Photograph by Lee Kitumbe of Spirited Pursuit (Gorée island, Senegal)

I am not one to dwell when making important decisions. From as early as I can remember, I’ve always been known to be a fast decision maker. Whether it had to do with the clothes I would want to wear to the boys/men I would (and did) date or to the countries I had set my mind on traveling to, there was never much hesitation. Oftentimes I equated the swiftness with which said decisions were made with the very way the idea to leap in the unknown came to mind. Swiftly. Rhythmically. Clearly. I am pretty sure that carefully planned strategies are absolutely valid and ought to be almost forcefully recommended yet that has not really been my competence nor my desire. 

I am always flattered when I am told that my voice is soothing, appeasing and that I seem to be calm and diplomatic. I have worked tirelessly to “appear” as such. Those who know me best will say that I am fire under water, sharp-tongued and volcanic. Living with my contradictions has been one of the greatest accomplishments to date… 

Senegal is and will infinitely be tied to family… not roots, not heritage but rather anchorage and sprawling legacy. I was the one who would mock a parent’s ability to see and move forward by just eyeing his or her child and thus constantly thinking ten steps ahead. I who lived in the present could not fathom to be in the future in the mere presence of a toddler. I thought the saying was cliché and irrelevant. That and many other deeply rooted beliefs have been proven wrong. I now value the adaptation that one makes upon becoming a parent. Forward thinking is much more of an end goal than a reality but it forces the brain to go beyond what is known and to imagine the possibilities. Becoming a mother has been my closest stunt at becoming a full-fledged creative. After all, we do create life so my assumption may not be completely invalid or irrelevant or cliché but I digress. 

As I sit in our new home and attempt at reflecting on what the past five months have been synonymous of, I begin sketching a wild listing of seemingly unrelated words: growth, alliance, synchronicity, communication, womanhood, mother and grandmotherhood, ageing, bullshit, diasporic reveries, continental realities.  

What does it mean to grow, thrive, fail, disappoint, emerge in a predominantly Black environment and specifically on the continent? What will my daughter’s experiences look and feel like? Was the decision to relocate and to have MY creators ride along the best or timely decision to make? Was it ever my decision to make in the first place? I guess motivation should override doubt and intention precedes action. A product of my atypical upbringing from atypical African-Caribbean parents, I am but the residue of what they set forth, of their intention to align with their longing to take space, to dream large, to essentialise rather than differentiate. Their Pan-Africanism is rooted in a certain and perhaps languished grandeur. It is not naive, it is transformative. 

Despite their shared dreams, they still felt contained and thus opted for their children to grow in the West. Times were different. Revolutions are layered and gradual. The media would have us believe that they are spontaneous and radical. Meh. Sometimes they are dormant. In the case of my family, much was said and a lot was inferred. After all, as Queen Toni said “The function of freedom is to free someone else”. The merit of my rearing is that very early on, my parents freed us and we bloomed, blossomed, expanded. And today, I cannot say that there is anything more radical. So our coming to Senegal is perhaps the palpable realisation of our freedom and the building of a legacy of free. 

The diaspora is however a magma of so many things, a concentration of conflicted feelings and situations that to stand on the continent can be dissonant, even disheartening at time. What are we to continentals? I was told so many aberrant things and assumed to be something that could not be further from how I would define myself or my behaviour that days can prove incredibly hazy and tiresome. We dance to different socially accepted norms. Our feminism can be frowned upon, resented, misunderstood. Temporality is not mythical. Rhythm alignment requires excessive patience and firmness (that is if you refuse to let out your most primal inclinations!). But settling is processual. Incumbent to it, is the choice to uproot again and try somewhere else, something else. The mere notion of “fitting in” is, in my mind, obsolete. Standing out is much more rewarding… And overbearing. There are obviously no absolutes. I think once one has realised that there is strength to be gained in hardship, the (blue?) pill becomes so much easier to swallow. And perhaps the reward is not for one to live but rather to witness… 

In conversation, some have said that they would not be able or willing to settle on the continent for reasons varied and legitimate. I wonder if my little one will one day resent the decision I made for her and myself. Will she feel at odds with her cousins and future friends, colleagues, collaborators, lovers? Or is the very notion of growing up on the continent made akin by then to growing up anywhere in the world with atypical parents? One thing is clear. Home girl is living her best life amidst bougainvillea, banana trees, hibiscus, and gorgeous Black people! Hell!  I wish I could be her when I grow up! 

Free, Free, Free…

People say that if you find water rising up to your ankle, 

that’s the time to do something about it, 

not when it’s around your neck.

Chinua Achebe 

This post is dedicated to the women leapers & shift changers. You know who you are. Know you are loved.


One thought on “Bougainvillea, Banana Trees & Joy: Finding Meaning in Setting up Home in Senegal

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