Random Thoughts: South Africa

So for years, I've been obsessed with Africa- yes, the whole continent. Anyone who goes gets my full attention during their inevitable debriefing (and anyone from there gets 50 million random questions as they pop in my head). As the descendant of American slaves on both sides, I kinda feel like I don't have a "home" country (Mississippi is not the “Old Country”) and while I'm told Black Americans aren't considered "African" in Africa (and if you're pale, perhaps not even Black), I still think of Africa fondly as this far off place where my people's journey began—sort of. Sidebar:

I was in Rome years ago and my friend and I met some Italian guys (by and large they LOVE Black women) while we were walking from the Spanish Steps. So one of them asks my girl (not Black) where she's from (cause heritage is a huge deal over there among all classes) and instead of just saying "American," she launches into where her people came from, going back way beyond when her great grandparents came to America. So when she’s done the guys turn to me and ask the same.

They’re Italian, but they’re “white.” I give up the PC, mixed-company answer. "African-American."

They look at me curiously, like they don't understand. "Are you African or are you American?" one asks.

Huh? Now I don't get it.

Then it dawns on the other. "One of your parents is American, the other from Africa!" he says, having a eureka moment. "What country?"

“Um, no.” I explain that the parents are American, technically. One from the South, the other from the Midwest by way of the South.

"But where are they from?" He wants me to name a country other than America.


In order to explain, I have to launch into an explanation of slavery. And in a country where family name and status determine a lot of what you'll be in life, I lack the urge to explain that 400 years of Black slavery when all that lineage ish got erased. He’s a stranger. I don’t want to lay all my African-American baggage on him at this quaint outdoor café while having cappuchino.

There’s no way around it though as he and his friend are waiting patiently for an answer, so I spill it as off-handedly as I can. “No clue. My people came over on a ship from Africa. Somewhere from Africa is all I know."

I avoid looking at Steph. That this history is the best I’ve got, bothers me. I’ve just listened to Steph trace her people back to a small Irish town 300 years prior. I don’t know ish beyond my great-grandparents, and not a whole lot about them now that I think about it.

The two Italians think on my answer for a second. "Hmmm. So you're a real American then, huh?" one concludes.

I spare myself from launching into an explanation about how so-called “Indians” are the only real Americans. If we’re going by the convenient, short-hand definition of what an American is, well, I didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but my ship to the states sailed shortly thereafter.

"Yeah," I confirm. "I'm American." It only took a trip outside of America to figure that out.


Anyway, that’s not the point of today’s blog. The point is my yippity-skippity excitement over a friend who left for South Africa last week. For months now, I’ve been planning to buy a trip there for my 30th bday. I figure I’ll buy the ticket in July, and fly out the following December as a Happy Birthday-to-me gift.

So my friend, a deejay, has gone over there for 2 weeks to spin and soak up the culture. He AIM’ed me on my BelleBerry Saturday morning with an update on his travels (try as I might, I wasn’t able to pull off a last minute detour to go with him.) I got as much info. about SA out of him as I could during our quick back and forth. In case you’re thinking about going or are at all curious about South Africa like I am (He’s back today, but I’m waiting till Saturday to harass him about pics and details) here goes:

P: Dee Dee? [Belle note: only he gets away with calling me this.]

Me: You still there? I was sleeping when this came thru

Me: How is the motherland?

P: Wonderful

P: lots of money and lots of poverty...very polar

Me: Are you taking pictures?

P: im takin pics & video...going on safari in a few days

P: should be exciting

P: how r u

Me: Ure living the life I dream of. So happy for you.

Me: I am good. The world keeps on turning. What more can I ask for?

P: im prob coming back

P: next time im flying to capetown

Me: Of course you will. Is the culture entirely different?

P: yes and no, lots of similarities in the metropolitan areas

P: kids are kids

P: but safety is a major issue

Me: Wow. Like that?

P: but there’s soooo much culture and history

P: u could do a summer here easily

Me: Ahhh. If only I had the time. Ill prolly have to retire first.

P: u can take 10-14 days off

P: include the weekend

Me: Of course, I want a full report when you return. Are you keeping a journal? Blogging on this? You have to record it all.

P: no, but taking video

P: ill tell u all abt it

Me: Ok :-) hey what time is it there?

P: 5PM [Belle note: its 11:36AM EST]

Me: Oh. Ok. Did you spin yet?

P: Yea, last nite

P: loft party, very cool

P: it looked like LA [Belle note: I don’t know what I though South Africa looked like. It wasn’t jungles and lions. But hearing it described as LA through me for a loop.]

P: rich part of town

P: tonight i do the club

Me: It went well? They're up to date on American music?

P: Kinda

P: i think its a combo of tv, online and radio influence

P: So i can go recent..but not to new

Me: They responded well to ure music?

P: yeah, everyone had fun

P: they’re very beat driven [Belle note: no surprise here]

P: so i play faster pace stuff

P: and some house influenced stuff

P: house is big here

Me: House music in africa?! I love it. Who knew?

Me: Do they look like americans at all? Do they dress similar? Dance similar?

P: lots of similarities

P: ull see when i show pics

P: it also depends on income level of person

P: went to a university debate

P: looked like NYU

P: went to a township...looked like post katrina NO

Me: I have so many questions.

P: yes maam, feel free to write away

P: its a very inspiring place to be especially with such a recent turbulent history

Me: Uh, do they have an official president yet? Did that get resolved?

P: i believe someone has been appointed in his place now, until the official election happens (im never good with politics, but its BIG topic here)

P: among all ages

P: everyone is very in tune with political debate

P: i parallel it to pop culture knowledge among the american youth...it seems like politics are looked at as something you should know and discussed frequently.

Me: That's everywhere outside the us, esp in an election year

Me: Are you going to mandella's prison while ure there?

P: it's in capetown, im in johannesburg, may not have time to make it...i went by his house and a few museums & soweto

P: oh...u were asking about the music..go to youtube and check "kwaito" thats the popular music with the youth

[Belle note: This is what I found when I looked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euzWZp6kTdg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JootqR3U9Lk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gh59_fI9ks ]

P: its a combo of traditional, hip hop, house and funk

P: good stuff too [Belle note: I liked what I found.]

Me: Cool. Is it similar to house and garage in london? [Belle note: after searching it out, the answer is no.]

Me: Ahhh. Ok. You've been busy. Where r u staying? Do you have a guide?

P: a few friends from school live here

Me: Ahhh. U did say that. Go hoyas!

P: yes maam, hoyas run this ish