Return to Mother Africa (from the archives)

I return to Mother Africa an alien,
my African blood thinned
through generations of race-mixing
with the Cherokee, and the Blackfoot,
and the Scots and Irish
of North Carolina and Virginia . . . .

I go to the discotheques
but the rhythms
are far too complex for my sensibilities,
too difficult for me to even imagine trying
to dance to; but I fake it,
trying to stay in step,
consoling myself in the knowledge that,
at least, I know . . . .

With the women I find myself
at a loss for words,
not necessarily because they’d laugh
at my broken Crioulo
(or even at my flawed Portuguese),
nor even because I know they know
I can’t promise them a way out
when I leave . . . .

No, I’m awed by them
because of their courage,
because their mere existence
is a triumph,
a remarkable overcoming,
an achievement that stands them alone,
at least from we,
who have known neither true poverty
nor deprivation,
who have always had access
to clean hospitals,
and uninterrupted electricity,
and clean drinking water,
the best of schools with well-stocked libraries,
and, lest we forget, to the latest
in high-tech running shoes . . . .

Yes, I’m awed by their courage,
by their resilience,
by their hope, by their optimism . . . .

I return to Mother Africa an alien,
my natural senses dulled,
my skin bleached,
my hair relaxed,
my third eye atrophied
through generations of de-Africanization.

Bissau, 1995.


Author: Raymond Maxwell Librarian, archivist-in-training, retired foreign service officer and Navy veteran.

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