Somewhere in the past, there is a teenaged version of me attempting one of her first poems in an eleventh grade advanced placement english class. Her first poem – something about watermelon seeds, NEPA and Nigerian cousins – was a hit, but the second one, the one about Africa, languished in a mess of unsatisfactory words and muddy images.
I left it alone. I knew, somehow, that I would not be able to finish it until a very long time from then. I knew it’s rhythm and its cadence. I knew that when I read it aloud you would want to laugh and cry and dance all at the same time. Of all the lines I had written, the only one that I always remembered was the first: “I left my heart in Africa.”
Sometime later, the fifth year college senior floundered in her capstone west African literature course, struggling to codify her thoughts about the Africa she had discovered through Chimamanda Adichie, Ben Okri, Langston Hughes, Amos Tutuola, Uzodinma Iweala and other west African writers brought by the smug professor. But this Africa, although vibrant on paper and in words, was just beyond my grasp.
Twitter and the World Wide Web brought me closer. Africa’s mega-monolith appearance dissolved into individual stories, thriving technology, beautiful arts and fiercely political music. Now I looked for Nigerian news stories, fashion from Zimbabwe, and the latest video from creative studios in Rwanda. Almost, but not quite.
Until this past week when I and other delegates to the Open Forum 2012′s Youth Summit landed in Cape Town and were whisked away by shuttle to the fabulous African Pride hotel at 15 on Orange. Most of us spent a week in that luxury while attending the 2012 Open Forum on money, power and sex. It was an amazing experience, being in the presence of heads of states, magazines, NGOs, and various organizations that were the authority in their respective fields. But for all the amazing ideas we traded and the uncomfortable moments we shared in those spaces, that’s not where I left my heart.
It was in the moments I shared: discovering Arrianna Marie was two doors down after spending nearly 2 years trying to meet her in person in California and later walking arm in arm with her from the Cape Town International Convention Center to our hotel; realizing El Seed was El Seed right after he gave me tips on guerrilla street art-making in the lobby in front of the elevators; having nerd church with Jamila Aisha at one of the first panels on money and both of us falling in love with Dr Sam Moyo’s brilliance; meeting Addis and Yemi in the back of a shuttle and sharing mapping ideas on the smoky balcony of a club on Long Street; drinking in the force of woman that is Staceyann Chin and the words she poured out for us during her Monday night performance; meeting Anne for the second time on a different continent and this time with her amazing team of creatives from Illume; feeling flustered and slightly embarrassed and also humbled when Kobby introduced himself to me; being proud of the many brilliant young people unafraid to speak truth to power, even in the progressive spaces Open Forum set up; and having tea with Mazubah, the woman who I aspire to be in spirit and in being, whose grace and fierce defense of the space for young people inspires my work out here in Los Angeles.
I cannot possibly capture all those moments in this piece and already, as I trace back time, they are fading into mere imprints. I suspect, from the tweets of all who attended and from the parting conversations we had, I’m not the only one who was blessed by those moments, who left a piece of her heart in Cape Town with people who may never cross paths again.
It’s a bitter blessing. A sweet curse. Now part of home is with those moments and the people who carry them. Until we meet again, this poem remains unfinished.