Friday, June 29, 2007

What is Africa to Me?

Countee Cullen once asked, "Copper sun and scarlet sea, What is Africa to me?" I don't remember what Africa was to him; I read the poem a long time ago. But I know what Africa is to me.
Africa is Fanta in 300 ml glass bottles for 3000 cedis.
Africa is cold bucket showers.
Africa is my blue backpack filled with teaching tools.
Africa is sharing the streets-- not only with throngs of Ghanaians, but with goats, chickens, and taxis that seem ready to run over you if you don't make way.
Africa is sharing taxis with six other people and laughing at how squished you are.
Africa is handing Benjie a "color" (crayon), and hearing his tiny voice cheerfully say, "Thank you, and God bless you!"
Africa is Adjoa singing while she works-- all day.
Africa is Precious and her black backpack that is practically glued to her.
Africa is Kobi's mischevious fake cry just to trick you into thinking it's real.
Africa is Elizabeth wanting to play the hand-clap game "Mister Mister," and wanting it "sharp sharp!" or very fast.
Africa is calling "Ansapatu" to the mate (or money taker) on the tro tro (minibus) and walking down the orange dirt hill to the orphanage.
Africa is plantain, pineapple, oranges, jollof rice, red red, fish, and chicken.
Africa is Ghana, and Ghanaians, and my children.
To me, Africa is heaven.

Some people don't like it when others use the broad, continental term "Africa." Well, I know that Africa is not a country. I know that Africa has more tribes, customs, languages, and countries than almost anywhere else on the planet. But why should we not use the word Africa? I was in Ghana, yes, and that is the only part of Africa I know-- but it is still a part of Africa. It is one of the only places in the world where people are proud of being part of multiple things: their tribe, their country, and their continent. They are Ghanaian, and they are African.

Someone once asked me what it is about Africa that captures nearly everyone who goes there. I have pondered on this often, and I'm still not sure. All I know is, it captured me. Something about the people, the cultures, the very land you walk on seems captivating and majestic and somehow more real than anything else in your life has ever been.

My host father once laughed and told me, as I stood wearing a Ghanaian slit and kaba, that I was "A real African now!" I would never want to lessen the dignity or honor of being African by laying claim to the title after a paltry four months of living there. But somewhere inside me is a corner of my heart that has become African, simply out of love for Africa and her people. That is what Africa really is to me; despite the hunger, the disease, the fear, the war, and all the atrocities the continent seems capabale of, there is more love than I have ever known in my life.

Pictures from top to bottom: 1. A street in Abura, a suburb of Cape Coast. 2. Women in the Kejetia market in Kumasi. 3. Children on the street create their own toys. 4. Small Phillip and Precious, showing their love.

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