“Wait, if you’re African, why aren’t you black?”

So, I was standing in line for an excruciatingly long time (almost two hours) at passport control in Seattle.  Just so a guy could tell me to have fun at school.  Great, thanks.

The lines are divided into six sections.  Today, the first two were reserved for American and Canadian citizens, and the other four for other nationalities.  I was in a rather slow line, so I had plenty of time to look around at the others who were sharing in the post long-distance flight trauma that is Seattle’s passport control system.  America, land of the free-but-only-if-you’re-willing-to-stand-in-line-for-hours-and-to-be-groped-if-you-look-too-foreign.  Anywyay, security is security, it’s a pain anywhere I suppose, but it’s for the best.

So there I am, standing in line, and in front of me is a guy who is holding a passport from Kenya.  During the entire time I was in line, I was trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation.  The reason for this is that even though at this point I am currently a North-American resident living part-time in Europe with a Pakistani and Dutch ethnic background, I was raised in Africa, and for some reason I always feel more connected to other African natives than I do to any of the other above-mentioned cultures.

This is an interesting phenomenon – I haven’t lived in Mozambique since I was a kid, and when I go back I still often feel like a tourist even though I am very familiar with the culture.  I think it’s something about Africa in itself, particularly sub-Saharan Africa which is culturally what I’m more familiar with.  But there seems to be some kind of unity, more so than with other nations.  I have a Dutch passport, but if I had been standing behind a German or Belgian person in line I would have no more inclination to speak to them than if they were Russian or Icelandic – the connection just isn’t there for me.

Naturally when I do on occasion strike up a conversation with a fellow “African” they are often surprised to hear me refer to myself as Mozambican.  When I first moved to the US as a kid, someone actually asked me why I wasn’t black.  It’s not just a Mean Girls quote, it’s a real-life quote.  I was also asked what tribe I was from and had I ever been in a city before… among other such questions.  Granted, these came from fifth-graders.  But I have a feeling that for many people, their perspective “Africa” is limited to what they see on Animal Planet.  That’s unfortunate, but I think it has more to do with how things are displayed in the media rather than just a closed-minded perception.

So what is it about Africa?  I think there is something very genuine about the people and the lifestyle there which has nothing to do with the Western life that I am now so accustomed to.  When I think of Mozambique, I think of colors, sounds, smells, that take me back to a place with red earth and coconut trees, beautiful sandy beaches further North, contrasted with the rapidly-developing capital city of Maputo.  I think of the seafood being served fresh in restaurants with a beach view, the smells of cooking and exhaust pipes in the streets, the distant sounds of singing and drums.  I could go on forever.

Another thing I thought of recently was that I tend to associate  certain colors with certain places.  Vancouver, between the water and the mountains, with its famous glass buildings, is blue in my mind (even though between October and March it’s pretty much grey…).  Provence, where I spend part of my time at my Mother’s house, is green like the trees I cycle past when I ride through the countryside, but also off-white, like the bread, and the old stone houses.  And Maputo is a dark, earthy red, like the ground there, and the dust that seems to lightly stain and smudge everything in sight.

So what color am I?  All of them, I guess.  But mostly African.

City Colors

 

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