I ate an avocado for breakfast. I think it was my way of reconciling with the fact that my dad and older brother are headed for Kenya this week, and I’m here. I don’t feel African, and yet at times I do. Maybe it’s because my grandfather grew up in Congo. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to my mom’s childhood stories of attending boarding school and climbing loquat trees. Maybe it’s because growing up I climbed those same loquat trees and attended the same school she did for first grade. Maybe it’s because I learned to fall asleep to the sound of rain falling on a tin roof during the rainy season. I miss that sound.
I grew up playing jump rope, soccer, and riding on homemade wooden bikes. My friends and I used to carry water up from the stream balanced on our heads. My little jug was a third the size of theirs, but I still did it. I walked around with my friends’ younger siblings tied snuggly on my back. I used to walk to school jumping ditches along the way and crawling under the barbwire fence on occasion to pick daises for my teacher Miss Gorman.
When my family moved to the village, I joined the children’s choir, and we kept chickens, rabbits and goats. Life was simple and beautiful. Now I sometimes wonder, if I went back, would loquats still taste as good as I remember? Would life seem as simple? Could I still fall asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof?
The last time I was in Africa was just before my freshman year in high school. I wasn’t able to go to Congo, but I did get to spend time in Kenya and Uganda. The mangos were amazing and the avocados were perfect. I was able to reconnect with several friends I went to school with and spent a week with my cousins in Uganda. I got to see Lake Victoria, eat samosas and collect a good sized pile of bottle caps.
But what I saw was not always simple or picturesque. I went with my dad one day to look at some printing equipment a friend wanted to show him. A small orphanage stood next to the property we were visiting, so we took a tour. I say tour but the orphanage was so small it didn’t take long to see everything. A huge bag of rice leaned against the doorframe. The children were eating porridge, and one little boy caught my eye. He wasn’t eating. His big eyes stared ahead almost blankly. They said his name was Job. No one knew how old he was, but he looked to be between one or two although his small frame made it hard to tell. The lady explained that the police had found him and brought him in. So far, they said, he hadn’t said a single word.
I took a brochure before I left hoping that some day I’d be able to come back. Experiences like that have a way of changing your entire view on the world. It was hard to leave because I saw so much need. But, I had a blue passport and a visitor visa, so I returned “home.” I didn’t forget what I saw. I can’t forget, and I hope, desperately hope, to one day return.