To reach the Sow's house, located in Malicounda, a small village 85 kilometers south of Dakar, you have to move away from the main road under construction, cluttered by old rusty and patched up Peugeot cars and overloaded carts pulled by horses.
Then plunge into the sandy lanes of a sleepy residential area, and push a heavy wrought iron gate, to enter the patio of this unfinished building.
There, at the foot of a lemon tree, play carefree, a kid with an oversized red t-shirt and a little girl with plaits raised on her head, the youngest of the Sow family.
Inside this modern-comfy house, everything recalls Diary, the beloved child, the brilliant student who went to study in Paris, at the prestigious Lycée Louis-Le-Grand.
Like, nearly a century earlier, the poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, first president of the Senegalese Republic.
In the living room of Diary Sow's family home in Malicounda, the prizes and diplomas of the brilliant student are enthroned next to her dictionaries./Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
In addition to filling with joy his mother, Bineta Sow, this brilliant pupil, the second of six siblings, has been the pride of his entire country for several years.
As evidenced by the two large photos displayed on the wall of the entrance on either side of a small flat screen, where Diary poses alongside the President of Senegal, Macky Sall.
But on January 4, the world of the Sow family collapsed when the 20-year-old young woman, in her second year of preparatory class in chemistry, physics and engineering in the Latin Quarter, suddenly vanished.
The investigation, opened on January 7 by the French police for the worrying disappearance of an adult, quickly turned towards a voluntary flight.
Also, this Sunday, January 17, the discomfort is palpable in the family home.
Only Arona, Diary's maternal uncle, agrees to speak to us.
The thirty-year-old with the little goat paints a glowing portrait of his niece, with whom he was brought up.
Weighing each of his words, he refuses to comment on the circumstances of his disappearance and confines himself to repeating that nothing in Diary's behavior suggested "that something was wrong".
In Diary Sow's room at his parents' house in Malicounda, the library bears witness to his reading frenzy./Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
After leaving her worried relatives without news for several days, the young woman, withdrawn to a place she keeps secret, has finally come out of silence.
In undated exchanges, published by her godfather and mentor Serigne Mbaye Thiam on Twitter on January 21, the student explains her gesture.
" Hello uncle.
I want to tell you that I write to you as freely as I left, she says straight away.
I am aware of the audacity, of the very cruelty of my approach.
I know what torments my decision gives me, I can sense the consequences that it will engender, that it already engenders […] ”, we can read on the Twitter account of Serigne Mbaye Thiam, also Minister of Macky Sall.
We finally have some good news from #DiarySow.
In a letter she sent me, followed by several exchanges in recent days, she breaks the silence for the first time.
With his agreement and the authorization of his family, below are some extracts from his letter.
- Serigne Mbaye THIAM (@smthiam) January 21, 2021
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"My family deserves to know, while waiting for me to find the courage and the strength in myself to reconnect with them", continues the one who confides in not having dared to speak to her about her "irrepressible" and "irrational" need for her. grant a "salutary respite", "a break to regain one's senses".
“Those who seek a rational explanation for my act will be disappointed […] It is not a question of overwork, nor of madness, nor of desire for freedom […].
I have not tripped because of the confinement or the preparation.
My life was as I wanted it to be […] The pressure was never a barrier for me.
On the contrary […].
My departure is not an admission of weakness, ”she wrote again.
Before concluding: "Contrary to what people seem to think, to the words that they lend me, I am not giving up my life before".
Diary Sow case: "She's alive, she's fine," says one of her relatives
The student, who is said to be shaken by the death of her father, Mamadou, last April, did she need to take a step back?
One thing is certain, when she left her university residence in the 13th arrondissement of Paris on Monday, January 4, the young woman was far, very far from imagining the media and diplomatic enthusiasm that would follow.
Each year in France, thousands of people disappear from radars with great indifference, most often.
Diary's fugue could have met the same fate if the latter's exemplary journey had not pushed her into the spotlight very early on.
The best student in Senegal
It was in 2018, on August 6, that his destiny changed.
That day, Diary, 17, wearing purple glasses and a high bun, is called on stage to receive from the very hands of the President of the Republic the coveted title of "Best student of the First Senegal".
Applause fires in the Grand Theater of Dakar, the capital of the country, where the ceremony takes place.
