French version here
French version here
My first week in Yaounde consisted of visiting my friends’ family & friends. Every time we went somewhere, we ended up receiving two other invitations, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We were having in average five or six meals a day because “no, thank you, I’m not hungry” was not a good enough reason to refuse to eat. So in a few days I had a great insight into the diversity of the Cameroonian cuisine.
One of the things I was a bit afraid of was Church. My friends warned me, being into their family, I couldn’t escape it. They are very christian and their family in Cameroon, even more so. And me?… Not so much.
I grew up in a christian family, went to an evangelical church with some friends in high school, tried diverse ecumenical organizations, but I feel more like a spiritual person than a believer. My friends accepted this part of me in Europe, but what would it be there?
Well, I felt some judgments when I told my friends’ parents that I was not religious. And on the first Sunday I felt a bit forced to go to church, but it was quite an interesting and funny experience. The congregation warmly welcomed us, the mbenguists (people living in Mbeng : Europe, USA…). I even received a special dedication from the pastor, introducing me as Neika from the “Haitian church of Germany” because it was impossible for him to understand than I wasn’t part of any church.
In the end, I really enjoyed the service. I took a lot of pictures, played with the kids and was in admiration of the people outfits. Indeed in Cameroon, whether for church or parties or any special occasion, people like to be well-dressed.
Even if I often felt under-dressed, it was good to feel welcomed as a part of the community. And of course, we received even more dinner invitations.
On the second week we decided to go to Kribi. We were a group of eight young people alone in what is a sort of Cameroonian St Tropez.
Kribi is home to Cameroon’s best beaches: the sand is fine, the water crystal clear, fresh fish is on the menu and cold beer on tap; and the life was sweet. This city reminded me of the West Indies in so many ways.
A typical day started with us going to buy fresh fish to the fishermen on the beach and then go to the market to buy fruits, vegetables, seasoning spices and rice or plantain. Then, some of us would clean the fish, while the other cut the plantain and we cooked and ate together.
In the afternoon, we took taxi-motos to go to the private beaches a bit outside the city and we spent our afternoons there, listening to music, dancing … And me taking pictures. And we spent our nights also dancing in the famous snack-bars who are more like dance clubs where you can eat.
One thing I learned in Cameroon is to come out of my shell, to speak to people. I am quite an introvert person when it comes to people I don’t know. But there, you feel like no one is a complete stranger. Whether at the market, to take a taxi or just out on the street, people approach you, sometimes to sell you something, but they also usually end up telling you their stories.
One day while I was going back to my hotel I met an old lady. She had trouble walking and was coming from the market so I took her grocery bag in one hand, took her arm in the other and accompanied her to the beach where she wanted to go.
She ended up telling me about her entire family : about her son in Europe, she haven’t seen for 10 years, but she doesn’t want to go there and he was too busy to come, she talked about her other children here, her grandchildren, her husband who was a fisherman and died in the sea years ago, and she told me the legend of Mamiwata. The water godess who seduces men and kill them. She reminded me of my grand mother and the stories she used to tell me in Haiti about LaSiren and LaBallen when I was a child.
She was old, and she never studied, she never traveled, and we were having such different life, but we ended up talking during two hours, face to the sea, sharing the fresh oranges she just bought from the market. I remember wishing I knew more elder people and I really felt grateful to be able to share this moment with her because I know that in Europe, I would never be able to do something like that.
We spent more than a week at this rhythm and if it was just me, I would have stayed in Kribi forever.
Somehow it feels like life is harder but also make you appreciate better every little pleasure.
I noticed that on the 30th Edition of the International Women’s day on the 8th of March. It is certainly the biggest celebration for women in Cameroon. Some of them say it is bigger than Christmas! Parades and debates are organized and 8th every woman wears a “kaba” sewed in their signature 8th of march fabric which changes every year. And for one day, women and girls just want to have fun.
One of my new friends offered me the 8th year kaba she sewed before our arrival. And the guys of our group cooked and took care of us the whole day. They decided to take us to the Chutes de la Lobé. It is an impressive set of waterfalls that empty directly into the sea and it’s so beautiful.
There is still a lot about my stay in Cameroon. But then I should probably write a book.
