“I’m going to Africa!” said a dear friend, a scholar, on the phone this morning.
“Oh my goodness,” I said. We have both been travelling and have not connected for a few weeks.
“With Tina. Tomorrow. Cape Town,” she replied to my rattled off Kipling questions.
“Knowles?” I clarified. I hasten to add my limited experience with Tina Knowles, she who is Beyoncé’s mum, is when she graciously judged, along with Cesar Galindo, Jeffrey Williams and Danielle Burns, the For the Sake of Art 2012 wearable art competition, which raises funds for the University Museum at Texas Southern. Ms. Knowles is however an old friend of my travelling friend. We chatted for a while longer but as my friend’s plane leaves in about 18 hours and she has a classes to sort, clothes to pack and passports to find, we agreed to catch up properly on her return. I have a feeling a quick coffee will not be adequate time.
I put the phone down with that ugly companion, envy, niggling. I am genuinely thrilled for my friend and know she will come back with a wealth of stories with which to regale us, so I took a hard look at that envy. I realised it wasn’t because of the travel itself which though I love is not quite as comfortable as it used to be: in part due to a dodgy back and in part due to the concerted efforts of airlines. It was because she is going to Africa.
I am not naïve and am well aware of the issues that surround many areas there, and yet the drumbeat of the continent moves me as no other place does. It is a feeling of belonging even though I don’t. It is not a matter of colour, race or ethnicity. It is an intangible feeling that, having spoken to others who have spent their childhood there, is often shared.
TIA and WAWA are both acronyms, meaning This is Africa and West Africa Wins Again, bandied about with an air of resignation by old Africa hands but, more often than not, also with affection. I wasn’t quite born in Africa but got there a month after my birth and stayed six years. On arriving as an adult, in Equatorial Guinea for three years, I was at once at one with the country. Africa is that kind of continent and I would love to be going back with my friend.
Instead I will wish her a safe journey and remind her of a Swahili proverb, “Travel with open eyes and you will become a scholar”. Or in her case, an even greater scholar, and I will put envy away and look forward to her tales.