One day you were walking through the city of Las Palmas, you observed a father walking hand in hand with his daughter and My guide, my captain, was born. What did that scene mean to you?
Tenderness, first. And also a tremendous daily story that deserved to be seen, first, and told, later. It was in March of last year. I saw them walking through the San Telmo Park, I had gone to Las Palmas to work with the Spanish Association for Reading (AELE), within the program Write as readers. The father was blind and the girl had an eye patch. I had no doubt: the father took the girl to school, but she also “took him”, she was his guide. They were overflowing with joy, pure beauty. That same night, on the plane back to the peninsula, I wrote the draft. And as soon as I presented it to the publisher, they told me to go ahead, excited.
So the stories are there, beating in the streets, waiting to be told …
Clear! A few years ago I released another album, The Red Herring, in which there were no words. Only twelve consecutive scenes of a park with many people: children playing, adults, a musician, someone writing, someone reading … It seemed that nothing was happening, but if you started to look a little deeply, you would see that there were many stories there. It was a proposal for the “reader”, so that he himself “wrote” those stories in his mind. So for My Lazarilla, my Captain, I did the same, but in a real park: I looked and… wrote.
My guide, my captain reflects the inner world of children, their fears and their dreams. What remains in you of the child that was?
A lot! Thanks to your question I remember now that my mother was my “captain”, who took me to the parks, yes, but while I was playing she wrote beautiful stories about a deciduous forest. At night he read them to me, and from that magic of words my passion for literature was born, my desire to become a writer. So in this album are Lazarilla and Captain, but there are also her and I, walking hand in hand through the streets of Valencia … I think that writing about children and young people is also doing an exercise in memory, being able to become the protagonist, “See” through his eyes, feel the beat of his heart from yours.
Reading the illustrated album invites you to take a journey through the senses. Do you think that with digital stimuli we live disconnected from our essence?
Of course. María Girón, whom we chose to make the illustrations, has given a master lesson in this book. On the one hand there is what the girl says, and that is what I sent her. But it was she who entered the heart of Lazarilla, and populated her world with animals, turned the park into a jungle, the zebra crossing into a bridge over a river … So you can read the book, yes, but you can get lost in all those details, so rich, so tasty. And the album becomes exactly that: against haste and immediacy, the deep gaze, without haste, at the real rhythm of life.
With the publication of the book the story did not end. You looked for the real protagonists and contacted them. Why?
Because he owed her! They, without knowing it, had given me a beautiful story, so I had to try to give something back to them, even if it was just the album … It was a detective work, until I found the librarian of the Iberia School who confirmed that yes, I had to to be that girl, whose father… For me it was exciting, to the best of my ability, to talk to them. And that they tell me how much what I imagined is like the reality of their life. The real girl is not “almost blind”, as in the album, but the rest is like this: she is his guide, who in turn takes her to school. They were (are) happy to have inspired this story.
What did it take to learn the real story that you had previously imagined?
Emotion, yes, but also the confirmation of something that I have always believed and that is the backbone of everything I have written: literature is not a matter of imagination, but of gaze, of curiosity. Then yes, you can use your imagination, but as a tool. And with it you write, you make literature something alive, real. It may be that what you write is not exactly reality, because it is another possibility of life itself, and with those fictions you make the human being something richer, more complete. And it is that literature is the laboratory of man.
You have a close relationship with the Sahara. What do you think of what is happening?
Yes, I have been traveling to the camps for 25 years, and I work there with children and young people. And that is why I know from their lips and hearts the tremendous orphan that is a 45-year exile, the indifference of those of us who were their “owners”, the injustice, the pain that there are more than two hundred thousand Sahrawis in the cemeteries of exile, who died without being able to return to the land where they were born. After so much neglect, who can be surprised that they resort to a war that the UN recognizes as legitimate, when they do not ask for anything that is not within their rights, such as deciding their future in a referendum. The war, which is something painful and that nobody wants, stops the moment the UN says yes, that referendum is going to be held.
Will they cease to be the eternal forgotten?
For a few days. The struggle of the Saharawi people, since 1991, when they were finally promised the referendum, has been exemplary peaceful, such as the hunger strike of Aminetu Haidar in Lanzarote, as the daily resistance of the Sahrawis under occupation and the denial of their culture and traditions. There are Sahrawis with long sentences, including life imprisonment, for having participated in the dignity camp in Gdeim Izik, in Laayoune. And nobody remembered them. They have had to resort to war, pushed by the occupying power of their land, to talk about the conflict. But diplomacy is already working to bury them again in the sand of oblivion, to pretend that “nothing happens.”
“I know from their lips and hearts the tremendous orphan that is a 45-year exile”
How did the idea of founding libraries in the Tindouf camps come about?
The idea came from a school in Galicia. I was talking to them about the situation in the Sahara, they had read one of my books Candy Words that takes place in the country and one of the children, there were more than five hundred, he told me: “And if you don’t have books, there in the Sahara, why don’t we carry a bookmobile ”and I answered:“ And how do we carry it, where do we get it from ”, the boy kept insisting and he and his companions promised to save money to get the bus and take it to the Sahara. And they saved 3,000 euros, which was not enough for a bus, but to start the project. It became a reality three years later, with the money of the Galician children. Little by little more people joined, and we have been working for twelve years.
How is it financed?
It is financed with partners, but above all with the sale of books written by Sahrawi children. We direct them, specifically Mónica Rodríguez; the project is called Arena y Agua. The Arena part consists of stories written by children from a school in Madrid. The Water Part are written by children from the Smara library. I direct El Niño de Luz de Plata and with all this we finance the salaries of the workers and the construction of the new libraries. It is very nice that the children of the Sahara write stories and are bought by Spanish children who help finance the project.
What does the existence of these libraries mean for Sahrawi boys and girls?
I believe that your work is being fundamental to keep calm in the hearts of your children. Bubisher has four public libraries, four library buses that run through the camps and go to schools. Twenty young Sahrawi graduates work in libraries and “biblioguaguas” to promote reading and culture, with thousands of children who receive their love and help. Thousands of “guides”, a handful of captains. And in these moments when parents and older siblings have volunteered to the barracks, the stress on these children is enormous. That is why the librarians try to create a reflective environment, yes, but fun, with activities such as theater, cinema, and poetry.