In conclusion people were generally surprised to see a Haitian girl interested in Africa. But passed the surprise they were happy and welcoming. I think I had the chance to be in this group of friends, I do not know if it would have been the same if I had gone there alone.
Wherever I was, people have been so generous with me. Sharing their time, opening their homes to me, telling their stories. And I never received so many gifts. I gave so little and received so much not only from my friends’ parents but also from people supposed to have nothing. Like Vivianne the cleaning lady who offered me a bunch of avocados to take back with me.
I wouldn’t say that I felt like home. But while we were approaching the end of my stay I surprised myself not wanting to leave. I adapted very quickly. I became less introvert. At the end I was taking the taxi on my own, visiting the city alone when my friends were too busy to come with me, to my friends’ parents great displeasure. They were as concerned about me as they were about their own children.
The departure was so poignant.
All my friends’ family and friends gathered at the airport to say goodbye. They wouldn’t come back for years. A lot of tears, hugs, last minute gifts were exchanged this night. I also promised I would come again. Someday.
This month was like a dream and while I was checking in my flight I knew I would never be the same.
Now months later, while I am walking in a so clean Germany, where all the roads are tarred, running water isn’t considered a privilege, and everything is well organized, I find myself missing Africa. The noises, the food, the vegetation, the music and the people and the fact that you can start a friendship, just by sharing an orange on the side of the road.
The Return To Salone
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
“Erreur for mboutoukou na dame for Ndoss “ Cameroonian proverb (the dumb is food for the cops… something like that)
When I landed in Yaounde, I felt overwhelmed. I came two hours later than my friends because I booked a flight from another airline company, but their family waited to welcome me.
It was my first time in Africa. And it felt like a dream coming true.
On my first day there while driving to the house of my friends’ parents, I was looking everywhere, trying to capture every sound, every smell, to catch every image and I promised to myself to lock these memories in my head and never forget them.
But I knew I had so many biases towards Africa and I was a bit scared not to be able to adapt, and I must admit that I had a really hard time at the beginning. After the first week, I even wanted to buy the next flight ticket back home.
Africa was harder than expected…
I missed Europe and its comfort, its subways, buses, and air conditioners.
I didn’t bear the side-effects of the tablets I took for the prevention of malaria so I stopped after five days (and ended up catching it in Douala three weeks later, but I found the effect of the actual disease a lot more bearable than the side-effects of the tablets to prevent it).
I became conscious of the advantage of having an efficient public transport system and the freedom it offers to move at any time, wherever you want.
In Yaounde, to move in the city, you can choose to drive your own car, at your own risks knowing that the traffic regulations are rarely respected, or you can take a taxi or for the bravest a “taxi-moto”.
With hindsight, I find the taxi system really great. It is somewhat like an African Uber pool except you don’t need a phone or internet. When you want to take a taxi you have to wait on the side of the road and tell your price and destination to every taxi driving in the direction you want to go. If it fits the taxi driver he stops, and you can get into the vehicle usually already full with six other people. You know what you will pay upfront, it is good for the environment, because you use the car to its (real) maximal potential and it is cheap because the fees are shared.
But, like I mentioned before, driving in Africa is pretty scary and taxi driver doesn’t seem to be a very regulated profession so your trip can drastically change from one taxi to another.
The most annoying thing for me was not to feel free anymore. I was hosted by my friends’ parents who are very protective, but especially towards me because they didn’t want anything bad happened to me. The truth is even if I am black I didn’t look like a local . My clothes, my natural hair, my French accent, all that betrayed me. And my hosts were afraid that people might take advantage of the fact that I am a stranger. Therefore I couldn’t go anywhere unaccompanied and I had to be home at 7 PM the latest. Living alone since I was 18 years old, these rules were really hard to apply even if I understood the concern of my host family.
Moreover, there were several power cuts and for most of my stay in the capital city, we didn’t have running water.
Water cuts are regular in Cameroon and to palliate to the problem most houses have an independent water tank to use during these cuts.
When the tank got empty, and we still didn’t have running water, we had no choice but to fill this 1000 liter container with water from a neighbors’ well.
