I will remember the many Africans in the diaspora that I met on my recent trip to America. I listened to their stories of struggles, nostalgia and hope.
I met a proud and talkative Nigerian taxi driver who still referred to some parts of Nigeria as Biafra, who didn’t see himself, or his family, going back home to Biafra anytime soon.
But mostly I will remember Fatima, an Ethiopian beauty, who was working two jobs – as a translator for resettled Ethiopian refugees on Thursdays and as a hotel shuttle driver on other weekdays – to save up for her college degree. She wants to be a dentist someday.
What intrigued me about Fatima the most was that, unlike her resettled countrymen, she never felt settled herself. Despite having lived in the U.S. for nine years and being at that age when young people see America as the place to be, she was never “one” with this land of the brave and home of the free.
It was as if she was waiting in anticipation for a mystic wind to carry her away at any moment.
With the many harrowing stories I had heard of migrants searching for the American Dream, I found myself asking her: “But don’t you have it good here? Why do you want to go home?”
After a slight pause, she calmly said in a perfect American accent: “Because it is home.” Home! A simple four letter word!
As my flight number is announced over the loudspeakers, I feel a tingle of melancholy, a feeling of not wanting to leave, a feeling of wanting to soak up more and more of this country like a sponge that soaks a river dry. But I remember what Fatima said and the African drum starts beating again and I hear home calling. Africa calling!
Have I been won over? Am I a sellout in the way that Africans in Africa think of the Africans in the diaspora? Have I, as the Americans say, drunk the Kool-Aid? Have I also been hypnotized, like the rest of the world, by the allure of America? Has my single story of Uncle Sam changed?
As I look at the pieces of this mosaic I have painted and isolate what it was that struck me about those moments, I realize I don’t have a standard yes or no answer to the question of whether my view of America has changed.
It isn’t that my view hasn’t changed; actually the single story of America as I had internalized it is still very true. The problem with this is-it was the only story I held on to and chose to believe, as if there was no other story to tell or listen to.
And it’s funny actually that we accept life having its ups and downs, but we don’t seem to translate that logic to the stereotypes we have of cultures, countries and peoples.
America, like life, has it all – it has its dark side and it has its hopeful side, and it is this insatiable sense of hope that draws people in. It’s the allure of America: Hope! The most addictive drug of all.
As I close this chronicle, after my monumental failure of compressing my experience into 500 words, I too am hoping that Africa, the supposedly dark continent, will one day be known for all its stories – its stories of struggle and its stories of triumph! Its stories of AIDS and its stories of courage in the face of doom. Its stories of war and its stories of peace. Its stories of hopelessness and its stories of hope.
I hope Africa, like America for me, will be known for its full story.