First Observer
Second Observer
Sese Seko
Head in the TV (the interjections are preceded by a jingle)
Voices in the air


1 – Departure

Josephine – First observer – Second observer

First observer
Why does the blood of others agitate her so much?

Second observer
She speaks Spanish, English, German, Italian, Flemish, Swedish
she is beautiful like a midnight sun.

First observer
Has the name of an empress.

Second observer
(imitating Josephine)
Your reports?
Have you tallied them?
I’m taking note.

First observer
And always this tone.

Second observer
She wears a blue coat.

First observer
A Royal Queen, that Josephine.

Second observer
The queen and her pawns!

First observer
We are the pawns.

– pause –
– Josephine enters –

Second observer 
The old shell casings are used to hold bouquets of flowers.

Well if I ever
on my grave I’d like
a little bouquet of flowers would please me.

Here lies your second observer
And then at least my name
my identity
engraved on my tombstone
I would like that.

That people would at least know where to find me
even dead.
So many humans disappear
without a tombstone, without a trace
without leaving a body.

I have the sensation of being already dead
of leaving, and of being already dead.

Our existence revolves around a core that is fundamentally rotten.

First observer
Are we paid in dollars?

In dollars
Express, Guardian, Spiegel, Times, or Republica.

You will be told again and again
There are suicide bombers, watch out.

It will be on the front page.

2 – Investigations  

Land overflowing with skeletons and bones.

Josephine – First observer – Second observer

(Josephine opens a briefcase that contains small bottles and pipettes.)

How to supply drinkable water to the city?
War and shortage of water
a good title, right?

Your reports?

First observer
I have several.

And you?

Second observer
Call me Advil
it’s my nickname:
an anti-inflammatory.

I use it a lot
whether it’s hot or cold.

I’m fat
my stomach is eating itself, I’m dying of thirst
and yet
I’m still fat.

here are the pipettes and the bottles
let’s analyze and come to a conclusion.

(There are names of a few cities on the labels.)

First observer
I have a report ready to go.


(Josephine’s actions are reminiscent of the tests done on urine. She dips a strip of paper to analyze the water and hands them dollars encouraging them to drink.)

Kinshasa Bujumbura Bangui Kigali Lagos Freetown
Kabul Yaoundé Jolo Vukovar Grozny.
Drink Mogadishu Lahore Calcutta Manila
Jakarta Kuala Lumpur Kandahar.

– pause –

First observer
Listen, here’s the report:

New latrines
A third of the tourists visiting tropical countries are victims of “travelers’ diarrhea” and in half of the cases the symptoms are serious enough to alter, even cut the trip short.

Installation of the latrines
They make it possible to collect and recycle excrement into compost.

Cost of the new latrines
It’s not insignificant.
100 dollars for the pit latrines
and 1000 dollars for the classic hydraulic sanitation systems.

Second observer
The only solution:
separate the urine from the feces
and organize a collection service.

Urine recycled into fertilizer
it’s the only solution
we need fertilizer.

And how will the urine be collected?

Second observer
There is a bowl
divided into two compartments:
The first is equipped with a conduit to a tank for urine
the second connected to a pit.

First observer
And there’s no flush?

Second observer
no flush
urine is a good fertilizer.

urine separated from feces
urine recycled into fertilizer
it’s perfect.

(The second observer pisses into a cup.)

Second observer
Holy cow, what great fertilizer!

– pause –

First observer
All that is likely to be struck
is within reach of planes and missiles.

Second observer
The wind can always deflect the trajectory of the bomb.

First observer
Yes, but the Americans created systems for their bombs to counteract the effect of the wind.

– pause –

And the drones?

Second observer
No more pilots!
Planes without pilots.

First observer
Machines with the wingspan of an albatross
capable of planting themselves outside your window
and observing you all night long.

Second observer
The beautiful sleepless night!

First observer
Rigid wings
more efficient than those of a wild goose.

Second observer
Yes, but geese cross the Mediterranean Sea
only using a few grams of fat

And I love geese…

Always choose a goose that is fairly young
how can you tell?
by its white fat and its thin skin.

You turn on your stove
you put lard in a pot and place the pot on the burner
once the lard has melted
you add sauerkraut, salt, pepper
juniper berries, and white wine.

It takes about three hours.

You put the goose in the oven
you spoon the fat
from the bottom of the dish
repeatedly basting the sauerkraut with it.

