THE SHADOW OF THE SUN

“These people received three liters of water daily, for everything: drinking, cooking, washing. And daily rations of a half kilogram of corn. Plus, once a week, a small sack of sugar and a piece of soap. The Somalis knew how to set even some of this aside, selling the corn and sugar to dealers hanging around the camp, putting away the money to buy a new camel, and running off into the desert again.

They were unable to live any other way.

Hamed is not surprised at this. ‘That is our nature,’ he says, without resignation, with a touch of pride even. Nature is something one cannot oppose, attempt to improve, or free oneself from. Nature is decreed by God, and is therefore perfect. Drought, heat waves, empty wells, and death on the road also partake of that perfection. Without them, man would be unable later to appreciate the true delight of rain, the heavenly taste of water, and the life-giving sweetness of milk. A beast would not be able to rejoice in the succulent grass, or relish the smell of a meadow, and would not know what it is to stand in a stream of cold, crystal-clear water. It would not even occur to him that this is simply to be in heaven.”


“At nightfall we spotted a simple country church [in a Camerooon village] and beside it a humble house, the rectory. We had arrived at our destination. Somewhere, in one of the rooms, an oil lamp was burning, and a small, wavering glow fell through the open door onto the porch. We entered. It was dark and quiet inside. After a moment, a tall, thin man in a light habit came out to greet us: Father Jan, from southern Poland. He had an emaciated, sweaty face with large, blazing eyes. He had malaria, was clearly running a fever, his body probably wracked by chills and cramps. Suffering, weak and listless, he spoke in a quiet voice. He wanted to play the host somehow, to offer us something, but from his embarrassed gestures and aimless putting about it was plain he didn’t have the means, and didn’t know how. An old woman arrived from the village and began to warm up some rice for us. We drank water, then a boy bought a bottle of banana beer. ‘Why do you stay here, Father?’I asked. ‘Why don’t you leave?’ He gave the impression of a man in whom some small part had already died. There was already something missing. ‘I cannot,’ he answered. ‘Someone has to guard the church.’ And he gestured with his hand toward the black shape visible through the window.

I went to lie down in the adjoining room. I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, the words of an old altar boy’s response started to play in my head: Pater noster, qui es in caeli…Fiat voluntas tua…sed libera nos a malo…

In the morning, the boy whom I had seen the previous evening beat with a hammer on a dented metal wheel rim hanging on a wire. This served as the bell. Stanislaw and Jan were celebrating morning mass in the church, a mass in which the boy and I were the sole participants.”

Ryszard Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life

5 Replies to “THE SHADOW OF THE SUN”

  1. My word, that’s powerful.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Ron–I don’t know if you’ve ever read Kapuscinski but he’s pretty fine–The Shadow of the Sun in particular. Point well taken also about George Tooker and his depiction of our sorrowful existential alienation…

      1. I’m putting it on my list, Heather! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  2. We have so much, we are so ungrateful

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Never too late to start…

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