African Reflections: Put to the Test

This has been a tough year for me living in Africa, and I never really wrote about it.

In India, despite the grueling heat, city pollution, and numerous sicknesses I suffered, never once did I ever have anything close to the thought of, "I need to leave." That was exactly how I felt toward the end of my stay in Nairobi, Kenya, where I lived from late December until June. I was even concerned that the trip would not end on a positive note.

It had to do with the amount of attempted robberies (4) I evaded out on the streets. It had to do with a trusted person stealing from my home. With the amount of people who asked me for money or personal sponsorship, or who grossly overcharged me.

If you’re white in Africa (at least where I was), you’re seen as the one with the money there to solve everybody’s problems. This is a disempowering pattern that not only comes from the religious idea of a white male savior, but from years of misguided humanitarian aid and the previous brutalization and enslavement of the people by white imperialists.

Then there is the dreaded M word. Muzungu. It’s the word used for a white person in Africa (again, at least where I was) that everybody laughingly calls you, and though I’ve been told repeatedly it’s not meant with any derision, it was excruciating walking to and fro my home and out on the streets being yelled at and called that name over and over.

There were a few times I even angrily snapped at people — including kids — for doing this. In India, people would certainly be shocked to see me and kids in the slum would come up and make a fuss but it was not a day in and day out affair—there was no name calling, and there was not the underlying tension between the races involved. I often used to joke that the experience of having all this unwanted attention was giving me some idea of what it must be like to be an attractive female.

I did my best to endure it, yet over time it wore me out almost to the point where my heart broke. And my heart did break in Africa, but for different reasons.

Through the attempted robberies, being asked for money, the name calling — all of it — I came to realize just how scarred the relationship is between our races. I know why. The white race brutalized and enslaved the African people, forced them at the point of a gun to give up their traditions, and imposed a foreign way of life that’s completely at odds with the African spirit. It has broken the people, perhaps irreparably.

Roaming about, sometimes I felt like I was walking on a graveyard. The traditions aren’t being practiced. The ancient wisdom isn’t being honored. It’s all about "developing" now, and getting with the program of the western world.

Despite my frustrations, I do love it here. The Spirit of Africa has not suffered, and is still very present. That spirit, to me, has everything to do with what it means to occupy a human body.

It is all about the earth and Mother Nature, and of being human. Singing. Dancing. Community. Love. All these things, I feel, source from Africa, and is why I like to say Africa is the home of humanity and Mother Nature. Every human being, no matter from which race, who comes here will feel as if they have returned.

By understanding the story and the plight of the people, as well as recognizing and honoring the power of this place, in a strange way, I feel as if I’m keeping some small flame alive. We can’t forget about our traditions. We can’t forget about our native wisdom. It is in those things we find all the keys to turn the state of our humanity around.

Continue to the next reflection about my year living in Africa.