Fat gives flavor to the sauerkraut.

You can also peal a few apples
and arrange them around the edges of the goose.
This is optional but very good
I guarantee it.

First observer
I was saying
Rigid wings are more effective.

And the flight is smooth as a result.

First observer
Microdrones glide laterally
and reverse.

Second observer
The transitions are abrupt!

First observer
But the stops instantaneous.
And it looks like an innocent butterfly.

I’m taking note of it in my report.

– pause –

Are you familiar with the hummingbird?

First Observer
Its flight is ideal for spying on enclosed spaces:
offices, buildings, meeting rooms.

– pause –

The assholes
Humans took everything to their graves
white gold, astrakhan fur, flocks of sheep…

We should be able to find skull fragments
Pieces of jaw
scattered teeth.
All right, let’s go look.

3 – Infanticide

Josephine – Infanticide


You don’t want to talk?

Yes no.

You want to disappear?

Yes that’s it
exactly that.

I’m a journalist
my name is Josephine.

I won’t make it
every night
I sing lullabies to my pillow.

Your pillow?

The scream comes back to me
I stiffen and the cramp comes back
and then, no longer a before, before: nothing, nothing at all
the night, the thick night that suffocates you
I suffocate.

Her death is my star
better to die than a life’s nothingness.

Born three years ago
It was necessary to “deliver” her a second time
this little beating heart, this little heart
I tossed Lucile over the railing.

I wanted to so much
so much
every day on my way to the market
yet she never complained
I would pass in front of the train tracks
and I’d think:

I will toss her over the railing

And Lucile did splatter as I had imagined
on the train tracks.

Her little broken body disintegrated
I preferred to have her cremated
Lucile my star.

I walk on the sidewalk in the direction of the market
I follow the train tracks
I stop
I take Lucile out of her stroller
I wipe her mouth.

There were traces of chocolate cookies.

And I toss her like an old bag
Over the railing of the train tracks.

There was a scream
her little bones must have shattered in a single blow
I said yes
that’s definitely her
that’s me
I killed her so it would last.

I sing her lullabies and she grows up in my sleep
she grows up so quickly.

I can’t calm her anymore
I can’t get her to sleep anymore
she’s naughty
I told her that
you’re really not nice
don’t scream like that, it’s time to sleep.

How high is the railing?
I’m taking notes.

The railing of the train track?
6 feet…maybe 7…

Oh? That’s very high.

I like to play.


I play ball
very often with both arms
I throw the ball very high into the basket.

My passion, basketball
my strength
Lucile also had very long arms
like mine

(She imitates a monkey.)

Basketball player?

Lucile weighed 29 pounds
Lucile smelled like caramel
the nape of Lucile smelled like apricot
her cheeks, like vanilla. My arms moved her
I took her in my arms
my vanilla my caramel my three-year-old
her apricot neck broke on the rails of the train track.

I still have the smell of apricot on my lips
a smell of life, of breath, of kisses
of numbing gas.

Now you’re here I’m here
I’m you I’m three years old now
I sing lullabies to my pillow.

(She sings a lullaby.)

My apricot, coconut
Gently, gently
On your neckie neck
Honey bun bun
Marshmallow, lo
My baby, my baby
Softly, softly
My sweet, sweet pea

Gone again
Inside, inside
Asleep, my sweet
Always, always
My baby, fallen again
Tap tap tap tap
Taken away, away
Mama, mama


4 – Sese Seko

Sese Seko’s presidential ship. Dismembered bodies lined up on the deck.

Sese Seko – Josephine – First observer – Second observer – Head in the TV 

Sese Seko (he shouts)
Young man
I was beating the drum
and I thought they heard me
but they heard nothing
because my hands were full of water.

Today my palms are dry
and when I play
they hear what I say!
I was born here
“on” the river
in this region of the Equator
where the river is king.

As soon as I can
I live here and receive guests

Our music is popular around the world
It brings goodness to humanity.

First Observer
They don’t have feet anymore.

Second Observer
Hands either.

Cut off with machetes
my God.

Sese Seko
You must know how to forgive.

God is close to us because we still believe
go on

(Sese Seko sings while playing the drum.)

A quarter of a century living united and in peace
We live reconciled and in dignity
We live in continuity…

Sese Seko
Compassion and care about the legal procedure are the signs of indecision.