I tried to help as I could, but after the third 20L bucket of water that I had to bring to the neighbor, fill with water, put in a wheelbarrow, climb with on a ladder and pour inside the tank, I was nearly dead. And the water level didn’t seem to get higher at all.
It took me and two friends and a whole morning to fill the quarter of the tank.
Vivianne, the cleaning lady who was working at my friend’s house saw our distress and laughed at us while we were preparing ourselves to eat. After lunch, after a well-deserved nap to avoid the hottest hours of the day we decided to go back to our labor. Yet, we discovered that the tank was already full. Vivianne filled it alone and did more than we did at three in twice less time. She became my super heroin. I was amazed by her strength.
Then came the most heartbreaking moment of my stay : the day we went to visit my friend’s uncle who is imprisoned in the country’s main prison : Kondengui.
The day before the visit, we collected money to buy powder milk, bread and sardines cans to bring to him.
At the moment it really felt like a small gesture. But, I felt so guilty because while we were giving him everything we brought, there were prisoners at the gates from inside the prison asking the visitors for food or money.
My friend’s uncle told us that they had to pay to stand next to the visits place, to have the chance to receive money or to add a little food to their daily rations thanks to the visitors. He told us he was lucky to have a family because some people just ended up there with no hope to get out. They are fed to the minimum, once a day, and never receive any visits.
The prison is overcrowded, dirty, diseases spread like wildfire and the prisoners rarely have money to get medications. Some of them die there and they have to wait days before the prison administration removes the corpse.
He has a family who cares about him and comes to visit him, even from Europe. And just for that, he doesn’t feel the right to complain.
It was kind of life changing visit for me.
I realized that I had so much. I thought I had hard times before, but I actually had a very protected life, allowing me to feel free, to travel, to learn so many things from so many different people. And I was whining about a bit of lost of comfort?
From this day, I decided to stop complaining about what was wrong, to enjoy my stay and to be attentive to every lesson I could learn on the way.
To be continued…
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
Poor but Sexy.
Berlin is the city where I met the most incredible people. The weirdest too.
I’ve met people who don’t care about what society think of them or expect them to be.
A lot of people come and go every year as it seems that the city is like a crossroad where the lost souls land. And the city gives you the space and possibilities to find out what you want, and who you are before you leave to somewhere else.
You can be a punk for a day and listen to classical music the next day and then, go to a Hard-Rock concert for the first time.
You can live in a bubble if you want to. Like a lot of French people here, live in the French community, only stay between French people, only speak French, eat French, party French.
Or you can meet people from other communities, improve your English, and German, learn Spanish, and a bit of Greek or Polish.
No commitment needed. Just pick whatever makes you happy or curious on the moment. You can go to an art exhibition, even if you don’t know anything about art.
You can also party nights and days and get a little bit more lost.
Or you can like me do a little of everything. And chose to become a blogger and write about every little amazing things of your life.
Here, you can meet big companies CEO and anarchists.
I partied with people of every age. Which made me rethink my definition of growing old. This notion doesn’t really exist in Berlin. I’ve befriended people of different social categories, backgrounds or origins.
Everyone talks about their home country, and, for the luckiest who are able to go back several times a year, they always bring something from there. That’s how I tasted specialties from all over Europe.
The city organizes once a year a big event where almost every community is represented (well except the west Indies…) to celebrate diversity, music, food from everywhere : the Karneval der Kultur. But in summer you can find a lot of small festivals, usually for a week end highlighting one specific country.
Berlin makes you think that everything is possible and meeting so many people from everywhere with so different life journeys make you want to do something special with your life too.
So, I danced,
And so I laughed
And so I loved.
The first year in the city have also been a dive in francophone Africa for me. After I met Brinda, she introduced me to the Cameroonian community of Berlin.
Most Cameroonian I’ve met in Berlin came here to study, they grew up in Cameroon, left their birth country generally a year after high school diploma, the time for them to learn basic German and to apply for the visa to Germany.
When they arrive in Europa they have to pass a German proficiency test which they usually prepare in one year. And after finally, they can start study in the universities or superior schools.
So while I was already working for some years, my Cameroonian friends were mostly students. Usually juggling with one or two student job to support themselves and fighting to follow their classes in a language completely different from their native language.
