So for the last two weeks that I have been back home in Africa, enjoying the weather [ which I am convinced was the only one ever meant for human habitation] and giving my taste buds the treat they have so missed, I have pondered and dreaded this moment. The moment when I actually get down to download my experience of the Mandela Washington Fellowship on a piece of paper [Read Word Document].
Every time anyone asks me how the Mandela Washington fellowship was, I have the same answer, it was so surreal.Often times I am just trying to sound fancy and I am not even sure I know what surreal means.
So why have I dreaded this moment? Because i am afraid that in my scribing, I might miss out an important detail, I may sound too tacky, or too serious or God forbid, too surreal.
Not that I have even had time to start on anything else apart from catching up the backlog of work I left behind.Now that has been an experience of its own. Come to think of it I should write a special journal entry about that. The week after the fellowship!!
But anyway, Eldine [One of our young YALI Creatives Coordinator] said to write about our fellowship experience so here we go.
I guess when you are writing about your experience, a good place to start would be what your expectations of the fellowship actually were and finish with if those expectations were met. In my case,my expectations were highly exceeded. I will be honest and say that I was really looking forward to was meeting the people that I had only communicated with online from the time we were informed about our successful selection. That was my expectation; meeting people. I was dying to meet Adewale Joel, the creative artist and family man from Nigeria, I couldn’t wait to meet Sidi Daker Mohamed the thought provoking youth mentor from Mauritania, and then there was Vusi Matsebula from Swaziland who had started our GSU WhatsApp group page, who from the beginning struck me as quite the character. I couldn’t wait to meet Ndirangu Simon Mwangi from Kenya and Nina Massangu from Congo. Through our online interactions, I felt I already knew them and couldn’t wait to put a face to the knowledge I had. And I did meet them along with a host of amazing leaders both African and American and everything in between [I was in Atlanta!!].
Deep down inside, I know I am not the same person anymore.You see, since my childhood, I have always been surrounded with this notion that my home, Africa was a sorry place and that we,Africans were an unlucky lot and that the only way to have a taste of heaven on earth was to brave the seas and catch a glimpse of life on the other side of the globe. If you are lucky, you get to stay, If you are not so lucky, at least visit once in your lifetime and then spend the rest of that lifetime making reference to that one visit to the UK ; worming it into every conversation you have with anyone who cares to listen despite its relevance to the subject matter. And if you are an academic, douse your students with the constant reminder until they can recant it with you in unison. You see when I was in the UK, …..But you see when I was in the US,….OMG! these ones are not like the ones we had in the UK.
Yes, drone the message into their heads as if the media does not already do it enough justice, the message that Africa is a deplorable place, filled with power hungry leaders who would do anything to turn a democracy into an aristocracy!!!, remind them of their dark history, not so much about how they were enslaved for years but more about how they were sold into slavery by their own. Yes, go on and on about the wars they fought and lost,make brief mention of the fact that they actually fought back the foreign invaders who came in the name of a foreign God, but lost those battles and wars. By the time you are done, if the African child still has the will to live, let him live to put bread on the table for his own. Let him be left with little will to look beyond the family seated at the dinner table, and towards the oppressed crying for justice, for the disabled yearning for a voice, for the young school girl who has to get up early to fetch water from the borehole because for generations there has been no running water in her entire village. If the African child still has any will left,………….even a little……………
But wait, sometimes, actually most times, for the things that are unseen like hope, faith and will, a little is all you need. Believe it or not.
There are 500 full blooded African children who have taken the little they have and have looked beyond their own,beyond their dinner table and beyond those who share their last names and have reached out to make a difference. And I know this because I met them,in person.
I have never been more proud to be African than I am now. I have never been more proud of my black heritage. Because these fellows, as they are now so admirably called, represent a new Africa. Not a African that is rising, but one that has already risen. They have of their own accord, seen a problem, used the few coins they have to dare to make a change in their communities. I can only imagine what they can do when entrusted with more. Finally the old biblical parable makes sense. He who has little, more shall be added to him, but he who has nothing, even the little he has will be taken away.
I return home with the best gift anyone could ever give me. A love for myself, my heritage and my home. No longer do I see Africa as a poor,dark,continent; because when all 500 hundred of us were gathered in that Washington DC hotel to meet President Obama [now that was surreal],nothing about that room spoke poverty, or sickness or death. The room was filled with vibrancy,life and a palpable hope. The sun has risen and the shadows must leave.
Mandela fellows,nurtured and fed by Africa’s rich soil,you are her hope,you are her light,carry the flaming torch far far away and light up every corner of our beautiful continent. Her light has come.No more darkness,No more Shadows.
Written by : Stella Oloo, MWF2015 – Uganda