Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Little Omondi who wanted to be a pilot and Antoine de Saint- Exupéry

Antoine de Saint- Exupéry was flying his plane – several years ago – over Africa, when – again - the engine failed. This time, he has left Sahara desert behind him and navigated all the way to the South.

The downward currents gave him a sense of discomfort. Since the engine wasn't working, and despite his effort to steer the airplane upwards, to gainheight, Antoine felt that he was sinking. He turned to the left and then to the right, in order to avoid the slope that rose in front of him threatening to crush him. The plane was not able to go any higher.

The vibrations were very strong. He gripped his hands on his seat, plummeting – like a hat – from six thousand feet to three thousand feet, when he saw a dark even volume below him, allowing him to balance the plane.
It was lake Nakuru. He recognized it from the pink clouds of flamencos, which spent time on its shores.

From this height, he could not discern anything more than clouds and frost. He continued his trip South East, passing over lake Naivasha. He knew that soon he was going to meet Mount Longonot and the dormant volcano, that reached a height of two thousand eight hundred meters.

He was now within the Great Rift Valley, that was splits the African plate with a deep enfolding of the ground between three continents: from Syria in the South Western Asia to Mozambique in Africa.

He was running out of fuel. After trying for one more hour, he finally got to land the plane further South, on a grey soft heap…

According to the map, he was supposed to be in a residential area, but there was not a living soul in sight

The water was sufficient just for eight days. He thought – with relief – that after all, it was not the Sahara desert and that he could manage to renew his supplies. He slipped under the shaft looking for shelter, covered himself with the mail-bags and fell asleep. He dreamed that he was shipwrecked with a rescue board in the middle of the ocean, and that somebody was asking him to draw a sheep.

He opened his eyes and looked for the little person with the unusual uniform that was supposed to show him the drawing with the elephant inside the boa and that he was supposed agree with him: “this is not a hat”.

He saw two black eyes instead, staring at him with curiosity.

A twelve year old boy wearing a track suit was standing next to a goat. The goat was digging up the trash. The boy told him:
“I want to be a pilot” .

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was not any more expecting that the boy would ask him questions like “Did you fall from the sky? ” or “What is that thing?”, meaning his airplane. The boy had already seen airplanes. After their first acquaintance, the pilot – writer had a vague feeling that his interlocutor was going to describe “his own planet that was not larger than a house”.

“My name is Omondi”,

The kid said,

“I woke up my mother
early in the morning.

I am twelve years old.
I live in Kibera
the biggest slum in East Africa.”

So, Omondi was not in the mood to talk about other planets, or for astronomers, or strange trees which occupy all the space of your planet when you leave them there, unattended. Also there was nothing to sweep, since the space was made of heaps of trash. He sneaked into the pile and collected some aluminium cans that he intended to sell later at the Recycling kiosk. The pilot wondered whether the child was hungry.

“My last meal was on Sunday
today is Wednesday

I want to be a pilot
to fly very high,
far away from the ghetto

to a place
where kids have parents
that don't die of HIV

to a place far away
where guardians of orphan kids
cannot abuse us

to a place far away
where goats eat
things other than trash
to a place far away
where I am treated
as well as white people are.”

The writer – pilot felt as if someone has punched him in his stomach. He looked around and realized that his plane had landed on a heap of trash in the Kibera slum. There was not a single tree, or a flower that he could water and which later on would make a scene of jealousy at him. There were only hovels with tin roofs, children playing among the heaps of rubbish, and the railroad splitting the slum in two parts, engraved in some depth, as in a riverbed. People were standing higher observing these piles from there… He had not seen so much poverty before. “Who is responsible for that poverty?”, he asked himself. “And this kid that wants to become a pilot”…

“Look at this rail track”, he told the kid. “People have learned to use winding paths. They use roads that bypass the waste land, rocks, sand and are directed where people feel their needs will be satisfied, that will lead them from a source to another source. They connect one village to another, they tumble in the desert and they rest in an oasis. Look at this rail track. In order to connect Mombasa, the port in East Africa with Lake Victoria inlands, people thought that they would beat gravity and started building a railroad inclined at 45 degrees. A railroad that would climb up high grounds and plateaus.”

The boy doubled over his knees in order to listen to him.

“The plane is what beats gravity. We take off and leave the roads that converge to the drinking troughs and stables, and slither winding like snakes from place to place. From our height, away from any human need, we discover the beauty of the desert, the charm of the rocks, of the mold, the sand, the salt. At this level people are invisible”

Without rising from his position, the boy answered:
“I want to be a pilot
to fly very high,

to a place far away
where there are lots of school books
so one day

I can fly
far away.

I want to be a pilot.
It must feel so good
to go places

where I can walk barefoot
on the green grass

where water is clean
with rivers and springs

where I can feel the sun
shining on me.”

“Now the time has come that he will abandon me”, Antoine de Saint – Exupéry thought and began to worry. He decided to take the boy with him on the back seat of his plane. He was certain that he would be able to repair it so that they would leave together. The boy looked as if he was getting ready to dispose of his “heavy” earthly body. “He will ask me to take him to “the” place where he will meet the snake”, thought Antoine de Saint – Exupéry. I want to write his story : The little black prince that wanted to be a pilot”

“My dream is to fly far away
to a place
where my suffering can end.

I want to be a pilot
to wear a uniform
to go places

where others are not afraid
to play with me
because I am HIV positive

where I can lead a simple life
where I can eat at least once a day
where there is a future.

I want to be a pilot
so I can fly
to a place far away
where my mum and dad are

so they can hug me
so they can kiss me
so they can love me

so I can hug them
so I can kiss them
so I can love them”


Antoine de Saint – Exupéry did not write the story of Omondi. His plane disappeared the night of 31st July 1944 after the take off from the air base in Corsica. However, he had always in mind the grown ups and the children that were hungry and suffered during the war. For this reason, he dedicated his Little Prince to his friend Leon, that “has been a child” who was in France, hungry and cold.


The story of Omondi was turned into a film – poem documentary by the Mexican film director Diego Quemada – Diez. Omondi is a twelve years old kid growing up in Kibera, the greatest slum in East Africa. His story, written by Diego Quemada – Diez, is made from the stories of all the children of the slum.


The journey of Saint – Exupéry to Africa and the failure of the airplane motor over lake Nakuru is inspired from his flight over the Andean mountains in Chile and the lake Laguna Diamante as described in chapter “Colleagues” of his book “The Land of Men ” ( translated into Greek)

In the same book (chapter airplane) lies the inspiration for the thoughts on terrestrial and aerial routes.

The “previous” air crash in the Sahara desert is of course told in The Little Prince, which also is inspired from a real story.

Images :

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece

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