Annie Syed: I don’t write about Africa. I am sorry to disappoint you; you must have me confused with another. I am neither a journalist nor a poet. I don’t write about Africa. I write to Africa and hope she and her men and women respond.
I don’t have anything to say about the HIV crisis but I did write to Africa about the HIV crisis. In that particular instance I wrote specifically to South Africa–the current jewel of the continent whose luster might soon fade. And Africa responded. Her representative was this brave journalist who is “On Fire” about South Africa. She shared her flame with me and told me as long as she writes her readers won’t rest easy even if they don’t like what she has to report.
I don’t write about Africa’s politicians who are the very problem they have been “elected” to address. I wrote to Africa and some who claim to represent her from South Africa and Nigeria responded: “the Party is much bigger than you and I. You understand what that means?”
Because I don’t understand, I write to Africa again. This time Africa offers different representatives, a tired granny who works a ten hour shift at a Cafe in Dakar, Senegal and a domestic worker from Durban who does not get paid what she should despite South Africa flaunting its post-apartheid flag. They tell me to take good note: “Funny men, sissy. You tell those politicians they are not bigger than God. ‘Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.’”
I don’t write about Africa’s businessmen who have forgotten where they came from and have no authentic desire to assist the younger men trying to follow in their footsteps. (Forget where the footsteps lead: three cars, two or more grand mansions, and no time to pass on family values but for some prepackaged traditions?). When I write to them they mistake my compassion for naivety and don’t respond. So, I write to Africa, again. Africa sends me some of her younger men who are trailblazing a new path without any mentors and will redefine their communities altogether.
The semantics of “about” and “to” aside, my motivation to share this is borne out of coming across this frenzy of articles about Africa as of recently. Perhaps due to the world cup in South Africa? All of a sudden everyone is an expert. Africa is more than a charity case and definitely more than an enterprise for black market (excuse the pun) which can buy politicians. There. is. so. much. more. And by more I do not mean the awe-inspiring sunsets and safaris–although both an unparalleled experience.
But before I continue about the “more” I want to clarify something so as not to undermine the endeavors. I applaud all efforts from various fronts (internal and external) to address the myriad of issues pertaining to human trafficking, genocides, corruption, poverty, and all that does and doesn’t make headlines. But I also know Africa has potential that even the most self-serving businesses and development organizations have yet to tap into.
And no, my optimism is not a case of the “South African-feel-good-hope” that is sometimes handed out like evangelicals do their pamphlets. Although this serves as a yummy antidote for the tangled reality on the ground, without caution these large doses of unchecked good cheer can lead to escapism where “outsiders” have to step in to aid.
I return to Africa–specifically South Africa–again and again because the encompassing grid of paradox reminds me not only of others’ struggles to be congruent within their surroundings but of my very own conundrums. I am awakened to our fragility as a people despite the grandeur with which we carry on. I don’t collect statistics. I write what I write because I speak to any and every person who wills to share a thread of his or her story which makes this entangled web of our legitimate struggle to live better than history says we once did. An unresolved past and an uncertain future snickers from every breath. The potential for greatness looms at the mercy of individual choices. This is especially true for those who are away from the motherland–be their departure due to exile, higher learning, or pursuit of better financial opportunities. Those that leave and those that leave and return have a unique stance to shape the kind of Africa they want to see despite governmental stratagems.
If we stopped talking “about” others and instead talked “to” others, although we still might hear what we want to hear, but not without a new melody in the background, even if we don’t quite understand the tune.
Africa is our blueprint. You can’t ‘save’ it or ‘fix’ it or ‘use’ it without thinking you are part of the canvas.