Ivory, Unpaved Roads and Progress: A Journey to the Motherland #1

Pictured: My Dad’s dad, Dha. 


It is the end of Black History Month in the US. A lot of people will now ignore Black History until we get to next February.

But Black History Month should be more than a month. It should be about the whole year where people can celebrate and remember the history of black people, no matter where they come from.

I’m no American. So although I celebrate Black History month and the accomplishments of African Americans and the fact that white people have made progress in terms of their view of anyone non-white, this is not necessarily explicitly my history. Because my history starts elsewhere.

It starts in Côte d’Ivoire, or at least what is now Côte d’Ivoire. It starts with a family whose last name is Diabaté and another one whose last name happens to be Kamate. And the thousands of ancestors who got me here today.

It starts in 1962 when Issa Diabaté, who would become my dad in 1993, was born to Assata Kamate and Tidjane Diabaté. In Divo he would grow up, spend time playing with friends and would train as a mechanic before leaving in the 80s to explore the world.

It starts in 1971 when Massangbe Kamate was born, the second child of Bakari Kamate e Fanta Doukoure in Agboville. She would spend the majority of her life in Divo where she would grow up alongside my dad who she would later marry at the age of 19.

That is my history. It is a history of griots, of mosques, of communities that speak Djoula, of friends and families and of superstitions. But it’s a history I’m fond of.

Last December I was there where it all started, where my dad moved his first steps, where my mom uttered her first words and the world they grew up in. And when I was there I started jotting some things down. And now I want to share them.

I’m sharing them in memory of Tidjane Diabaté, also known as Dha. He passed away a few weeks ago and his story, the story of his land deserves to be told.


The first time I came to Côte d’Ivoire it was in 1996. I wasn’t three yet. My parents told me tales of me not accepting others, being attached to my mom like there’s no tomorrow and calling everyone brutto/a for some reasons. My mom and I left in June on a plane ride where I refused to sit in my own seat and was content sitting on my mom’s lap for a good 6/7 hours.

I have no recollection of that trip, nor my screaming and shouting from the rooftops that my dad had finally joined us. I don’t remember meeting my great grand mother, Massangbe, who my mom was name after. And for many years this is what my parents’ home country was: a place of hazy memories, more of others than my own, a place I could point out on the world map.

That was not the only trip. The second was in 1998, the third in 2003 and the fourth in 2010. In those years many things have happened. I may have little to no memory of myself in 1998, but I do remember my time in 2003 and 2010. What is most apparent to me is how effortless it was for me as a child to feel part of the collective. Sure, people made fun of me for my weird accent when I speak Dioula (unfortunately they still do so), but I could play with my cousins and play with the other children without feeling different. But people grow up and they change.

Since 1996 things have change dramatically in Côte d’Ivoire. In 1993 the only president the country had ever know since independence died, and no one could foresee that stability would have been forever gone from the coup of 1999 until 2011. Two civil wars later, some people being tried for their crimes, and ethnic animosity is still boiling underneath the surface. Things have changed they said. It’s time for réconciliation. Too many still feel injured from the other side and smiles may be exchanged but resentment and at toms hatred are still very much present.

So here I am here in 2015 going to the supposed motherland. I’m now 22, and I sit in my seat without bothering my mom. I mean I still bother her every time we travel because I’m anxious we won’t catch the plane or that something will go wrong.

In this series of writing I plan to document this trip back to the motherland, talk abou what I’ve discovered, how I have found it, whether I feel like a belong at least here. So far people keep staring at me singling me out as a foreigner.
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