“So how do you like our black Africa?”
“Its nice! I’m loving the city and the culture is so rich. The food’s great too.”
“Ok. But you haven’t really seen black-black Africa. For that you have to go at least 10km outside of the city. Then you’ll see.”
“um. Yes. I guess I will.”
“You have black people in Canada?”
“oh yes… All over.. All kinds of people.”
“But not like here” (not a question)
“Aren’t you surprised that we’re not sleeping in the trees with the animals? Isn’t that what you expected? Haha!”
*blank stare, jaw hits ground*
Everyone seems really concerned about showing me black Africa. My husband’s uncle is joking of course. He’s a big joker, and after a quick recovery, I quip that he must think I live in an igloo and ride polar bears to work.
But I’m hearing that question a lot — how do you like our black Africa. I’m asked it in the market by a woman bartering with me over a doll for Eryn when she learns I’m Canadian, and again when my family pulls out the tawa to make chapatis on a flat metal, coal-heated cooker. Comments are made about how primitive black Africa is in the same breath as how much Nairobi city is developing.
I hear it again after dark when SIL takes a picture of her grandmother and her butlers and housemaid. They joke in Swahili, “why are you taking our picture now, we’re already black (the night is dark and so are we).”
Or when three desk staff at the safari lodge surround Eryn cooing, and she pulls away when one of the staff members makes a motion to pick her up. They all laugh and say that she’s not used to having so many blacks around her.
I want to defend my daughter and say, “no, really, she’s used to people of different races — just look at her immediate family. She’s only exhibiting stranger anxiety, give her 5 minutes.”
Initially after hearing these comments I began to wonder if there was some latent, genetically rooted, unconscious, white colonialist behaviour I was unknowingly exhibiting. Why else would Mama Boga ask if Canada had black people if I weren’t staring at her incredulously? When in fact I was clapping and chanting along with her?
But the more people wanted to show the white woman black Africa, the more I realized that people were just proud. Proud of their primitive tawa. Proud of the diverse and impressive animals. Proud of their national parks and freedom statues. Proud of their ancestral home (3 generations for my family). Proud of being black. Proud to show me everything that makes Kenya beautiful.