January 15, 2009
This is my final day in Africa. Tomorrow at 1:30 AM I will be sitting at the Leopold Senghor Airport waiting to board returning to California. Tonight I am going out for the first time and shake that thing for King and all my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora who se ancestors left this place so long ago which we are slowly returning to.
It’s funny, yesterday I sat in the office of Ibrahima Seck, at the West African Research Center talking about Hurricane Katrina and Haiti’s recent earthquake and he was in New Orleans in 2005 and in Haiti just two weeks ago. He was speaking about how the government hasn’t made any statements regarding what happened in Haiti and when asked about Katrina, he said, what he heard most when the images were shown on CNN was “they look just like us!” His response, they are us. We’re the same people. The disconnect between Africans and Africans in the Disapora, thiose of us who are here because of the slave trade is enormous. Slavery is but a footnote in the texts and curriculum at most schools and so the images of Americans, African Americans are the Beyonces and Oprahs and Denzell Washingtons and of course, Tupac. Africans don’t see my family: brother who works two-three jobs to support his three children and wife who also works. They don’t see my daughter’s husband who has been applying or fulltime employment for the past nine to ten years, maybe more. They don’t see my younger daughter and her juggling a fulltime job and a career as an artist or my older daughter who for a long time worked part-time and attended school and who was saddled with a bill she had to pay before she could register for her last semester at the university where she is almost completed with her BA. Everyone doesn’t have healthcare. I remember hoping I didn’t get sick for years and taking my kids to the free clinics and waiting hours for an appointment to get their school checkups. I remember the poor prenatal care and delivery my older daughter received when she had my granddaughter because she was at the country hospital where people go as a last resort. (This doesn’t mean everyone gets the same treatment—bad or poor, but when my father was there, his treatment was poor as well. Maybe the outpatient service is better? My friend, Lanier Pruitt went in with a cold and they gave him medicine that killed him, but then Summit operated on a friend of mine, Kamau Seitu and he died from complications shortly thereafter. My older daughter’s saga with Kaiser is too long to recount and let’s not talk about worker’s compensation. My daughter was injured at work and they okayed her return the next day. )
I have friends who are losing their houses or have had to move because the owner lost the home they were renting. I have had friends have to downsize from a condo to a room in someone home. I know lots of really educated people who can’t find employment. It’s the same story in Dakar and Rufisque and Oakland and San Francisco, a tanking economy, however, unlike America, Senegal has land and people already have the village ideology going so they can collaborate and create opportunities outside of government which is not for the people anywhere, unless it’s in Cuba.
This is not to say there are not models of successful governance elsewhere; I’m talking Third World examples, countries off the US radar that are taking care of its people.
So anyway, last night I hooked up with my friend Kine, wonderful artist who is completing her application for the Biennial this summer in Dakar. I certainly hope she gets in. I met her in a part of Senegal I hadn’t been in before; out by the water, sort of like the area in San Francisco near the Cliff House, and just as ritzy. The restaurant was so close to the shore, waves washed onto the tables nearby. I bet it is really beautiful in the day time. We sat around and spoke in English a bit and then the two men, Ahmeth and Bingo or Ibrahima, and Kine spoke in Wolof and I daydreamed…their words music, a chorus to the liquid symphony surrounding us. The chicken was good, deep fried so that the bones were edible. Not too spicy. I avoided the salad, as I didn’t know what the greens were washed in.
I have a stomach ache this morning, so maybe I didn’t avoid everything. I am going to just drink water and see if I feel better soon. I can’t be sick the night before I leave and certainly not the day of my night on the town (smile).
This week has been really fun, except for the lost glasses and shawl I also lost in the same bag. I have finally gotten to see some art. I really liked the Muskee Boribana Gallery where I met Khalifa Dieng, artist and curator and secondly, Galerie ATISS, where the curator and owner makes furniture with hand woven upholstery. Amadou met me at the WARC and then we took a taxi downtown. Yes, the money flowed through my fingers like air—I spent almost $30 on taxis, the 1500 to 2500 F CFAs is no joke, the only thing I noticed here is that the drivers didn’t make me pay for Amadou; one fair covered both of us.
As I road to the Almaden area, I’ll have to check the spelling, I say a really big shopping center, like a mall and a jazz club called The Blue Note. It looked pretty upscale. There were sidewalks and paved streets too. There were several universities and as we drove the views overlooked the ocean which folks here call the “sea.” One person asked me if we had a sea in America or maybe he meant California. I laughed and told him California had the Pacific Ocean, New York the same Atlantic. The taxi passed several private clinics, a military base with barracks and a hospital and this enormous statue. I couldn’t figure out what it was as we passed it. Kine told me it was built within the past few years, a project of the current president. He didn’t even hire a Senegalese artist. Kine said it was a waste of money considering the poverty here. I loved talking to the scholars at the WARC, one of whom was a sister from the Bay, former journalist, Wilma Jean Randle. She was selecting the films for the Black History Month events the WARC was hosting Feb.-Mar this year.
Before she came in, the former head of the research center came in for a receipt and we were talking about Haiti and the catastrophe and somehow the conversation turned to the number of churches in close proximity. Dr. Seck presented papers in Haiti on the connection between Haiti and New Orleans and Dakar, facts not necessarily well-known in Senegal. Once again, those of us in the Diaspora, see the connections more clearly than those of our distant kin. The Center has established a doctoral program housed at Suffolk University. It is an exchange program.
Got to go, more later. If I can stay awake, I am going to try to get to “ In the Name of Love.” I return that afternoon, and my day will be turned upside down (smile).
I didn’t get to the In the Name of Love and I didn’t get to Bringing the Noise for Dr. King Monday, and I didn’t get to Oakland Saturday, January 16, rather Sunday, really late, Sunday, January 17. I also didn’t go out on the town, Kine had a prior engagement and cancelled. The date I called was too tired that evening so I packed and fell asleep and then got up at 12 midnight rushing.
IN THE NAME OF LOVE, THE 8TH ANNUAL MUSICAL TRIBUTE , HONORING DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., Sunday, January 17, 2010 - 7:00 p.m. at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive featuring: LEDISI, THE JOHN SANTOS SEXTET,OAKLAND INTERFAITH GOSPEL CHOIR- Terrance Kelly, Director, OAKLAND CHILDREN’S COMMUNITY CHOIR- Melanie DeMore, Director, w/ KHALIL SHAHEED'S OAKTOWN JAZZ WORKSHOPS.
The presentation of the 5th Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award to, Pastor Raymond E.Lankford. Tickets: General Admission- $12, children under 12- FREE , Lowered ticket price thanks to the generosity of Target. Tickets available at http://www.mlktribute.com and by phone: 800-838-3006.