1 Corinthians 13:11; When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.
I was thinking a lot this week about how to answer a particular question that someone asked me the other day. In order to share it with you, I need you to trust me and play along. You can opt to skip through to the end of this and find the question but like my friend once told me; an answer without understanding of the question is meaningless.
So come along, put your headphones down for a bit, turn that YouTube video off, take the bluetooth out of your ear, take a deep breath and imagine for a bit;
You are a child. Your world view is filled with many weird and wonderful things. You have no words for a lot of them yet you understand them nonetheless. You understand that they stand independent of this self of yours and yet you are convinced that in some way they are a part of you. You are not quite sure where this boundary of “self” lies but you are inquisitive to find out. You stare at that long thing with 5 little things attached to it and wonder perhaps whether it is “yours” or a thing in of itself. You are looked after by these big shadows that drift in and out of your eyesight. They change you, they feed you, they comfort you when you get upset and they seem to always be nearby when you make that noise with this thing called a mouth. You are thinking and yet you cannot speak, at least not in a way that these big shadows can understand. You are content though.
Time has passed and now you are a little older. You have words ! Not many but enough to speak your mind. The big shadows have resolved themselves into people that you call parents. They have rules that you must obey. You are not quite sure why but you tell yourself that they seem to know what they are doing so why not. You have a name ! Not quite what you would have chosen for yourself but it will suffice for now. You are curious about everything about you still but can now ask the parents and receive an answer. They don’t always make sense but again, you are content to go along. You go to school presumably to better yourself and yet you can’t help wondering whether it really is for you or not. The parents are happy though so you content yourself to sit still.
More time passes and we return to find you again. You are older now. You have more questions. You have more ideas. You have read books now and the parental answers don’t seem to add up. Who are they ? Why are they here ? And seemingly more pressing of late, Why won’t these people just leave me alone ? You are confused. You are angry. You rebel. You fight with yourself. You fight with your parents. You know not where you are going but you have to get out. Freedom surely holds better than this ? Your parents are clearly jealous, why can’t they treat you as an equal ? Why must they lecture when you demand to speak ? You must be free you decide !
Time passes and we find you again. You are older now. You have words. You still have questions a bit different than the last time though. Who are you ? Why are you here ? Where do you go from here ? You have answers though. You are learning about your past. Your Orijin. You are learning that your “birth” was but a footnote. You have always been. You are wide like the boab tree. You are fast like the cheetah. You are wise like the owl. You are strong like the lion. You have made your mistakes but you have survived. You wear the scars not out of shame but as lessons learned. You have made peace with yourself and you have made peace with the parents. You know your Orijin. You are….
Now, I know if you have read this far you are probably wandering what is going on here. I admit the answer is a bit out there but the question that I was asked to answer was not a simple one. My friend asked me how I would describe Africa to a child. In that, if I was given a group of high school kids and asked to make them see Africa through my eyes, what would I say ?
You see that person you have been for the last couple of minutes is Africa. At least, it is different personalities that Africa is portrayed as.
The first part, the wee baby that had just been “born” is what a lot of people I have met think Africa is. A wee baby unable to look after itself. Dependent on the west (parents) and unable to speak up for itself. Helpless. Clueless. A blank slate that is there to be written on. This mentality is a left-over of the early part of Africa’s colonization, when we as a continent were “discovered”. To some people we are still that little baby, desperately crying out for someone to look after us.
The second part is Africa throughout the middle bit of colonization. We are learning, we are growing and we are asking questions. We have a deep respect for our “parents” and yet the answers they give us ring hollow. We have accepted though that they know better. We learn their languages and like a child is won’t to do, we try our best to mirror them. This is the Africa portrayed in calls to arms against the infiltration of Western Culture. We are admonished constantly by our own for abandoning our ways in favor of another. The ultimate insult, that of being uncultured.
The third part is Africa largely at the end of the 50’s, early 60’s and into the 90’s (for countries like SouthAfrica). Angry and rebellious, filled with a need and drive to claim our own place in the world. We win our freedom by any means necessary. We fight wars. We change our names. We abolish our parents (Idi Amin, late 70’s). It was a time of rampant change and of new ideas clashing with the old. Pan Africanism, Apartheid, Communism, “Democracy”, all passed through in a wave of leaders. Some stayed for just days, others for much much longer. We were out of control, but we were “free”.
The fourth and final part is the Africa that more and more people are beginning to talk about. Progressive and yet rooted in culture. Peaceful in parts yet still suffering greatly in others. This is the Africa of the multi-lane highways in Abuja and the refugee camps in Sudan. It is the Africa of the heart breaking death and destruction in Northern Uganda, yet the same Africa that created Nelson Rohilahla Mandela. Schitzophrenic and yet you know who you are dealing with. More importantly, it is an Africa with a conscience and a voice.
I answered this in order to make the point that Africa is all these things and more. It is a place of great sadness next to places of outstanding beauty. It has had a troubled past, a mixed present and an uncertain future in parts. If you pick up a newspaper of magazine or watch a TV show you will be presented with 100 other depictions/point of view about what Africa is.
Like a chameleon, Africa changes its colors constantly. Yet it remains a chameleon.
And that is the truth I found and the last though that I will leave you with.
Africa may be many things to many people and to itself.
One thing remains constant though.
It will always be home.
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