and Bujumbura: Home
Can’t we exist somewhere in between?
Between American and African.
Between a Western first name and a Burundian last name.
Between asserting your blackness in white spaces
and your Africanness in African spaces back home.
Being the cultural ambassador for your community because
it’s the thing you learned to do when people asked you where you were from.
Learning from new friends that the place you'd claimed to be
yours for so long was more foreign than you'd allowed yourself to believe.
took one party and one yank by
a drunk European man on my tender, freshly unbraided hair to realize that when we travel, we carry our prejudices with us.
I was invited there because
I was an “expat.” I was the only black girl at this “expat” party.
People were staring. People blamed it on the alcohol. But just earlier
they too snuck glances towards my scalp and held back yearns to want
to touch it.
The numbness subsided and gave way to silent anger and practiced
patience to avoid being the angry black woman at the function.
It took a kind stranger to point out to me later that I looked like
I had been crying.
I thought I’d figured out how to be me. But an African that has
lived the Western experience is between two worlds.
Can’t one exist in the space in between?
Between understanding your mother tongue and not being able to speak it.
Between being the angry black woman at the expat party
or the oversensitive Westerner at the African party?
A racial minority on a continent where racially you are the majority.
A cultural anomaly revealed the moment you open your mouth.
everyone will get it. Sometimes, you feel small but it’s the first time you're learning your history and unlearning the act you'd played for so long.
Remember, this is what you thought you wanted when you chose to work in your homeland.
“You live in America; why come to Africa?”
You didn't expect to be called a muzungu during field visits.
Sometimes, you laugh at this. Sometimes, it hurts. But, sometimes,
it’s your skin that will engender trust from beneficiaries more than
from your white, muzungu coworkers.
You try to treat that trust as something sacred.
You try to laugh at yourself while your mother tongue nervously gets acquainted with your tongue. With each correct roll of an “r,” a smile
at the magic of your identities intersecting; with each awkward fumble,
a reminder at who you fail to be.
You hang in the balance. Somewhere.
Burundi’s elections approach. Protests erupt. Violence flares. Old family conversations replay in your mind.
You want to be there with your family and friends during this trying time.
But it pains you to know your passport warrants you travel privileges
you were born into. Evacuation privileges you are grateful to have and confused to assert.
You become the only “expat” who’s leaving Nyokuru, your grandma, behind.
You'd only just started getting to know each other and she was the only
one that seemed to get you.
Somewhere between reminiscing about the stories of hope, war, love,
and family your parents told you about home with its glorious hills, lush soil, and relationships that made them feel whole, someone discusses
the riots back home in America, in Baltimore. Protests erupt.
Another Black American — or nine — have died at the hands of a system that was never meant to uphold the value of a life with skin darker than its original parchment.
The Burundi-Rwanda border approaches.
You search Twitter for more news on Burundi. Another young Black body down at the hands of a system not yet ready to embrace his potential.
#BlackLivesMatter is a matter of international proportions.
You’ve never fully known where home is.
Maybe home is trying to breathe every time you cross a border.
You've learned to fear any man in uniform as they try to reconcile how they feel about you with how the justice system can protect or fail you.
Maybe home is something beyond geographic borders. Blackness beyond conceptual boundaries.
You exist. Somewhere.
Between the 1st of July and the 4th of July.
Baltimore and Bujumbura.
Police brutality and police brutality.
African American. African.
In all its triumphant glory and evolving diversity,
the darkness of home reveals its nature.
You are somewhere in between.