In Ivory Coast, West Africa, as we entered a village or courtyard the Agni children would chant over and over, “Blauf-way”, the Jula kids, “Tu-Ba-Boo”. This practice is ancient I was told. For generations the kids were taught to shout this as a warning during the slave trade, “There are white people here!”. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems fanciful to me since most of the West Africans who where to become slaves, captured and where delivered to the coast by other Africans, during the period of the great tribal wars. Enemies captured.
However, now, it’s more of a curious interest as they shout these words with a huge smile, because, frankly, they do not see many white people in these rural forest villages. Kids, even and odd woman, will often come up and rub and touch your arm to feel your skin, especially the blond red hair on my arm.
However, this chant happens every time, in every village. The Agni often tell their small kids; “If you’re not good, the white man will come and take you away.” Therefore, children often have a horrible fear of us when we first begin working in their village. Mothers coming by with wide eyed babies to see their first white person. Often the baby’s begin to cry hysterically, clawing and clutching to their mother.
Anyway, there was a time when for six months I had not seen a white person, because every westerner I knew was home at the time. One day I passed another white guy on the highway in the car, seeing his glow from some distance away, and I wanted to turn and chase him down, just to talk. Not because he was white, rather because chances where much greater that we shared a similar western cultural background, making it easy to just chat with full understanding.
Cross-cultural communication is not easy because it is about more than just language. Language is the easier part I think. Anyway, I think for the first time in my life I kind of understood, just a little bit, what it might feel like to be black, even though I was white. What is for certain is that this six months of total immersion, without any English speaker contact, I certainly understand better the desire to belong, because at the time I was feeling a bit out of my league. I’m glad to say that over time in Africa I eventually did come to “belong” and be accepted too. What a gift they gave me.
You know something, there are just some things that always weigh heavy on my heart. I’m a happy person, but, there are things I can’t put out of my mind that many of my friends and neighbours can. Makes be feel foreign at times. As a result of being in Africa so long, I’m a “Blaufway” in Africa, and at home, well I am just not at home.
I understand this is in my head. I have become what they call a Bi-cultural person and the feeling of being at home never comes any more.
Don’t feel sorry, as this does not mean I am sad. No it’s deeper, a sense of not being home. I was told by a very old, wise bi-cultural woman, who gave her whole life overseas, that that “at home” feeling will no longer be fulfilled here on earth… she said that only in the next life, in heaven, where every tribe, language, people, and nation will be with us around a throne.