among the ruins and the shadows of recondite memories with the help of a mvet almost spoiled, the authentic, pure, torn, alive and full of rhythm music that might reliably syntonize with the narration of my story.

My evocation will be, with no doubt, a blurred faltering pale and uncertain echo of vibrant moments in which the most of their delicate nuances will completely have fled from the idle loop of my memory. However it is good that time has passed by and it has taken with it the ash of all that being anodyne and not valuable has been burnt and has hardly left a scent, winning only respect all that is really worth: the meaning of we did and its trajectory, its origin, its conclusion and the equation’s solution. As what really endures in our memory is a sort of scheme, the geometrical representation of our will’s vector, its starting point, its coordinates, its direction and the outcome where it has taken us to while riding through time and space.

My move and my work took me up and I had never time to visit you or to invite you to my home. All I can say about will be an excuse. The truth is that, throughout my life, I have not had any good experiences when I have tried to resuscitate memories that come back swathed in a new reality. And I preferred to keep for myself that Rafa from Guinea instead of resigning to the current Rafa weighed down with age and diseases that lived in Madrid.

I only accepted to seeing you the day Mari Luz came, although after having passed four or five hours talking about those months of Guinea, it was a little sweet and sour to confirm that, in fact, all three of us were much older and that nothing was the same it was nor we shared a similar reality even when we said goodbye each other with merciful lies of meeting together more frequently in the future.

After that, a few time ago, one day I was surprised by Tancho’s phone call from Mallorca where he and Arantxa lived at the moment; you had cancer; you were going to be operated. I went to see you the morning of the next day before going to work. I read the clinical report; I talked to Tancho again and I told him that I thought the best for you would be not become operated and let you in peace the scarce time it remained for you to judge by what the report stated.

He also agreed and, for everybody’s advice and also following your own intuition, you finally turned back and decided not to go to the operating theatre. From then on everything was relatively quick but it was amazing how little you suffered. You spent a lot of time in your own home, among your sons and daughter, with scanty pain and trouble taking into account your disease’s advanced condition.

Behing the glass door of the Morgue’s room I reminded the months I lived by your side in Guinea. I was 24 years old when I met you and you were almost twice my age. I was being shaked by traumatic and unpleasant experiences and bited by weariness and disappointment. I had just lost a very beloved person and, absurdly, I was in danger of being taken to the jail by subversive in a country where human rights were not more than two dubious meaning written words in worthless papers.

At your 46 years, you had lived already the bitter experience of the expulsion and exile and you were experiencing that of your impossible return. That is why you were obsessed by the idea of telling your story, the story of your country, Guinea, where you lived a full and unique youth which one day suddenly ended and changed your scenario and perspectives.

You lived in the reminiscences of yourself, disillusioned because nothing could be the same, and only encouraged by the project of recalling it, of injecting life to a picture which only kept their bright colours in your deluded memory.

I was for you like a substitute of your own revived youth and you offered me that adoration in the precise moment in which I needed to feel that I was as important for somebody as a goddess: at the same time necessary but equally hard to grasp.

Our lives coincided very briefly. We were two paths travelling at incompatible speeds and directions. Nevertheless faithful and honest people have always touched my heart in a magic way.

So that finally, Rafa, here I am, with your book flowing from my hands. All is fitting together as a puzzle. For sure this is not the story you wanted to tell. And you will be right. This is mine, the story of hardly few months of my life in which I grown up, I suffered, I laughed, I loved and I lived, a little by your side and another bit by other many people’s side that then occupied together with you a so important and indelible stage.

Here you have it. I dedicate it to you because I owe it to you and without your death it might not have got going inside my brain the interior order to write it. The echoes of that mvet which tells now our short but intense story might so be able to accompany you in the long trip you have embarked on.

Much love,




Copyright 2013 © Ana Muñoz Muñoz
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