Many of them told me that their family had to fight to send them to Europa. The visa, German lessons, flight ticket … are very expensive. So failure is often not an option. And many of them chose to study fields that they know will make their family proud or will be useful for the day they eventually return home for good like medicine, science, or economics.
Fortunately, there is a big solidarity in the Cameroonian community. In every city of Germany or of Europe they go, they always have a cousin, or an auntie or an uncle to host them and to help them the first few months after their arrival or in case of difficulties.
I learned to recognize their accent or expressions mixing French and Cameroonian language, their culture, their history.
Moreover I developed great admiration for their courage as I could see that beeing an immigrant in Europe is not easy, and they adopted me into their community as the black “mekat”.
As every person coming from elsewhere, they talked a lot about going home. Describing Yaounde or Douala, their different ethnics. Evoking the memories, the food, the music.
I will always think about this year as a big, beautiful party. They make me rediscover and love African music. Afrobeats, Azonto, Bicutsis, Afrohouse… I love dancing and Berlin definitely offered me the opportunities to do so.
This city is unavoidable on the electronic music scene, but offers a lot of other choices including Afrobeat, Hip-Hop and Dancehall parties.
As we were having another conversation about Cameroon, I told them that I wanted to come with them the next time they would go.
They didn’t really believe me because people always say things like that, without doing them.
And I had to admit that it was true. I said the same thing to my Senegalese friend in Paris when she talked to me about Dakar. And she has been there twice since, and I never did.
I said that also to my Nepalese friend in Munich. And I never did and we lost contact.
How many times have you told yourself «I will do this one day » And let life, work… get in the way? You always put what you want to do behind until your « I will » becomes «I wish I did ».
But, this time it was different. I wanted to go to Africa for some year now, and I had the perfect occasion to do so with friends I love and who grew up there. I just had to buy my plane ticket, housing and food wouldn’t be a problem. They invited me into their family so I could really immerse in the local way of life, but in a safe, protected environment.
I strongly advise you to listen when friends tell you about their birth countries. And if it makes you feel like you really want to go, tell them. They are usually so happy that you actually are interested in discovering their country that they make perfect guides. They gladly offer tips, connections or like me, invite you into their family.
3 months later my friends informed me that they wanted to go to Cameroon at the beginning of 2015. The same night the dates were fixed and we booked our plane tickets from Berlin to Yaounde.
The 21st of February 2015, I landed in Yaounde-Nsimalen international airport in Cameroon, for my very first time in Africa.
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
The Return To Salone
“I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance. ” – Bell Hooks
And I started to read. As much as I could, every book I could find : about my roots, about Haiti, about Africa, about slavery.
And I noticed, while it is so easy to find African-American slaves narratives books films or documentations such as “Incidents in the life of a slave girls” by Hariett Jacobs or “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas” it is much more complicated to find such documentations with a Caribbean point of view and particularly a Haitian one. I must admit I haven’t read a lot of Haitian writers, not because there isn’t any, but because I often couldn’t find their books at this time. It is something to note on my to-do-list : read more Haitian literature, in creole if possible.
So living in France I have been, and I still am, influenced by the African-American culture, history and literature.
The more I read, the more I started to feel an anger inside me, an anger that never really left. Anger against myself who was (and still is somehow) so ignorant, anger about this scholar system I was told I was good at, but which didn’t teach me anything about me, anger against my friends, family, and this France I loved, but couldn’t understand me anymore.
The truth is: I changed.
And the world around me? Not that much.
I became more conscious about my past, and the things I once didn’t care about were now unacceptable.
Wearing weaves? Unimaginable. My sister, who couldn’t and still can’t go outside with her own natural hair? So sad and unbearable. Relaxing my hair? Insufferable. So, I just stopped and let them in a beautiful mess of relaxed and natural hair even if working in a big Parisian office, it was perceived as unprofessional. Accepting the racist remarks of friends? Impossible. Being the only black at work and being the caution of racism every day: intolerable.
I needed to leave. To escape Paris and the buildings, the stress, the arrogance and the hypocrisy. And to flee from France altogether and its ignorance of its own history. I had no idea who I really was, and I just know that I needed to leave to discover it. I didn’t know where. Anywhere would do. And this why I ended up in Germany, three years ago.
