« They ate our food, and forgot our names. » ~Tunisian Proverb
Version française : Ici
My first real encounter with Africa was when I moved to Paris. I was 18 years old. And it was the 1st time for years I had seen so many black people in one place. Paris Gare du Nord.
I remember thinking « Is here Africa or what ?
And a few months after my arrival, I dated one of them. One African.
This relationship has been one of the most important of my life. Not only because he was and is the best man I’ve ever met but also because he completely changed my perception of the Motherland.
He came from the Central African Republic. I didn’t know it was a country.
He was in fact, born in North of France, in Strasbourg. He only went to Africa once, but the country where his parents came from was always somehow an important part of his identity.
He introduced me to so many people with origins from Senegal to Mali or Ivory Coast. I have met Congolese, and Zairian who are also Congolese. I didn’t even know there were two Congo.
I’ve been introduced to the culture of the « sapeur zairois » and to the dance « coupé décalé »
And I realized that before, I knew nothing about Africa.
I didn’t know there were different national dishes depending on the country. I only ate « African food » until then. With no distinction with Attieké or Mafé, or Ndolé.
I didn’t know that the alokos from Ivory Coast are the same thing as the plantain fries.
I didn’t know that the bissap from Senegal, the foléré from Cameroon, referred to this drink made from this flower that grew in my garden in Guyana. The Hibiscus flower.
I didn’t know the man we called « bledard » because he spoke French with his African accent could as a matter of fact speak fluently at least two other languages when I was too embarrassed to speak creole (my native language) with my French accent.
I didn’t know that the « African accent » I was imitating with friends was so plural and could sound completely different if I talked with a Guinean or an Togolese, and that I will learn to recognize them (well some of them..)
And that I would be willing to learn more about this continent, about every of its countries with all of their ethnicity, their cultures, histories… and differences.
I was so aghast by the amount of things I didn’t know.
It was in Paris that it hit me for the 1st time : there isn’t just one Africa, as I always supposed in my shameful ignorance, but so many different and various Africas.
I had a whole new universe opened in front of me waiting to be discovered by my ignorant self.
Africa it is 30,37 millions km², 1,216 billion inhabitants, 55 countries, around 2000 different languages.
So can you only begin imagining what diversity it offers in so many different fields like art, literature, music, and fashion?
How many different talented writers, poets, fashion designers, painters are there, creating, questioning, challenging and changing the way Africa defines itself ?
Passed the petrifaction of recognizing the depth of my own ignorance, I started to point the resemblance between Africa and my own Haitian culture. I wondered why I knew so little about Africa.
Of course I have learned about slavery at school, and that they took people from Africa, but it was 1st vaguely and rapidly evoked in history class, and it was always from the point of view of the « slaves masters ».
Like « yeah we took the Africans from their Africa (from where exactly, how many, how?) but we gave them freedom when it got through our heads that they were also human beings ».
It was talking with African people about Haiti that I learned two influential things about my own roots.
1. Haitian people were supposedly taken from a specific country in Africa : Benin.
2. Haiti is a strong symbol for Africa because it is the 1st black country to win its independence 212 year ago after a gory war against the French colonial forces. Nobody gave Haitians freedom, they took it and the price to pay for it tasted like blood and tears.
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
- Introduction – Part I
- So where do I come from?- Part II
- Search of Identity – Part IV
- Search of Happiness – Part V
- Africa is harder than expected – Part VI
- Sweet Cameroon – Part VII
Version française : Ici