Spain enlists 'Little Prince' for charm offensive in Afghanistan

By Dale Fuchs in Madrid

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan have recently carried out an unusual mission: to distribute 5,000 copies of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, translated into Dari, to Afghan children in the province of Badghis.

The story about the young master of asteroid B-612 and his vain-yet-beloved rose might sound like an odd weapon in the UN-led war against terror. And certainly neither baobab trees, which threaten the rose, or The Geographer, too busy making maps to leave his desk, figure in the Spanish army's tactics manuals. But a passionate book collector, Fuencisla Gozalo, managed to convince the defence ministry to add this mission to the army's plans.

The idea was hatched when Ms Gozalo, who possesses copies of The Little Prince in 200 languages, heard a sad story about an Afghan man, Ghulam Sakhi Ghairat, who translated the book to Dari, one of Afghanistan's two official languages, in 1977.

Nobody in Afghanistan wanted to buy his version of the asteroid voyager, and so the translator, now director of the Kabul School of Diplomacy, was forced to pack his copies of the novella into crates and store them in his home. His home was later bombed in the US-led invasion. The translator survived because he was in New York at the time, but the Dari copies of the story about the prince who meets a downed pilot in the desert and asks him to draw a sheep, were destroyed.

Ms Gozalo was so moved by the loss she asked friends for donations to print Mr Sakhi Gahairat's translation herself. Thirty friends contributed a total of €2,500 (£2,100) enough to print 5,000 Dari copies of Saint-Exupery's work.

"On the day of my birthday, I asked my friends not to get me a present but to help me finance the printing of a Dari edition of The Little Prince to give to Afghan women and children," she told the Spanish daily El País.

Her next challenge: how to get the copies into the right hands? The Spanish army seemed like the safest messenger for the precious cargo. She wrote a letter to the Defence Minister, Carmen Chacon. "Badghis is an extremely needy province, and if it is not a danger for our soldiers I believe it would be good if they could deliver the books to schools and libraries," the letter said, according to El País. "No child had ever been able to read The Little Prince," she said. "Now they can. They can learn the values that the book teaches: honesty, loyalty, friendship."

source :