Ryszard Kapuściński

Lapidarium IV

(A Selection)

In the south of Tanzania I once met a pastor—Karl Hinz. Near Liwale he had a tiny church, a shack really, whose wooden walls were so full of holes eaten out by woodworms and ants that each waft of wind brought to the inside fresh, pleasant coolness. The little flock of pastor Hinz, an already aged man, was dying fast. They were African, simple soldiers forcefully recruited to the military by the Germans when still before World War I Tanzania was their colony and was called German East Africa.

I arrived right at the moment when in the simple church cemetery a burial was taking place. I stopped on the side waiting for the ceremony to end. Meanwhile the pastor, slight, stooping, with bald, shaking head, was saying something standing on a small hill of scattered, sandy soil. I moved closer to hear his words.

“Let us bow to God who sent us this death,” I heard him say to the dozen or so persons gathered in the cemetery, cuddled together to fit in the shade of a small acacia. “Let us thank Him for that, that’s right—let us thank Him. Because death gives us freedom from our destructive passions, our ridiculous ambitions and thoughtless aspirations. Do you know what are all the desires with which we burn? They are nothing, I say, nothing. Death strikes not only those who died. He also strips bare the nothingness of the living, reminds them that they are dust. Death is greatness because he is forgiveness and absolution. He sees our imperfections, our short-sightedness, our sins, and yet he opens his arms and accepts everyone. He is forgiving, and so despite our offences he accepts us to his kingdom, which is eternal, and he desires one thing only—for us to be in it!”

I looked around at the people. Was there one who understood the words of the pastor? They stood around the freshly dug grave, gloomy and silent, every now and again wiping off their sweaty, old faces.  [10-11] 

In the nineteen fifties and sixties, during the euphoria brought by decolonization, leaders of the Third World and people around them hoped that thanks to some huge anti-imperialist revolution it will be possible to destroy the gulf between poverty and wealth, between the North and the South. A half-century of bitter experiences has shown that it’s a blind alley. The leaders were discredited, and people lost their illusions.

That’s why the latter changed their tactics and resorted to slow diffusion through immigration. Man after man, family after family set out on a search and find their tiny place in the developed world. They pick strawberries or clean houses in California, they sell trinkets by Pantheon in Paris or the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

And when these people finally enter the developed world, they stick together. They do not organize to gain influence in the new society. Poles in Canada, Turks in Germany or Koreans in America will look after their tiny stores and care about their jobs. They will be docile, quiet, compliant, pleased with all the little things brought to them by their life in these strange places. [16]

This penetration has changed the face of Europe, just as it has changed America. On a hot summer night in Paris I was taking a bus from the airport to the city. When I passed the neighborhoods inhabited by Africans I had a sense that I might just as well be in Dakar. In 1996 I was at a train station in Rotterdam at around ten at night. There were two white people there—the clerk in the currency exchange and I. All the others were black. I felt as if I were at the train station in Nairobi.

This trend will have a decisive impact on the future. These people will stay. They will have children that will go to school and then to work. This penetration will continue and will lead to the creation of societies combining different civilizations.  [16-17]