First Observer
Someone beheaded
I had their head between my hands a minute ago
Where could it have gone?

Sese Seko
What head?
you recognized someone?
What head?

A head
a head amongst others
it must have rolled that way.

Second Observer
I have a bunch of ears
what should I do with them?

Sese Seko
Arrange them by pairs.

And count the pairs, Advil.

Second Observer
Grenade shrapnel, so much dust!

Which celebrity do you admire?

Sese Seko
God and John Paul II.

I was delighted to meet Pope John Paul II in Rome and Kinshasa.
I had the privilege of hosting him twice during a papal visit.

What did you talk about?

Sese Seko
About my parents
my mother, Mary Magdalene, and my father, Joseph
I adored them.

My mother slightly preferred me
all women are “moms.”

First Observer
It’s his head
without a doubt.

The neck
the torso
and the limbs go together
I’ve rebuilt you, buddy!
You’re complete

Second Observer
Too much dust
dust mites are eating me up
I’m having a reaction
I’m suffocating.

First Observer
Indeed, it’s their defecation that’s allergenic.

Second Observer
Do you think I give a fuck?
As soon as my stomach is full I’m scared of losing weight
let the dust mites devour me!

First Observer
It’s in a previous report.
“Dust mites, those monsters, those flesh-eaters
feed on the human skin that we lose at a rate of 0.12 ounces per night.”

It’s their defecation that’s allergenic.

Second Observer
I’m suffocating
the debris from bodies of dust
makes me vomit.

I’m losing weight
here’re your pairs of ears, Sese Seko!

Go on, shout!
they’re arranged by pairs!

Everyone hears you, Sese Seko!

Calm down, Advil!
Continue your work

Sese Seko
I sometimes imagine the map of the earth unfurled
And see my mother spread out crosswise over its entire surface.

What have you retained from the teachings of your parents?

Sese Seko
That we should love nature, dear Josephine.

I was born in this region of the Equator where the river is king
I learned at a very young age to live with nature, to preserve it and respect it
above all to respect it
Admire our river, our forests, our insects, our animals,
our volcanoes, our mountains and our plains.

We’re home to more than 50,000 elephants
lions, giraffes, water buffaloes, leopards,
hyenas, warthogs, sable antelopes, and cheetahs
countless birds, fish…

You want to boost tourism…

Sese Seko
I’m inviting big hotel chains to come invest!

(Sese Seko sings a rap.)

Come to the most beautiful country in Africa
Participate in a little exotic tourism
There ain’t no mosquitoes
Ain’t no ethnic problem…
No problem, no, no…

y mother, my land, it’s a hypnotic jungle
If you want to get to know it, don’t panic
Y’don’t need loads of dough
And over there, there ain’t no cops
Ain’t no mosquitoes
Ain’t no ethnic problem
No problem, no, no

(jingle) Head in the TV
The Romans’ disgust with respect to the Barbarians didn’t stem solely from the fact that they used to anoint their hair with rancid butter and stank of onions, but also because they were “dressed in fur.”
An indisputable sign of savagery in their eyes.
Charlemagne used to wear a fur vest just like any old peasant during the winter, but with the fur on the inside.
They were fine with acquiring the qualities of an animal but wouldn’t risk resembling one with a mane on the outside.


Cécile Cotté

Cécile Cotté, the author of  Fossoyeurs (Gravediggers), is a stage actress, a playwright, and a theater producer. She's created numerous productions that have toured in France, the U.S., and Africa (Corps et voix, paroles rhizomes by Koulsy Lamko, produced in Rwanda, followed by a European tour). She worked several years for the France Culture radio series “Poésie sur Parole,” produced by André Velter and Jean-Baptiste Para. For more information on Cécile Cotté’s work, see her website:

Lea Aftimos, Magdalene Baert, Smriti Bansal, Caroline Cunfer, Emmanuelle Ertel, Christopher Prodehl, Cally Simmons-Edler, Sean Waxman

Gravediggers is a collective translation done by New York University B.A. students under the supervision of Professor Emmanuelle Ertel in the spring semester of 2016, as part of an advanced literary translation workshop.

Copyright (c) Cécile Cotté, 2006. English translation copyright (c) Emmanuelle Ertel, Lea Aftimos, Magdalene Baert, Smriti Bansal, Caroline Cunfer, Christopher Prodehl, Cally Simmons-Edler, Sean Waxman, 2017.