Why? you should ask, it was really pure random. I quit a well-paid job I didn’t really like for a three-month unpaid internship in Munich. My family thought I was becoming crazy. I thought I just needed a break. But, after the three months, I didn’t take the plane back. I just stayed. And I didn’t go to France until last summer for a two-week holidays.
Meanwhile, I lived eight months in Munich before moving to Berlin. Also, with no plans. I thought I would stay there two weeks maybe one month top before moving to Ireland where I had an interesting job offer. For the 1st time of my life, I was all alone, in a city I didn’t know, with no real plans, obligations, responsibilities except myself. And it was freaking liberating.
The first thing I did in Berlin, in my Hotel room is I took a pair of scissors and I cut my relaxed hair. I did the “big chop“. I didn’t know why I did that. But, as my hair fell down into the bathroom sink, I felt like becoming the real me finally.
However, I have to say when I looked in the mirror I almost cried because I found my new head ugly.
But, I stopped the tears, and went outside. And the first person I’ve met in Berlin was this drummer player in the front of the Berlin Wall who told me: « hey you look beautiful, come play with me ». Just like that. I spent the evening with him, dancing on the street why he played drum and I tried to follow the rhythms with 2 maracas. I think it was at this very moment I started to fall in love with Berlin.
And secondly because very fast, I have met a second family here. 2 weeks after my arrival in Berlin, I had already planned to stay longer and moved into a small apartment that I rented two months, to give me the time to find a job.
I was on the bus going home, after a job interview, when I saw this black girl with braids.
I really wanted to make cornrows, but I am so bad with hair and Berlin is not Paris. You don’t see that many black people in the streets, and the only Afro salon I asked to was way too expensive. So, while I was just staring at this girl for the whole bus trip, trying to find the courage to talk to her in my approximate German, we arrived at the bus station to which I had to go but it was apparently my luck because she went down at the same station.
« Hallo, Ich bin Neika », I said with my most beautiful accent.
And this how I met Brinda. She let me talk 30 minutes in German before she said, in French « I noticed your French accent, you are French right? We can speak French » Really girl?
Brinda is from Cameroon, she was in Berlin for her studies. 4 years younger than me, she is the same age as my sister, but she has the wisdom of a mother. And she became one of my favorite people in the world.
And when I met her this day, I couldn’t imagine that six months later I would fly to Africa for the first time of my life. To Cameroon.
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
The Return To Salone
With a dozen of fashion events every year and some of the most talented fashion designers of the continent, the country of Ghana is unavoidable on the African fashion scene.
Last night occurred the 6th edition of the Ghana Fashion Award, one month after the ghanaian fashion week.
Created in 2010, this event has for goal for award winners to get the award home, but for all people nominated on the final day to get the opportunity to showcase their works to the public. Thereby encouraging business transactions and economic empowerment in the future. »
They want to enable the ghanaian fashion designers to achieve economic freedom. The Ghana Fashion Awards is, first of all, a platform for the nominees to develop their network and create business opportunities.
They award 9 prices in the following categories :
We will focus in the two first prices : Designer of the year and Emerging designer of the year.
In this category three brands were nominated :
Abrantie : « a social Lifestyle and unique fashion brand empowering the African man to be well cultured and classic.”Abrantie” is a local word literally meaning “GENTLEMAN”. I was pretty happy to discover this brand. In an industry flooded by female designers and creations it can be sometimes difficult for a man to find original and unique African inspired quality clothing pieces.
The Second Nominee and my personal favorite for years : Christie Brown. Created by Aisha Obuobi in 2008, already won this price in 2011, and made the buzz in 2014 when queen Bee herself used their creations for her « Ms Carter Show » Tour. I will post a particular article on the brand and its creator on a next article.
And the winner of this category is Sima Brew.
2016 has been a particularly good year for Sima the creator of Sima Brew. Already winner of the Glitz Style Awards for Best Red Carpet Designer, she won last night the Ghana Fashion Awards for Designer of the year. Her renown comes to the fact that she has styled more celebs in Ghana than any other designer.