Last year, the brilliant high school student has already won that of Miss Sciences, another national competition.
The trophy, a small brass baobab, still stands today in the living room of the family home, next to a Koran with a brown cover and a stack of illustrated Larousse dictionaries won at the same time as the prizes. high school excellence.
But this time, thanks to his 18.45 / 20 overall average, it is all of Diary's work that is rewarded.
Dressed in her high school gala uniform, black pantsuit, white blouse and red satin scarf tied in a tie, the young girl from a modest Fulani family, one of the main ethnic groups in the country, calmly climbs the steps of the stage without thinking of the notoriety which its new status confers on it.
Respectfully, she greets the various ministers present one by one before presenting herself with the greatest calm in front of the president to exchange a solemn handshake while the sound of trumpets rises in the room.
Coumba Diouf Sagna was Diary Sow's French teacher in college, they maintain a close relationship.
On his tablet, a photo of the two of them during the award ceremony for the 2018 general competition, which rewards the best students in Senegal. / Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
In the assembly, her former French teacher and first mentor, Coumba Diouf Sagna, is moved to tears.
Diary, she doesn't even smile.
She is not the type to boast, nor to let her emotions show.
Even those close to her have the greatest difficulty in deciphering this passionate about literature and algebra, confides her teacher, considered "her second mother".
The teacher, who had the young student in her class from 5th to 3rd, knew immediately, Diary is not a girl like the others.
"It's a hair on the milk, as they say here", underlines Coumba Diouf Sagna with a smile, wrapped in her red and black hijab decorated with daisies.
She was not surprised to see, the following year, her protege obtaining her scientific baccalaureate with the distinction very well before once again winning the title of "Best student of Senegal".
A studious and uneventful youth
As a child already, Diary thrived on reading.
The library in her room is overflowing with novels and essays, stacked on top of each other.
"I have never seen him without a book in my hand," confirms Coumba Diouf Sagna to whom Diary offered his copy of "Dreams of my father" by Barack Obama.
In Malicounda, where the Sow have lived since 2012, we talk about a discreet girl, who rarely goes out and always accompanied by a member of her family.
“We don't know much about her, but she's a serious girl with no history,” explains Mustapha, who runs a small grocery store with carefully arranged stalls that climb to the ceiling.
Behind the white railings of his counter, he sees all the inhabitants of the neighborhood parade, and like many in the village, he wishes to protect the reputation of the Sow family.
The general food store in the neighborhood of Diary Sow's family home, run by Moustapha, brings together young people from the neighborhood./Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
In college, Diary hardly mingles with others.
We only know of two friends, including Aminata, the student now based in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), whom she visited in early January, before disappearing.
"Diary was not distracted by gossip, unlike many other young girls of her age," recalls Pape Djibril Diop, the director of the Keur-Madior school complex in Mbour, whom she attended for three years.
"She was a diligent student with extraordinary intellectual abilities", underlines the fifty-year-old in the canary yellow FC Barcelona sweatshirt.
On the honor roll, Diary's name appears three times.
If she seems reserved, the gifted young woman does not lack character.
She likes to debate with family or with her teachers and is not the type to let decisions be imposed, we are assured.
“She came to see us at the studies office to claim an additional point or half point when she felt she deserved it.
And that, even when she was 19/20 ”, reports, amused, Mariama Sarr, the executive assistant who very quickly took in her affection.
Director of the Keur-Madior school complex, Pape Djibril Diop shows on the table of the list of the best students where the name of Diary Sow is inscribed. / Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
Insatiable, the schoolgirl already has only one idea in mind, to learn in order to succeed.
And she sticks to it.
When most of the students rush into the eucalyptus and palm tree-lined courtyard at recess to let off steam, Diary prefers to stay in class to study.
At night, at home, she continues to study in her room.
When her father gets up to turn off the bare bulb and implore her to rest, she sneaks it back on and camouflages the bottom of her door with fabric to prevent the light from entering.
“At the wedding of one of her aunts, she even hid a book under her bridesmaid dress,” reports her uncle Arona.
Obsessed with studies, Diary optimizes every minute.
"So as not to waste time, she was running to the bathroom!"
”Recalls Aliou Ciré Ba, general supervisor at the Scientific High School, where the young girl studied from the second to the final.
