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Tabula Rasa

I often daydream. It surprises me how long I stay in my mind. I do this out of nostalgia. Before then, I only went there on play dates. Now it is accurate to say, I moved in. This extension of myself became part of me in 2013 in a village called Roumtenga.

When I first got to Roumtenga it was not fear that occupied by thoughts. It was anxiety. I was anxious they will be disappointed. And they were. The sight of me was disappointing. More disappointing than that was my inability to speak the local language because I was Black. It was an assumption that all dark skins spoke the local language and all white skins were excused. I will add that being of African heritage worsen my story because then I definitely should understand everything they said to me. Thus again, my skin colour was a hurdle and I was reminded of it for two years – in addition to the twenty-three years I arrived with.

I was a disappointment by sight and by speech. I made this worse when I did not join in the stunting “c’est comment ca” chorus sang in response to every challenge, question and hygge. We stood still in time because of this “c’est comment ca” chorus and mentality. Change took a slower pace than usual. A step in the appropriate and much needed direction froze when the lyrics were sang. Like time, we could not go back and pick up where we left off. Like song, we danced in place. C’est comment ca (it’s like that).

Language is a powerful tool. It is a tool that can break barriers and contour relationships. It brings comfort, acceptance and hope. So does the colour of our skin. But I will not talk about that today.

To share the same language as someone is to clothe yourself with the calmness of home, as it feeds you with the knowledge of your past and kin. You connect, intimately. You get drunk in the phonics of the language and sober up with the long silences between the short sentences – where the meaning lies but can never be spoken nor explained.

Sharing the same language with someone is like going out on a long walk with yourself in your hometown. Unafraid to get lost and unbothered to look back because the safety is not in where you are going or are. It is in the journey itself. This kind of journey does not need a destination and that's what invites you to keep speaking, listening and learning.

Roumtenga was to be my home for two years. That is, if I could survive living in a village unlocatable on any map, no toilet, no electricity and no running water and only one dirt road in and out of the village. I loved it!

I lived in a clay house and often joked that I got darker not because I walked in the sun but by being in my clay house roofed with tin sheets. A combination like that in a country where the sun is the first thing your wake up to equals a serious tan. I was baking in my house by the minute.

Sleeping outside with everything my mind could image helped at night. I am lucky to have never been bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion. Some of my Peace Corps comrades were unlucky in that regard. I lived for such moments of sleeping outside under the twinkling stars and dark sky. Nothing mattered during the nights, not even the snakes or scorpions. It was either I got bite or stung, or I did not. And since there was nothing I could do about it, I watched the stars till I fell asleep, secretly praying and crying I do not get bit or stung. I was lullabied by fear and beauty.

I began daydreaming again within two weeks of my arrival. It was an escape from the milieu I found myself in. Language was a barrier, but it was also a form of punishment and an instrument used to isolate each other. Language was weaponised and that was the first time I understood such a concept. Some used it consciously while others used it out of habit but meant no harm. To mediate this discomfort, I sat in it quietly. Physically present but often in a deep and long mental journey. I lived in my mind and paid visits to the human world.

I journey to lands of the future and places of the past. Returning to the present was not a favourite but I had to look alive so I came back.

This place I go to does not have a shape, but it does have undeniable textures. The colours reflect my altering temperaments, with one character always in play, me. Inside, I am happier, freer, stronger and more at peace. I dance more and I fly constantly. I ran with tears in my eyes when I am sad and hammer myself back into shape when I am defeated.

Time did not exist, only tangible thoughts, emotions and feelings. It is my celestial place.

I tried replicating this when I return to my body. It is hard. I am slapped with social constraints, pushed into a confused and forced marriage between religion and culture. I am towed by gender expectations and drugged with the anxiety to earn more to pay bills and hit repeat.

I feel like I am running on water with voices screaming the words, “why are you still drowning?!”

My bet is I have to keep it moving like my ancestors as I join them in the song, I be so glad when the sun goes down. I ain’t all that sleepy but I wanna lie down…




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