“The Dakar Courier”

Because of an error on the part of the graphic artist, the map of the world was printed without Switzerland. The country was swallowed up in the mauve of France, the blue of Germany, the Italian yellow and the Austrian orange. Each of these colors ran a little. The graphic artist failed to notice the mistake, and the map was printed and distributed in thousands of copies to all the elementary schools in Senegal, the Dakar Courier reports. It was only when the son of the Swiss ambassador to Senegal and Gambia came home in tears that his father noticed the shocking mistake. He immediately sent telegrams to Berne and Zurich and reported the incident with grim restraint. To his surprise, nobody in Berne answered him, and no reply was received from Zurich either.

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From the legal supplement of the Dakar Courier:

In the year 1930, halfway between Sri Lanka and India, a Chinese destroyer mistakenly sank a ship carrying thirty lawyers on their way to represent Prince P., the governor of Sri Lanka and according to conservative estimates the biggest property owner in the Far East, in a lawsuit brought against him by a peasant woman, whose name has not been preserved in the records but who is known to have been over ninety years old, for a surcharge of four rupees on a poll tax. Since the defense lawyers failed to appear on time, and the reason for their absence was not known at the time, the trial was postponed for a week. The peasant woman, who had been waiting for seven or nine years for the trial to take place, left the courthouse and began to make her way back on foot to her village near Delhi, in northern India, on the mistaken assumption that she would be able to get there and back to Madras for the trial the following week. Remaining in the big city for a whole week was of course out of the question. After walking along the coastal road for a few hours—the way there had taken her almost six months on foot—a speeding truck hit her and killed her on the spot. After a few seconds of silence, twenty-eight attorneys in wet robes with their black hair stuck to their foreheads descended from the truck. After a brief consultation a pit was dug in the field next to the road and the woman was clandestinely buried in it, with the lawyers wordlessly promising each other never to say anything about what had happened. To their disappointment they arrived too late for the trial, but the judge instructed the court secretary to provide them with woolen blankets and jugs of tea. “We had too much to lose,” one of them said to the prison guard a few years later, when the sentence—death by drowning—was about to be carried out on all of them at once. It turned out that someone had seen them—those that had survived, that is.

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The war between Niger and Libya broke out, as will be recalled, because the Emperor of Niger, Yacobo, could no longer tolerate a situation in which “Niger the Great” in his words, lacked an “outlet to the sea.” After the soldiers of Niger, with the assistance of special forces from Israel, conquered the whole of Libya in less than a week and carried out a military coup and democratization, it turned out that due to insufficient knowledge of Hebrew on the part of the Niger Chief-of-Staff, Chad and not Libya had been conquered—and all the steps toward democratization in Libya, that is, Chad, were abolished forthwith. The military correspondent of the Dakar Courier, reporting from Bonn, expresses the tentative opinion that the idea of an “outlet to the sea” for Niger has not yet been realized.

*****

Due to a postal error, the envelope which was sent from Tokyo arrived in Georgetown, Gambia, instead of Georgetown, Kentucky, USA—a regrettable mistake whose result was that the mayor of Georgetown, Gambia, instead of the mayor of Georgetown, Kentucky, arrived in Tokyo to attend the twinning ceremony of Georgetown, Kentucky with the city of Tokyo, a ceremony during the course of which the guest, who was a vegetarian, was served Kentucky Fried Chicken nuggets flown in specially from Georgetown, Kentucky. The guest, to the astonishment of his Japanese hosts, refused to touch the refreshments, which naturally led to an immediate cancellation of the Twin Cities agreement between Tokyo and Georgetown, Kentucky, and also—however unjustified—to the cancellation of any future alliance between Tokyo and Georgetown, Gambia, as proved historically from that day to this. In an editorial in the Dakar Courier, which gave the incident extensive coverage, the writer wondered why Georgetown, Kentucky and Georgetown, Gambia didn’t sign an alternative Twin Cities agreement of their own.

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The Dakar Courier reveals, that due to a minor planning error by the Israeli engineer, the Senegalese workers built the bridge between Benguela in Angola and Salvador in Brazil at a deviation of ninety degrees. The error was not discovered until the immigration officials of Angola saw to their surprise, instead of the first trucks loaded with dark Salvadorian coffee, a dozen Mercedes carrying German tourists in white “Cookie Bellini” T-shirts with the text “Welcome to Sicily” in English next to a picture of an erupting volcano.

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The Dakar Courier reports today on one of its inside pages about a number of Senegalese woodchoppers in a forest next to Bamako in South-West Mali. When they chopped down the last tree, they discovered to their surprise a big birds’ nest on its summit, and inside it a white man. With the help of sign language they understood that the man, a Jew, had been abandoned by his family as an infant, close to the northern border of the Ivory Coast. He had been found by a family of eagles and raised by them. The man, according to their estimation, was thirty years old. For at least twenty-five years he had not spoken to a human being, but the French language was not completely foreign to him. The woodchoppers removed him carefully from the nest. Only then they discovered that underneath the man were two giant eggs. When they approached to take the eggs, one of the woodchoppers recounts, the man grabbed them, put them in the pockets of his shabby coat, jumped quickly onto the tractor, and took off. The woodchoppers were unable to say what kind of goslings the eggs contained, the Dakar Courier reports regretfully.

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The Norwegian sky-diving instructor Lars Foersen made a name for himself by getting his students to dive up instead of down. The students would stand at the opening of the plane painted in the colors of the Norwegian flag and, shrieking in terror and delight, jump out; after a few moments they would find themselves floating in the blue, oxygen-thin atmosphere, waving and smiling sweetly at each other. A few years later the Dakar Courier exposed the fraud: Lars Foersen’s light plane never took off; it was set on trestles one and a half meters above the ground, and was shaken by Foersen’s two sons, Ebenezer and Fritz, who rocked the wings until the jump took place, making guttural sounds exactly like a twin-engine airplane. When the police officers of the Oslo Fraud, Small Aircraft, and Vice Squads arrived to arrest the imposter, Foersen quickly put on his flying goggles, tightened the straps of his parachute, screamed in terror and delight, and jumped out of the plane. The policemen found his mangled body on the cold Norwegian ground.

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In light of the large number of suicides jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco every year, green boxes were installed on the bridge, at a distance of three meters from each other, which began to play the chaconne from the Partita in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach whenever anyone climbed onto the railing. Within the space of a single month the suicides by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge stopped completely. On the other hand, the Dakar Courier reports, dozens of people can be observed today standing silently and pensively on the bridge, looking as if for the first time at the water below them or at the other people standing next to them. After two years in which not a single suicide took place from the bridge, and green boxes were installed on scores of other bridges in the world, passersby noticed a black man of about fifty who had climbed onto the railing of the bridge, and without pausing for a moment to listen to the music, according to eyewitnesses, leapt with his case to his death. When the body was retrieved from the water by the coast guard it transpired that the man was a citizen of Senegal, the Dakar Courier reports on its first page today. Only a few days later, when a Guarneri violin was found floating on the waves of the Pacific Ocean by a Chinese guided-missile destroyer, which had invaded the territorial waters of the United States by mistake, it transpired that the suicide was none other than Pinchas Jacoby, the Jewish violinist born in Ziguinchor on the border of Guinea-Bissau, who excelled above all at playing Bach violin solos, and who had especially recorded the Partita in D minor by Bach a few years before, at the personal request of the governor of California, for the legendary sum of five hundred thousand dollars.

From the collection Twin Cities, Babel, 2004. Copyright Dror Burstein. Translation copyright the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. All rights reserved.