Wadé tells us about his childhood:
“As far back as I can remember, I have this image of my father, a toubab, a white colonizer. But I hardly knew him. I just remember that he wore a uniform. My mother was Cameroonian… From Douala, more precisely. My mama. It’s good to think back to the little house where I lived happily till the age of 10.
It was at this time that our life started to change. My mother was no longer the same. She stopped laughing, always had a sad look as though she was about to lose me the next minute. I remember the strangers who came to the house… to take part in mysterious rituals. She told me it was for me that she did that and that I would understand one day. But I couldn’t take part, she insisted. I was too young…
One night, I was awakened by deafening cries. I got up to go and look through the wooden slats in the door of the main building of the house. What I saw there terrified me. Fire, a blinding light, all these people who seemed to be moving in a disjointed way as though they were no longer in control of their own movements. They were being driven by some controlling force. In the middle of the circle of marionettes, my mother was floating about four feet above the floor. Her head turned towards to me. Her eyes were empty and burning like two torches. I was terrified. I immediately realised that I had to leave this place, get as far away from it as possible. I fled and never looked back. I remember that I ran till I was exhausted and totally lost.
I was hardly eleven and already on the road alone, seeking out the only person I could trust: my father. It wasn’t his exemplary conduct that made me trust him, because he had walked out on my mother years ago. Rather, it was absence that I found reassuring. He too perhaps had fled. To get away from the magic that had now totally taken possession of my mother: the voodoo.
In my family, rumour always had it that my father lived in Dakar in Senegal. That’s where I headed. Miraculously, five years later I got there, and of course I never found him.
I was a teenager when I set foot in the capital of Senegal. I had to cope on my own. The street had become my home, my place. Inevitably, along the way I had met some dubious characters, but they were my only friends.
I had also got to know a toubab, a white colonizer, and a former soldier. A nice guy who befriended me. He played a big part in my education. It was through him that I was able to learn some theory and some practical knowledge and became generally more educated. We would sit on the flat roof of the house and talk for hours, each about his adventures. This was a good friendship, but it turned out to be a mistake. I understood too late that he had laid a trap for me. One evening, drunk and happy, he got me to sign a paper that, he said, would enable me to travel the world. When I awoke I was on the deck of a French naval ship, far from the coast of Senegal. I realised then that I had just enrolled in a regiment of tirailleurs, the light infantry of the French colonial forces. It was January 1914.”