So posed the white South African to me at a recent interview (Don’t worry – I said no to the job) … And to be honest he was a nice enough guy and I know he was just joking…. but was it a very white South African thing to ask. More so than a lot of other things…And I am also that aunt who probably would ask one of my nieces and nephews the same question if they majored in it in University… But African Studies was my minor in University; because girl I’m African and you know Economics or something deemed almost as useful had to be my major. On top of having some of the most amazing Africa focused professors (shout out to Nadia Horning, Tropp and a few others) I actually really needed to do African Studies as a subject because my knowledge about our general history and current events was pretty dismal
And as I laboured around my answer – “… as a south African growing up did you ever feel African?” – his reply was ofcourse – he was taught he was European and not African. I on the other hand was taught that I was South African …no mention of Africa whatsoever… There were ofcourse many forces at play here in early post-apartheid South Africa. It was as if to combat the swart gevaar South Africa somehow wanted to erase the decades of apartheid our parents and grandparents lived and operated under..the same apartheid we were born under. South Africa went on a “rainbow nation” marketing campaign against its own citizens… we were the rainbow nation, the country that banded around the springboks winning the world cup and (less so, mind you) Bafana Bafana winning the African Cup of Nations. I was part of the generation that could tell you extensively about the rise of apartheid and how South Africa rose above that and even about World War I & II, but never about the African Kings and Queen that ruled this continent for centuries… I don’t think I could even tell you about any of Africa’s contributions to civilisation… I could start on modern writing and end up on how most of the world’s super powers came to be and are propped up by riches stolen from this land..but I digress..
But I guess the most important thing here is that at a tender age before probably most of my peers I felt African. I moved to Canada to the middle of nowhere for United World College and all of a sudden I was struck by how every African I came across could tell me in detail about South Africa’s apartheid history… I could tell them…nothing…really nothing…because I knew nothing about their countries.. I could probably talk to the languages spoken, some of the demographics and any other Grade 4 geography titbits I could muster. But the people I was suddenly clustered in the same grouping as – the so called “Afro- Carribeans” were people I’d never spent two minutes thinking I was a part of.. And now the same people who’s souls somewhat vibrated closest to mine…who got most of my jokes (Sorry Brits, I love you too)..were people I constantly had to learn about and I wanted to learn about because they got me..really got me..From the random dance parties I would walk into in the all campus lounge to the jollof and other cooking sessions I would constantly invite myself to. So when I left my amazing high school and went to university..I knew I had to further educate myself…because even if it was a class per semester…or a class a year..I knew it was more than was afforded a lot of South Africans who went through South African institutions.. Which then bring us to the actual topic at hand… why would I defile my oh so gorgeous baby soft skin with below tattoo….
If I’d actually discussed this with my mother, it would have never happened. So here I am 4 years back on the continent – covering the continent; visiting all these amazing places for work. Places that were new, but not so new because they got me and I got them on some fundamental spiritual level. I’d spent New Years in Kenya and gone through a rather ridiculous breakup …At this moment I actually felt so tied to how the progress of all the countries I was working.. at this point I was no longer South African and then African. I felt African first and then South African… As if my success in all I did was indestructibly tied to the progress of all 54 countries (Yes, at that not so tender age you can feel this way)… Insert every single time I’d jibed one of my friends and family for getting a tattoo with the words that I just didn’t have anything that was that important to me that I could ever ascribe permanent space to my body for … So at this point in time …having had an amazing new years in my adopted country I recommitted to what I thought was important to me… had been for quite a while…Africa.
Cue “our destiny is down in Africa” … and me LAWLING. But seriously, I found that the one thing I knew I could commit to long term was my love for this continent and generally wanting to uplift and help grow as many corners as I possibly could through sustainable business and being part of the solution for the funding issue across the continent. It was also a reminder of that despite things being difficult (and every other person asking why I wouldn’t just stay in the US) I CONSTANTLY reminded myself that I had to be part of the solution because at the end of the day that’s what mattered.
The tattoo itself is the African continent (and no I didn’t forget Madagascar like a lot of you!) – But I stopped when the guy wanted to ensure the Seychelles were there – no sir we will not be putting random spots on my back to the point where people think I have a moles. Interposed on it is my fingerprint because well – regardless of where I am in the world ..my identity still lies so firmly within this continent . So yes…people do African Studies and get tattoos of Africa because they simply care and love this continent so so much! That said, I’m always curios about why people choose to get tattoos and what they mean to them…so drop me a line…about your experience and why you chose to get a tattoo…what meant so much to you that you chose to go through the excruciating pain of having needles dance across your skin?