Her ‘touches’ on every celebrity has turned every red carpet in Ghana into an awe-inspiring ambiance.
I love her bridal collection that can make every woman wearing her dresses feels like a princess.
Congratulations on your award Sima Brew.
2. Emerging designer of the year
In the category Emerging designer of the year we find two nominees :
My personal crush this year is : Dami Rose. She started her brand end 2015 and is the new player on the field. Her 1st collection is breathtaking.
Former model passionate with fashion, her motto is : Look beyond Creativity.
And the winner is Atto Tetteh an Urban Menswear brand which through innovation seeks to incorporate traditional designs into global trends. I appreciated especially their Tohazie Collection, based on the myth of Tohazie (the red hunter). As they describe it themselves this collection is inspired by strength, courage and empathy.
Here the full list of winners :
Emerging Designer – Ato Tetteh
Designer of the Year – Sima Brew
Accessory Designer of the Year (Jewelry & Beads) – Joyce Owusu (Purple Trendz)
Accessory Designer of the Year (Bags, Sandals, Hand Bags etc.) – Mpaboa
Male Fashion Celebrity Icons of the Year – Okyeame Kwame
Female Fashion Celebrity Icons of the Year – Sandra Ankobiah
Fashion Photographer of the Year – Duke Tetteh Quarshie
Male Model of the Year – Meek Ghartey
Ghana Fashion Awards Hall of Fame – Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design
Congratulations to them.
The Return To Salone
“Your life is your message to the world so make sure it’s inspiring” Sandi Mabasa
One of the reason I fell in love with Africa is : the Fashion.
I can spend hours looking for the last tendencies, the newest creations or simply staring at a dress so amazed by the fact such a wonder actually exists in real life.
My absolute dream is to work for/with an African fashion designer. (Aisha Obuobi if you read me…)
Meanwhile I will try with this blog, at my humble level, to share with you my vision of African fashion and to introduce the Black fashion designers I like the most.
For about a decade we’ve seen emerging so many talented fashion designers from the continent and, for our greatest pleasure, they changed the face of the fashion industry.
Fashion weeks are created everywhere in Africa (Accra, Dakar, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Soweto…) and African fashion weeks come in addition to the traditional ones in the most fashion-leading cities in the world (Paris, New York, London, Berlin..)
It is a refreshing explosion of colours, patterns, forms, cuts and there are exceptional platforms where the most talented fashion designers from Africa and the diaspora can finally showcase their creations and share to the world the beauty and creativity of the long-time put aside continent.
Fashion is not only dictated by the western world standards anymore but also by the vibrant and colourful creations coming from the black continent.
More and more celebrities rely on African designer either for their personal wardrobe (like Alicia Keys, Lupita Nyong’o, Solange, Rihanna, Gwen Stefani and many more…) or for professional purpose like Beyonce who used the services of the Ghanaian fashion designer Aisha Obuobi designer of the brand Christie Brown on her “The Ms Carter Show” World Tour in 2014 for her dancers’ dresses.
Aware of this trend, Western fashion brands are showing an increasing interest in using African fabrics.
“Fashion is an excellent way to promote the creativity of Africa and to shape a different image of the continent that is not reduced to poverty and animals, but includes all diverse aspects of our life,” Auma Obama said in Berlin.
The sister of the soon-to-be former US president said it all. Fashion is a way to change the narrative about the continent and to show the world the unlimited potential and inspirations of its creators.
On the other hand, even if the visibility of their product is indubitably growing for African designers based in Africa or in Europe, they still have to face different challenges.
The interest for African creations may grow in the western countries, it is still problematic for African creators to find a viable market directly on the continent.
Along with productivity issues (African way of production can’t compete with giant like H&M…), high international competitiveness, theft of creations due to the difficulties to apply the concept of intellectual property in Africa where a lot of people know how to sew and copy well-known designers models, the industry experiences now the arrival of an ocean of designers making it difficult to stand out.
The African fashion stage seems nowadays to have so many actors playing thaton it that it is easy to get lost.
Some websites like Pagnifik (french) try to put some clarity by creating a repertoire classed by country, but it is still very incomplete.
