Writers often repeat the adage, "Write what you know." It's the idea that you are at your best when you are talking about something you care about. When you are more experienced, you can tackle issues that are outside your realm of knowledge. But as journalists we are constantly writing about what we do not know, but must understand quickly and convey simply. Still, there is always the pull to write on topics we are familiar with. For me, that is Africa.
My story is Africa. Every other statement about my life begins and ends with that. I’ve travelled a lot for someone my age, and have been blessed with experiences most people only dream of. But among all those experiences, Africa is the backdrop to each and every poignant moment of my life. I owe much to the continent that accepted me as one of its own, and to the Africans of every colour that made me a part of their family.
It began when I was seven. My family moved from Newfoundland, Canada to Dakar, Senegal, West Africa. You could not find two places on earth more different from each other, save the fact that the ocean and fishing are a way of life for much of both areas. Despite its strangeness, I took to my new country immediately, and the six years I spent there (five as a child, one as a young adult some time later) are the strongest building blocks of who I am.
I miss home desperately. There are times when I am in Africa, sitting in the dust listening to a local pastor, or laughing at school children in a rural orphanage, when I feel the strangest urge. It is as if I need to grab handfuls of red earth and rub it into my skin. I know each time I come home that I will have to leave again. I open my eyes and ears wide to absorb every piece I can into my innermost parts, so that I can carry them around inside me, no matter how far away I may be.
When I return to Canada, the pressures of my responsibilities with school and internships and life make me forget, sometimes for days, the reality that my African brothers and sisters live in. But then a news report or something familiar will catch my eye, jog my memory, and the ache starts as fresh as if I had just left home. A part of me is still there across the ocean, and it bleeds and breaks with every fresh wave of violence, disease or famine that sweeps the continent. I feel a deep guilt knowing that brothers and sisters who are just like those whom I have come to love are suffering. Meanwhile, I sit in a temperature-controlled classroom, writing notes as my professor speaks on Africa's fate.
My guilt comes from one of the most important lessons I have learned. Because of Africa, I know that the colour of our skin is just like the wrapping paper on a precious gift- you have to get past the outer layer to find the treasures of friendship and community inside. I identify myself not by how I look, but by who I relate to, what I believe in, and what I hope to become. Racism is a foreign thing to my heart, only because of the influence of the courageous people I met and came to love and respect in my African journey. Africa is my adopted home, and the people there are my people. I grew up under their powerful examples.
Africa pulses in my blood like a drum beat. It’s a rhythm that only those who have been there can understand. It’s a hard, violent, and beautiful sound. Just like Africa itself, it is torturous but breathtaking. It causes pain, but its presence in me helps me look at the world through eyes that are wide open and willing to offer the same grace that I have been shown time and time again. Africa helps me understand community, family, loyalty, equality, and faith. It helps me understand myself.