Saturday, May 13, 2006

I've been asked to give an "artist's perspective" on Africa for the adult forum (i.e. Sunday School) at St. Paul-Ref tomorrow. I'm not really sure what I'll say; I have many photographs from my time there to show people what I mean when I say, "I can't really explain it." Hopefully the pictures can, in some sense, speak for themselves.

When I dig down deep to wonder from where my love for Africa comes, I go as deep as possible without ever grasping the words that would do it justice. Africa changed my life, and I could easily divide said life into two camps: what came before, and what has come since my trip to that continent.

It's not that I could have died a happy man once I went - my journey was not somehow magnificently 'complete' once I had returned to America. If anything, the trip awoke in me passions I never knew existed. This place, with its rich history that all humans could, in effect, trace their ancestral history back to, was not necessarily a brand-new experience. It was like, in the words of Che Guevara in his Motorcycle Diaries, "...being homesick for a place I had never been."

Africa was a part of me before I ever embarked on my 10-hour flight to get there. It had a deep spiritual hold on me in ways I wasn't even aware of until much later.

And now I have to TALK ABOUT IT? Well, I did that in different classrooms when I got back, but mostly to impress upon budding freshmen the need to get out of TLU at least once in their four (ish) years of attending college. But now, I'm supposed to fill an hour with discussion about Africa. An hour? Easy. An focused hour? Ha.

It is a great irony to me that the place in which the fantastic and complex beginnings of modern human life took place is now the witness to some of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of years ago, humans began to move from their birthplace in Africa, looking for fertile grazing lands and sustenance in whatever form they could find it. After a while, civilizations began to spring up in places of which the original African societies did not dream.

...and many, many years later, those distant societies came into contact with, once again, their true 'motherland' - the place that had nurtured their precarious beginnings in life with the gentle touch of a devoted parent. And these societies tore the inhabitants - their true brothers and sisters, infinitely removed - from their land, enslaved them, and used them to better their own life in places across the seas. If they restrained from this course, they settled for raping the land and enslaving the peoples in their own backyard, content with destroying the land and its inhabitants from the inside out.

The human family had been reunited in their homeland, and what a sickening display of reunion it was.

This is part of the sadness I feel when I think of Africa. By far the most diverse place in this world in so many ways, it has been divinely shit upon for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Sure, there is hope, and it is that hope that we all must cling to. Yet, in the words of a good friend, "hope is good, but there must be anger too." A sense of pure frustration must accompany our assessment of Africa today. Ravaged by war, poverty, AIDS, and the residue of colonial imperialism, it is not the best place to be.

But there's something that keeps drawing me back, and I cannot explain it. Perhaps I don't need to. Maybe if our collective consciousness could remember that it exists because of our common ties to Africa, we would be quicker to help in the midst of so many overwhelming problems.

Maybe. Let's hope to God it's sooner rather than later.


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