The first day in Adabraka, Accra Ghana, I had a tour guide. He took me around the city to a few notable places. He pointed them out and he was kind. He had a fascination with America that I thought was cute. He was absolutely sure that America was a beautiful place and he would like it.
“I already know, I like Americans!” He said enthusiastically. I giggled. He went on, “One day I want to go to America. I know I will like it.” My guide was charmed by all that he did not know, much like my own romantic notions of Africa.
Africa for me was not, nor ever has been a dark continent. It has been the place that my family and I have thought about, dreamed about and discussed as far back as I can remember. It was the “Beautiful Continent.” Africa was the place of which we spoke, with all of the mysticism of an ancient incantation. To go to this place which held all of the secrets of our heritage and the origin of man, was nothing short of a pilgrimage.
Africa was the crown jewel of my own coming of age. It was the quintessential capstone of self-discovery. What might it be like to stand on a continent from which your ancestors had long ago been taken? How might it feel to truly, “Go home.” To go home, for those who could not? That’s what it felt like–That’s what you knew it would be.
As a child, I was enchanted by the many African and African themed books I read. My favorite of all was, “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” by Verna Aardema. I read this book numerous times. And to my great joy, it was featured on “Reading Rainbow,” the Public Television show narrated by Levar Burton. I can still remember the rhyme of the verses and how absolutely wonderful I thought it might be to stand on the Kenyan plains in Africa. The major character, Ki-pat, I fancied was like myself–principally because he stood on one leg, resting one foot on his calf–a childhood idiosyncrasy of mine.
But Accra was nothing like the Kapiti plain in the book I read as a child. It was urban and buzzing with traffic and hustling bodies. The morning and the night were my favorite times of day. I’d wake up to the crow of roosters and for 30 minutes, watch people on their way to work and school. I loved it. At night, one could sit and feel the exquisite African night breeze and listen to night sounds. There is nothing like the sound of Africa–whether morning or night, I have no words to describe it.
As an African American, Accra felt like more than just a nice place to visit. It felt like a place I could call home. It wasn’t merely an adventure, it was a place where the people were real and touchable. I could look into their faces and see all of their humanity.
So I visited Africa, and I never took one photo with anyone’s children. And I can’t imagine why I would. Africa was not a Safari, nor were its children wildlife. Accra was a country of families, moms and dads, school girls and teenage boys riding bikes.
It is the place where millions of people call home.