chapter III – afro

chapter III – afro

“i’m good to go, ma!” in the midst of packing on an blistering hot day in mid-august, i was off task for a moment when i stumbled upon what i interpreted to be a great something. “ma, look at this! is this a dashiki?” a beautiful burnt orange cloth with circular brown imagery. it fit the curves of my biceps & ran down past my torso & found a fitted rest right at the top of my thighs – love at first glance. “ma, you think people who are originally from africa will appreciate me wearing this or is this appropriation?” i’ve always been over-careful, but yet somehow, still dangerously naïve to the world & how wide it was. my mind still set out to employ courage & fail out loud, if it were to be so.

the excitement i felt was bone-deep, it had passed through the textile of my skin & permeated every corner of my heart – i was africa bound. a boy from cleveland descending upon the majesty that is the motherland – the cradle of all humanity. what a gift it was for me to be embarking on this place, i, a black man, who wanted to quest in order to know myself more deeply & the royalty that i inherited all by way of my pigmentation. kings, queens, the history of the first civilized society, the lost prophecies, the ground that gave way all religions. nas, tupac, kendrick lamar & bob marley guided my visions of a mystic land. when i came home, i would be a balanced rock, with africana as my center.

of course, it wasn’t all serendipity in my dreams. i deemed myself aware of these famine like conditions i saw images of too.  i heard africans were hungry & so we needed to make them a mission trip, but i rejected that notion & still do. instead i subscribed to the secrets of forgotten royalty & highly under-publicized places where civilization existed. this needed to be revealed & i was coming to be the narrator to fundamental white folks that weren’t looking deep enough. i needed to organize people here on the ground, too. my notions were enough for me to believe myself a prophet coming home to become a radical, afro-centric. these labels theoretically fit me seamlessly – just like my dashiki. i had a clear role.

when i arrived, i instantly saw the beauty. the stench of the air to me was like the smell of cotton candy & funnel cakes. the curvature of the mountains were thrill rides. this was my culmination. if i was brave enough, i would’ve stopped to kiss the ground, but instead i just grinned like a boy up to mischievous deeds. as i looked upon people who shared my pigment & began to notice myself the majority, i felt emboldened. i walked by these pedestrians eargely nodding my head, sometimes even throwing up my right fist clamped with exclaimed passion – this was the code of ethics i already knew to live by. the initial days here are both vivid & yet still feel like an illusion i vividly created – i can’t call it yet. what i do know is that i was called to move out of slumber & into the actual rhythm that was developed long before me.

a rhythm of disharmony, terrorism & corruption of the mind. in my first day here in this community, baba told me to adjust. he said that i was in the third world – amongst a people who were type-casted &  then edited out for a more appealing character that the world has loved many places over.  conceptually, this was the call to wake up, but at second glance, the reality existed in an even larger organism. i remember stepping out a few days later on heritage day. still dreaming, i was in another dashiki i had purchased back in the states. this one more loose around the body, allowing the wind to sneak up underneath so it could hum on my chest. when i stepped out, i was disenchanted by the sight. it turns out i didn’t see dancing bodies in tribal gear. no parades led by drum, not even a chant. instead, i saw human beings who were being human – trying to cope with the weight of groceries & an certain evil that has spoken before. young humans new to the world who played in the fields as they were assigned to do work. the elders, however, let them run free: they enjoyed watching the children, because they missed naivety. i miss it now, too.

being a dreamer & also being undyingly stubborn, though, forced me to hold on to the image. it was just too good not to be real. where were the elders with zulu tales, the fire lit circles & the damn drums? my body has slouched from time to time, now that life had kicked in. the everyday life of those forced to live in a system of marginalization that has changed the language to sound inclusive, but still deep down is excluding. i, the now dreadlocked prophet in question, sat powerless, locked in devices of abused idealism. so, i began sleep walking, though my body somewhat awake, still i was trying to fade back into the dream.

that was until i saw something my eyes couldn’t escape. not too long ago, i sat at a table with two others enjoying a bite, in this time more comfortable to be in part slumber. a man who had brown skin like me approached us. he wanted money to drink & be for the night. we refused him & so he went on to others to continue his barter. not too long after leaving us however, his body was taken, arms placed behind his back, now under control of the system.  i couldn’t help but snap back into memories of loved ones who were taken under for similar or of less consequence. the reasons of plunder justified by the habit. no hope for rehabilitation & community, just more isolation, granting him more chances to binge. he wasn’t free.

that moment served a reminder, but yet still in part slumber, i grogged on, still looking for the afro-centralizing, that cultural moment – still, i thought myself to be simba.. so, i used a computer again to feed me a more concrete image to tuck in my mind. this only caused more of a chasm between me & the world i was invited into. i had no choice but to stop hitting snooze & be here, ten toes firmly planted on the ground.

i stepped outside my flat again & went with a new lens. with this new lens, however, i’ve noticed old things. a food desert, with a folk who were told they were free for the system now, but still somehow relegated to living standards below human dignity. a community that suffers from stigmatization of crime rates & the assumption that they are the primary plunderers.  a community lacking places that supply physical resource for living, but has a plethora of spiritual ones, in the form of churches nearly everywhere – places of refuge for those who were looking past the human threshold for hope – i saw my home.

