Africa, is like no place else in the world. Vibrant, with a peaceful undertone, communal and natural. I found new parts of me in Africa and I developed a deeper appreciation of self-identity in Africa.
And here’s why I think every black person should do the same.
You will grow to appreciate yourself as a person and not a BLACK person
I have grown up in the UK and no matter where I have been, I am the black girl or black woman. Fair enough. I have been raised to be proud to be black and more so African. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get exhausting being labelled.
Being black in the West, whether you live in an affluent area or a working-class area, can typically mean you are up against stereotypes. ‘angry black woman’, which means putting extra thought to be gentler and easy to get along with or ‘posh for a black girl’, which means showing that you understand and appreciate your roots or the UK black subculture. If you are doing well, there must be some white guy she is married to who made a way for her, if you are not doing well you are a typical black person. All in all, exhausting.
Now, when I arrived for my few months of reprieve in Africa.
I could not have predicted the addiction I grew to being invisible.
While in Africa, I was another African woman. No one would look at me for being in a fancy car or if I wanted to walk on the road. I could dress how I chose without judgement. I was essentially free to be me. I could cultivate my own identify outside of the what the narrative would be within society.
This for me was by far the most appreciated part of my experience in Africa. Being me. No judgement. No storyline to work against. Just being me!
I realised while there, this must be what white people feel like everyday in England. Free! Free to be successful, free to chill, free to do and be anything. I was surrounded for the first time in my life with people who looked just like me. The successful looked like me, and understood me. Likewise, the poor and the growing middle class. It felt easy to move within the different classes and to learn of ambitious, globe-trotting Africans. I fit, I fit everywhere. I could picture myself living any one of their existences, I just had to choose, who I would be.
That’s the freedom you will experience in Africa. And freedom is addictive.
Being born black was not a choice but every other part my life is a choice. In Africa, I learnt the freedom of choosing a life for myself that I can choose to be the best me, I can choose to work hard and be excellent. Being black in this day and age affords me great freedoms and thats what I can focus on.
2. You will grow to appreciate your heritage and see it as a tool of self and communal empowerment
I vividly remember racist comments and actions when growing up, particularly when we moved from multicultural London, to Norfolk. Here is where ‘black’ meant a detrimental difference. Prior to Norfolk, I had a variety of friends from different cultures, even in Africa my friends where a rainbow of assortments, I never knew that black was not only different but dirty, bad, ugly, scary and poor. I learnt this well in Norfolk.
Despite the racism, I faced. I was taught by the most amazing mother who with each racist incident took it as an opportunity to teach me about the beauty of my African culture. Anytime I would come home crying or telling what ‘they’ said or did to me in school or in the neighbourhood, my mother would ignore the insults and tell me about the beauty of my culture. She would tell me of the various celebrations of life, she would tell me African folk stories with wise hidden meanings (too often than not of forgiving others). And as a result I grew to love my culture.
However, my appreciation deepened so much more when I saw and lived it for myself during my two years on the continent.
The gentleness of the women, the respect woven into our culture, the intelligence and ingenuity of even the poorest of citizens. I lived it. I was amazed almost daily as to the resilient nature of everyone from my boss who despite having only one arm was a Rhodes Scholar. To the the first female Zambian Vice President who by her position makes her the highest-ranking woman in Zambia history with whom I had the great honour of meeting. To my taxi driver who wished for nothing more than to save money to go and study in the UK. Everyone was just as my mother taught me and greater still.
For all the noise about Africa’ desperate state. What I experienced were a people who loved life and wanted nothing more than to make the best of it. This attitude contrasted gravely to the UK where there is this ‘can’t be bothered’ or ‘everything is against me’ and ‘the white man doesn’t want me to win’. I heard many heart wrenching stories in Africa, there was hardly no-one who had a picture-perfect background, yet there was NO complaining or feeling sorry for themselves. Instead this get up and go, this, I will create something for myself with the sweat of my brow and the Grace of God. Everyone even those who in the West would be deemed to be in the ‘young and playful’ phase of life, had a serious head on their shoulders in Africa. Men in their twenties marrying and taking on household responsibilities.
As we know, in the West the appreciation of marriage and building a family is dwindling. It has been replaced by this immature and damning thought that 20’s and some of the 30’s is to make ‘bad’ decisions, to live care free, to be unhinged in the worst sort of ways (in my opinion). This is not the case in Africa, young people there are focused on getting an education, being married, starting a family, helping their communities. I met outstanding characters, who though young (in UK standards) were doing things that placed them in global recognition.
Going to Africa for any black person is a must because you will be invigorated by this buzz for life, you will learn deeper from the culture as to what really matters in life, which is family, legacy and doing good, developing one’s self to the best you can be. Not wasting life on pointless, fruitless endeavours. You will see yourself as an asset to Africa and then the world.
In the UK, you may at times feel that you are not valuable much less able to contribute significantly. But Africa will remind you, that you are a valuable contributor who cannot be left off the contribution seat, and this will make you want to live purposefully.
3. You will grow to appreciate The West
Oddly enough, while in Africa I grew a love for the UK. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and in my case I think that did happen. There is no perfect place on earth. You create your own perfection by the choices you make. And England though there had been some hardships interwoven in my growing up and living there, this was not unique to England. The same things could have happened anywhere in the world truth be told.
I remember connecting to an orphanage for disabled children. Whenever I would visit I would try my very best not to cry, I wanted to be cheerful for the children’s sake. These children for reason of being disabled had to be rescued from many awful types of domestic abuse, inclusive of physical, sexual and mental abuse.
Unlike in the UK, there was no public body support system to help parents and families of disabled children and those with a backward mentalities saw the disability as a curse, making the child all the more vulnerable to abuse under family care. Making the orphanage a total God send for these children. Started and still being ran by a single disabled woman, the orphanage ‘home of happiness’ is an attempt to create a place of happiness for disabled children, where there is opportunity for education and play and most of all a resemblance of dignity of life.
The founder of the home, a victim of abuse herself started by taking any child she heard was disabled into her own shanty home. Through some publicity she received funding to get a larger home, where she houses growing numbers of disabled girls and boys. Yet even that space is out growing the demand for her benevolence.
Situations like this touched me and I realised just how developed the UK really is. And how many functions of protection via government initiatives we have available.
As I helped at the orphanage it dawned on me that these children lives would’ve been so much better had they been born in the West.
Though, being black in The West has its challenges, these challenges are not insurmountable. I learnt this in Africa. My ‘black’ issues are not so all-encompassing that they stop me from learning and developing an outstanding life that would allow me to contribute towards society and communities in need.
If you are an African anywhere in The West, go to Africa for six months get a flavour of life. How people just like you think and what they place value in?
I guarantee you, your thoughts of self; Africa and The West will be drastically different for the better.