Thursday, March 7, 2013

On African Soil


A little after midnight (ET), Thursday, March 7, I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean listening to "Water No Get Enemy" by Fela Kuti.

Preparing for this trip to Africa has been a challenge. It was so last minute that I hardly had time to catch my breath (note: Don't read that as a compliant). Everything was rush, rush, rush. Get shots...rush. Get VISA...rush. Oh no! A friend says: "You didn't get all the right shots, April!" Rush some more. Take care of your clients, prep the clients and the team for your departure...DON'T RUSH.

There was very little time to think. Only time to react. I  went into "nerves of steel" mode in order to stay as focused and as organized as humanly possible. Every once in a while, I would have these moments where I'd pause and ask, "Am I really going to Africa? Wow!" Then I'd snap out of it and get back to work. While I was excited from the moment I got the confirmation, it but me in a tail spin. I only had a week and a half to get ready. So little time for all the work needed in order to have a great trip.

This past weekend, the reality started to seep in. The countdown had begun. "I'm really going to Africa." And then my good friend Curtis made it crystal clear, "April this is not a trip for you. It's a journey. Enjoy your journey and be sure to share the experience." Well that sealed it for me, that and the realization that my going to Africa would likely be the first time that someone from my family (either side) went to Africa since enslavement.

For a quick moment, the idea that I might be the first to return was a powerful one. But then I thought, so what? I'm not competing so there's no value in being first. In a moment's time, I realized that the value is in going back and being purposeful and open minded. I'm going back with a profound understanding of my ancestral ties, that I have a connection to this sacred place that transcends time and distance.

And when I speak of my ancestral ties, I don't mean it in a cliche, abstract kind of way. When I reference ancestors, I'm talking about those once real-live people whose blood runs through my veins. I contemplate their lives daily. I contemplate the specific African men or women with a gap in their teeth, like the one I now have. I think about the African men or women with big eyes and a lean frame who passed those genes through the Silver line; and the African men or women with the broad shoulders and tall frame who passed those genes through the McCullough line. Since I was a child, I've contemplated what kind of children my great-great-great-great-grandparents were: What were their toys, their fears, their joys? What secrets did they carry into adulthood, if they lived that long? I give thanks for the ones who, generations ago, clutched their hearts yearning for the protection of their lineage, even without knowing us. And I'm not a total romantic, so I also think about my ancestors who could didn't care about the future, only for themselves, in that moment in time.

I know that my ancestors' lives were as complex and layered as our lives are today, if not considerably more. The historical context is different, and so may be the ideological and cultural context. Still, I pause for my ancestors daily. I pray that they rest in peace...daily. I live my life in a way that I hope honors their sacrifices and their good names.

In my daily reflections about my lineage and the layers that define them, one thing remains true: Africa is central. So here on my first night on the continent, specifically in Nigeria, I'm not rushing, I'm not in "get ready" mode, I have no anxiety about clients, team, work, what I forget to pack, or any of those simple things (not any more). I am where I belong, on African soil, giving thanks.

March 7, 2013 | 10:30 pm
March 8, 2013 | 4:30 am

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