i’ve never felt enlivened & deflated all in a swoop, but in this time, i knew it inside. what i was looking for by way of a homecoming wasn’t to be a parade, but instead a march in solidarity against a familiar foe.

this isn’t just home in the sense of struggle, but also in love, too. i experience the care of sweet women who take care of me as if i am of their womb. a community of men who are fighting just to avoid the system catching them. the system here doesn’t currently hinge on police militarization & the black body here sees a different abuse, but maybe that’s the point. in this day of veiled racism, you can’t ever make yourself too obvious. i see so much of home that i don’t even feel like i’m away sometimes. the language barrier, however, serves as ample reminder.

there hasn’t been serendipity found in waking up. i still think about the dream & wonder, can it ever be? i’m starting to take issue with the dream, though. what feels certain to me is that my desire for afro-centrism can’t be rooted in the dream. yes, the ancestral context & culture matter deeply, but there’s more to our connected story. this time has led me to believe that afro-centrism must also be rooted in the reality that though it shows it’s face in different ways, we are in bondage. our history & our present are just as diverse & complicated.  our core spread all-around this world, suffers & yet is still fighting for basic human freedoms – that’s connection.  though we fight battles that hold different things at stake, we fight for a common core. so, yes, let’s love, but let’s approach love in its fullness, not just its pleasurable dimensions. that’s being centered.

Advertisements

interlude II – january newsletter

loved ones,

 

we are now 5 months into this journey. to me, that’s unbelievable. i can so tangibly remember the time & space leading up to the beginning of this year. i feel very removed from what my expectations were in that time, but yet & still, a sense of nostalgia has already crashed over me when i think about the road that led to this very moment as i am writing to you at the end of the first month of a new year. this writing comes from a place of a lot of unanswered reflections meandering around all of my body. indeed, it is a new year & that has put this time, a metaphorical mid-point to this year, into focus. there has been glory & grotesque & all the humanity found in between, but to be here, able to experience any of it, is still remarkable to me.

in this frame of time, i imagine that my fellow peers in this program are also circling around in the quiet of their minds about what has & hasn’t been upon this time – there’s something unique about a story that we are in the middle of. our bodies can feel the subtle & overt changes, but there’s still a road just as long as the one you’ve traveled left to go, with things you’ve yet to encounter or fully wrap your mind around.

in this middle, i’ve been fussing with this question: am i centered? is my mind, body, soul also positioned in the middle? surely, time has informed me of what is present, but do i find my being there also? in the thick of this story being written in community. it is very plausible that we can reside somewhere physically, but be so removed from that reality that, the fullness of who you are, is not present. i’ve had to ask myself what then does presence mean & how do you bring your full self into a space?

umphumulo is my present – indeed a present that has nourished me with love, fun & undying hospitality. i’m in a community of humans who want me to be human with them, for better or worse.  there’s been rich lessons found in this rawness i’ve been invited into.

umphumulo has shown me what it is to commune with people. sharing everything, down to the bare-bones resources you have as a means of investment in the humans around you. that’s radical for me. this type of investment is teaching me what real solidarity looks like. to invest in a person’s journey so deeply that you give them your last roll of toilet paper when the shed is too far away & they have to use the toilet immediately, in my eyes, is great sacrifice.

this middle point of the year has also brought forth new challenges as well. i’ve began work at the primary school just down the road from me. it’s an endeavor i’m anxious about, mostly because i really love children & i wonder if they will be able to focus on their work when they spend most of the class time allotted staring at me, because i’m “probably the tallest person ever!” i’m also anxious, because, again, we are in the middle of time here. umphumulo is a close knit community & practically everybody knows 5 things about everybody, but to start a huge part of this journey in this mid-point will be different.

we are also entering a new church year. at the offices of the church centre. we are moving on from the wonder & glory of advent & we now transition into the humbling pilgrimage that is the lenten season. i’ve come to enjoy a lot of the things i’ve learned about umphumulo’s perspective on lent. during a conversation i was having with a go-go (grandma) here, we were talking about good friday & easter. i was sharing how i grew up in a context that enjoys good friday in solemn reflection, but, in my opinion, is an easter church. the culmination of a prophecy fulfilled; in this, i said, christians, (of course i failed to be specific in naming my context) experience a feeling of liberation that would cultivate love.  go-go explained to me that for the most part, if you surveyed south africans who practice christianity, most would tell you they cherish good friday more so than easter. she didn’t elaborate on why, but i sense it as wisdom on her end to let me discover this myself. so, i’ve been wrestling with what fuels both culture’s perspective on holy week. i’m excited to journey in the lenten season with this community & see a new angle on the sacrifice of jesus.

five months signifies a lot for this journey. it’s a time that has also shifted my thinking into what’s next after i’ve completed this year. the challenges that are ahead & the overwhelmingly wide uncertainty of tomorrow in full. when i think about presence in this time, i again have to fuss with what being centered is, both personally & in community. i’m beginning to wonder if the ability to sense that the knowledge that you’ve been witness to a lot, but also knowing that there’s a lot of great uncertainty ahead is middle ground enough. in fact, maybe this is what life is as a whole. i can’t lay that down as a universal truth, but for me to know that this year has been full & that yet i am continuously being filled by this community is a place where i can draw some contentment from. time indeed is a reliable friend & untrustworthy enemy all at once.

continue to be in it while you can.

love & light & lavender,

rjmy