A lot of effort and collaboration has to be put in place in order to fully exploit the increasing demand for an alternative to traditional fashion.
African fashion is undoubtedly on the rise however, there are still many obstacles to overcome and we can undeniably say that it is just the beginning.
And now for your viewing pleasure :
« 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 :
Version française : Ici
”In every crisis there is a message. Crises are nature’s way of forcing change — breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place.” — Susan L. Taylor
My name is Neika. I am 27 years old. I was born in Haiti, I lived a few years in South-America (french Guyana), before landing in France where I spent most of my life for the time being.
I currently live in Berlin, Germany for 3 years now.
So which nationality do you think I am ? Haitian ? French ? German ?
I am French. Well, I have a French passport and I.D. Although I don’t really feel French you know…
I enjoy very much the food and culture, admire the art and fashion, experienced their way of life, took the accent, studied their history, learned their geography, read their books… But it always seemed to me that it was from the point of view of a stranger : you recognize the beauty of it, but you never felt like you belong.
Maybe it is because I wasn’t born in France. And I acquired the French nationality when I was 13 or 14. Just like that, I received a piece of paper and I was no longer Haitian, but French. No ceremony, no anthem to sing, no congratulations. We could think that something that big as changing nationality, something affecting your personality, your rights in foreign countries, the way you present yourself, the way stranger think about you would at least deserve a toast or a speech.
However, truth be told, I didn’t even choose it, it just happened. My mother thought it would be more practical and I must admit she was right. So it was on a not special day that I became French.
But I don’t feel French.
Maybe it is because I am black.
Maybe it is because, in France, sometimes before I even open my mouth people always ask me : “Tu viens d’où ? ” Or “Tu es quoi ? » (where are you from ? WHAT are you?). It is actually not really a problem that they ask that because I really wasn’t born in France. But I understood later that for some people of color who were born in France and grew up in France, it can be frustrating to feel always questioned about their origins when they feel completely and only French. And I don’t even talk about the French Caribbean people or people like my sister and brother who were born in French Guyana which is France, or supposed to be, even if it is on another continent.
When I first arrived in France I was around 10 years old. And it was about this time I realized that I was black. I was « different » from others.
Some people may make fun of me because of the color of my skin.
Some people may insult me because of the color of my skin.
Some people may feel better than me because of the color of my skin.
Some people may feel threaten by me because of the color of my skin.
Even Jonathan, the guy who repeated 6th grade twice and could barely read when I couldn’t decide who from Baudelaire or Rimbaud I liked the most, felt the right to insult me of « sale noire »
With their good feelings, and compliments that didn’t feel like compliments. « Oh you don’t sound African ! You speak good French! You don’t have any accent. »
Like Africa is the only place in the world with black people. Slavery, colonization, globalization never happened and speaking French with the French accent means you have no accent. There are regions in France where people speak French with really strong accents, does it mean that they don’t speak good french ?
Their attempt to make you endorse their racist comments with sentences like : « I am not racist : you are black ! And you’re my friend but… » or the classic « I don’t like black people except for you. ».
From 10 till now I have experienced every kind of racism possible.
The silent one, when you received this job offer. The first contacts went well over the phone and they seemed enthusiasts and interested in your profile. Sure you noticed that they reversed several times your first name and last name and made it sound more… french but you are kind of used to it. Teacher, friends; everyone always do that because they are too lazy to learn how to pronounce your name properly, so you just let them.
However, in the end they refused to hire you without giving you a reason after the face-to-face interview in an office where everyone, no exception, is white.
The hypocrite one who smiled at you, made you think you had a connection and told your friend « hey she is absolutely amazing, too bad I don’t like black girls ».
The very loud and stupid one (Thank you banania!).
The weird one.
Being a black woman, I have been called ugly, I have been called « wild » and I have also been fetishized. I have felt like being this white guy phantasm, a way for him to realize his desire of exoticism and who thinks he can easily own you by buying stuff, when he would never ever dare to behave the same with a white woman.
Even my friends, even people who deeply care about me, made me feel it at some point.
I am black.
Therefore, I am not from here.
Click here if you want to read the other parts of my story :
🇫🇷 Version française : Ici