“No, no Peter. I am 46% Ivory Coast/Ghana” I laugh “I am 0% Kenyan”
“No Emma. Look at you. You’re definitely Kenyan”
This was a daily conversation I had with our guide Peter and our driver Crisp Peter, whilst on the volunteering trip. As the days rolled by and we got to know each other better. The joke became more frequent and the laughs louder.
“Look – I’ll prove it. I tested my DNA and this is where my ancestors are from.” I said whilst showing them the screenshot on my phone. “I am from several countries in Africa but I’m 0% Kenyan”
“No, no – that test is wrong. You are Kenyan. You are 80% Kenyan!” Peter laughed with Crisp Peter nodding along in agreement.
As I look them in their eyes, feeling the love from the new friendship I think back to my past, sadness shrouding my heart as I reminisce.
I got bullied at school. My skin tone was so dark – they would laugh and call me ‘Kunta Kinte‘. I had no idea what that meant but the strength of the breath that carried it and the way it hit my ears – it definitely wasn’t meant as a compliment.
I soon came to understand that having dark black skin wasn’t viewed as positive. Dark skin pointed to being ‘African’ which was deemed even less positive. I clung on to the little knowledge I had about my background.
“I’m not African. I’m from St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies” I would say. Not knowing where my birth father was from and not daring to admit this fact to my tormentors.
It didn’t even give me solace that the ring leader of the bullies was a black boy….darker than myself! All that was cemented in my head was ‘I didn’t want to be African’
Years later, I would find out that Kunte Kinte was a fictional African slave and being called that was meant to be derogatory. (To be as far removed from slavery as possible, that meant distancing one self away from Africa).
Growing up, educating myself, becoming inquisitive, getting my DNA results (as shown in the pic above) and surrounding myself with works from black artists helped me to shake off the negative connotations I had towards Africa. I’m actually embarrassed to admit that it was a somewhat lengthy process.
I had swung 180 before I booked onto the trip. Getting off the bus, being greeted by a sea of black faces, as mentioned in my previous post – felt like coming home!
Sunday morning in Kenya was spent visiting a local church. Children were positioned at the back of the room, sat on the floor, peacefully, whilst the adults were transfixed in the sermon. We sat to the left of the church and due to the English translations were able to understand what was being said and feel part of the day.
The females took to the floor showcasing their Masai dancing – firstly as a collective then in smaller groups by age and experience. I watched in awe at the grace, passion and beauty of these women as their necks extended, jutting out in unison and their feet delicately glided across the floor. I was taken aback as my smile tightened and tears started to form in my eyes.
We had been warmly welcomed into the church by this peaceful community, who were passing down the traditions of their ancestors. Ancestors who in the past may have been treated unfavourably. Taken from their homes, beaten, disrespected, looked down upon and I cried for them as I tried to make sense of it all. As all I could see as I embraced their lifestyle was beautiful humans.
I was soothed by the fact that life in many African villages are so remote that they most likely don’t see hostility like we do in England or America. They certainly don’t have to read about Liam Neeson’s confession (which, I may add, I have started to write a blog post on. Mainly to direct my hurt but I may share at a later date) or have to worry about Police mishandling guns.
It actually made me chuckle late into the evening, when recounting to Sally, our Trip Leader, that one of the women from the community who had visited the school for adult education sessions asked me through a translator:
“Why are you black?”
This woman had never seen a black person before that was not from Kenya. She seemed mesmerised by me and most certainly confused. Unfortunately this mesmerisation didn’t extend to babies, as I constantly made them cry!
I later asked one of the school children if they had ever had a black volunteer at the school before me. ‘Once’, she told me – a woman from Cameroon. Definitely not one with a thick Yorkshire accent!
As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts. I am proud to be from Yorkshire. For the most part, I love the unique path that my life has taken. I am also now really proud of my African heritage and made a pact with myself whilst in Kenya to find out more about each of the countries where my ethnicity comes from.
This was actually the first holiday I’ve been on where I have returned and not worried about how dark I have got. I have the kids to thank for that. Each day I would look at the joy in their faces, radiating pure innocence, their skin glistening in the sun – unblemished from insults.
The children from the Memusi School taught me so many rewarding lessons. One of those was to see all the shades of black as beautiful. They helped me to fall deeper in love with my skin. No ego – just appreciation. If they can love their skin and I can love their skin. I can certainly love my own too.
I sent Peter a message on Facebook when I returned home.
‘I miss you guys. Had the best time. I’m still 0% Kenyan by blood but I am 100% Kenyan in my heart‘.
p.s. to find out more about the charity, please visit Memusi Foundation
p.p.s. if you like this or any other posts I have made, I’d love you to join the conversation in the comments below or like/share the post.
Emma, I can only imagine the pain you must have felt growing up being picked on because of your skin color. I think you’re absolutely gorgeous! I think really dark skin is beautiful and I never understand why people would think otherwise. I know that you had DNA testing done, but I thought the same thing when I saw you in the picture with a group of kids in Kenya, that you had a lot of similarities. I believe in past lives. And because time doesn’t actually exist, all of our lives are happening now. So if you felt at home in Kenya, and you had Kenyans telling you you’re Kenyan, I think you’re remembering a past life there. If you had a strong connection with Peter, you probably know each other from a past life too. We can even have features from our past lives! Just a different perspective to think about when you can’t find a logical reason as to why Kenya just feels ‘right’. 🙂 Your trip sounds really really amazing!!
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Roots (with Kunta Kinte) came out when I was in sixth grade. I haven’t seen it since and of course it’s been decades so societal expectations have shifted and I don’t know how that show would seem watching it now… but at the time, Kunta Kinte was a bad ass. He was definitely someone revered and respected by the kids in school. Your peers may not have know it, but they were paying you a compliment. I think it’s awesome that you had such an awakening journey. Happy for you.
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Aww love this Jeff. Thank you for telling me this. I can get down with being a ‘bad ass’.
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