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“It’s smooth vellum cover bore the title The Anthology of French Constitutions. I opened it up and began to read.

Article 1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.


I thought perhaps I’d misunderstood it, so I read it again.

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.

It was the most interesting sentence I’d ever read in my life.

My vocabulary contained all of these words. yet I had never conceived of them being put together in this way. It was like seeing your clothes on another person.

Over the next few days I underwent a profound transformation.

That summer, when my family returned to the desert for our annual three months of nomadism, I tried to make my case to members of my family. I told my aunt Neha that I had decided to become an abolitionist.

She exploded with laughter. ‘Your father, when he went to study abroad, came home saying the same things. A real revolutionary, he was. He wouldn’t let slaves milk cows for him; he wanted to do it himself. Everyone came to watch him act out this scandal. You should have seen it, then you’d understand: hair in the pail, the cow pissing in the bucket. Even the slaves laughed at him. He turned to them and said, “Don’t mock me, I’m doing this for you.” And right then, the cow kicked him over.’ She snorted. ‘After that, things returned to their natural order.’ ”

– Abdel Nasser Ould Yessa, Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery


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