Internal in one of the flagships of Senegalese education
Located on the outskirts of the town of Diourbel, 170 kilometers east of Dakar, this mixed school, built in the middle of nowhere, welcomes 180 students every year: boarders only, and all scholarship holders.
Opened at the end of 2016 at the request of President Sall, it is presented as one of the flagships of Senegalese education.
The selection is tough.
To take the entrance exam, you must have a minimum average of 15/20 in scientific subjects.
But most of those who come out then continue, like Diary, their higher education in the largest French schools.
Diary Snow's room at the Diourbel Scientific High School, where she studied from 2016 to 2019, overlooks an unfinished courtyard. / Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
In this elite structure, life is austere and daily life is almost military: getting up at 6 a.m., classes begin at 8 a.m., study ends at 9:30 p.m., lights out at 10 p.m.
The students, from all backgrounds, live there in isolation.
They are only allowed to leave the dusty 16-hectare school grounds to return to their families, once every six weeks, and can only use their cellphones on weekends.
The rest of the time, the mobiles are locked away.
If the classrooms are relatively welcoming, the interior of the dormitories is empty, and seems almost abandoned.
Affectionately nicknamed "the tatas" by the residents, the supervisors agree to show us room number 40, formerly occupied by Diary.
Located on the first floor of the building reserved for girls, the small room with monastic deprivation is at the end of a poorly lit corridor.
Equipped with a small sink, its only furniture is a metal bed, a cupboard, and a folding table.
Amadou Yacine Diatta's classroom is located several hundred meters from the dormitories, at the other end of a large courtyard whose layout has never been completed.
This dynamic physics and chemistry teacher in a shirt and jeans is not likely to forget Diary, his former disciple.
“In her fifteen-year career, I've never seen a student like her, capable of fractional thinking: of following my course very attentively while solving other equations in her notebook.
Amadou Yacine Diatta is a professor of physics and chemistry at the Scientific High School of Diourbel.
Diary Sow was his student from 2016 to 2019./Sylvain Cherkaoui for Le Parisien Week-End
He knows the young girl well.
Together, they were invited by the Senegalese Ministry of Education to participate in a week-long observation trip to Lycée Louis-Le-Grand.
He remembers their emotion on discovering this place steeped in culture and history, in the heart of Paris.
"We came out of it a little intimidated", confides the teacher, fully aware of the gap between the establishment and his.
A disappearance experienced as a betrayal
More and more present in the media and on social networks, the high school student Diary Sow is gradually establishing herself as a model for some of the youth.
"His career has inspired many of us," says the shy Fatoumata Diop, new occupant of room 40 of the high school in Diourbel, also sacred, Miss Sciences.
Having become vice-president of Elites Senegalaises, an organization bringing together students and professionals, Diary Sow has always loudly proclaimed his intention to later support his country.
So his disappearance is badly accepted by some of his compatriots.
Within the huge campus of Cheikh-Anto-Diop University in Dakar, his case is debated.
In the shady courtyard of the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences, Fatou Sarr, a second-year law student busy revising on a bench lets her anger burst out: "She betrayed Senegal, she betrayed Africa!"
The softness of his voice contrasts with the harshness of his words.
The 22-year-old woman wearing a white scarf is convinced of this, because of Diary and his disappearance, many parents will refuse in the future to send their child to study abroad.
Not far from her, Oumar Mbegnouga, he is more understanding.
"She is only 20 years old, relativizes the young man of 26 years, in the last year of law.
All the assumptions made about her in the media are bad for her… The main thing is that she is fine.
It remains to be seen where Diary Sow is.
Has she retired to her lifelong refuge, writing?
His first novel, “Under the face of an angel”, was published in 2020 by L'Harmattan editions.
"It was in college that she began to write it in a small notebook," reveals Coumba Diouf Sagna, her former French teacher, to whom she had passages reread and correct mistakes.
Like his heroine, Allyn, a poor but educated young woman, Diary is ambitious.
If the parallel between the two women stops there for the teacher, others want to see certain passages as warning signs of Diary's departure.
"She had found the way to flee her country, to go on an adventure to another country that is France [...] In strict anonymity, she finally hopes to find this happiness that she has always pursued in vain", writes- she in this novel, the sequel entitled "Les Masques Tombent", was due out in the coming weeks.