Night at Tanlili

It’s already dark (in Africa the night falls suddenly, around 6:30pm). After dinner, like every evening, the children of the village of Tanlili, in northern Burkina Faso, gather in the open area between the huts to play, chat and wait together for bedtime. They all have a white powdery spot on the forehead: they just kneeled on the ground for the last prayer of the day. But this evening the program will be different, or at least that’s how it looks. One of those two white people who for a few days have been hanging around the village with their cameras, is preparing a real surprise for them. He is fussing around with a mechanical thing on a wobbly table, trying to obtain some obscure result. It all seems very mysterious. He fidgets, waves his arms, tries to explain what he is doing through gestures, like a mime actor. The minutes pass, half an hour passes. The white man is still there, in the middle of the village, messing about with that strange machine. Curiosity mounts. After a long time (hard to say how long) the white man, with his theatrical moves, communicates that the moment has come. We are almost there! Wait! Attention mounts. On the wall of one of the few cement houses images appear unexpectedly. At first they are out of focus, but slowly they become sharper and sharper. The first ones are upside down, hard to decipher. After a short while the full enchantment reveals itself in the wide-eyed looks of the spectators. The projection of drawings inspired by the daily life of the village takes place in front of an enraptured young audience, joined by a few adults. Words are not needed now, not even gestures are needed now. Everything is clear. The magic of the projection, in the heart of an African night, is fulfilled. The narrative of little everyday things is visible on that wall, in those stylized drawings. And for a moment we are all communicating, sharing the universal language of images and imagination.

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