Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Back to Africa…Yes!

In my 60th year, I set out for Africa, the continent that transformed my life when I first sojourned there thirty years before. I'd waited half a lifetime to return, and could scarcely believe that the waiting...the exile...was finally over.

Abstraction of Global Africa

Yes! It's true. I'll be 60 at the end of December.

Yes! It's true. Africa did transform and shape my life.

Yes! It's true. I lived and worked in Africa for five years in the 1970s, in Ghana and Botswana, and left in 1977.

I've traveled to the East, to the West, to the South...but never to the North...of Africa. I traveled alone.

But, one is never truly alone in Africa, place of home, family of friendly hearts, and a culture of connection.

Yes! It's true. I have waited over 30 years (31, if you've done the math) to return...and that works out to roughly half a lifetime. Now there is the time, the money, the traveling companion, and the portable village to support this "Return and fetch it"...this SANKOFA.

Click here to read an earlier Riehlife entry on the meaning of Sankofa, a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol, working in my life.

Sankofa Adinkra Symbol, “Return and Fetch It”

Yes! It's true. I have felt a sense of exile. My parents, on their third visit to see me in Africa (once in Ghana and twice in Botswana) asked me to come home. After five years, they missed me. They understood and valued the work I was doing. They understood and valued my strong connection to the place, the people, the culture. But, they felt I was sabotaging my future...that I needed to look to my future.

I heeded my parents plea, and I did move the project the villagers and I were working on to a place of sustainable independence so I could transfer my role. I heeded my parents plea, and I did come home.

I came home to a life of exile...and I have made the deepest and richest use of these thirty years that I know how. But in all the places I have been since: the Midwest, the Southwest, California...I have never belonged as fully, never felt so fully accepted and enjoyed, never felt loved so completely, as in my time in Africa. It is a strong heart home.

And now, it is my time to return and fetch it, weaving the old threads into a new tapestry.

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5 Responses »

  1. You have the place, you have the connection, you have the story and you have the dramatic tension: you left Africa because your parents wanted you to come home. Being the loving, generous person you are, you did. And you have been "homeless" ever since. You may even have the title: Loving Africa. You've got the story, girlfriend, and now you need to go back and immerse yourself so that when you come home you can write!


  2. So much honesty and truth in what you say here, Janet. And you will find so much changed... on the surface. But underneath, perhaps not so different after all. Prepare to be disappointed, and then perhaps you won't be.

  3. I really like this entry. Janet’s musings remind of the great blessing that the choice of “exile” provided to my life. I think the difference, in my life, was that my parents could not understand what it was that so attracted me about Ghana and the woman I had fallen in love with there. When I returned from Ghana after my first two years in the Peace Corps, my family’s demands for me to leave it behind made me more stubborn. And the times (1970-71), mired in the crises of Vietnam and race , and at the height of the power of Nixon-Agnew-Mitchell, were enough to drive me towards the choice of leaving America behind. Sometime in July, 1971, I made up my mind that I had no choice but to “sabotage the future” that my family had dreamed of for me, and that for the survival of “me” I would take a chance on Africa and the woman I thought I could love there. I bought a one-way ticket and finagled a tourist visa in October, 1971, and made the journey to that “strong heart home” that Janet describes. 37 years later and counting, still with that woman I thought I could love there, I don’t live in Ghana anymore, but Ghana lives with me…

  4. Dear Alan,

    Thank you for enlarging my post so full-heartedly. This makes it nearly a blog-duet to have your story placed against mine.

    You said once you thought I was brave....dunno why....but I always thought you were the bravest for standing by the courage of your heart convictions and making it dint of passion, Big Brains, hard work, and your calm so deep that by rights you should either have an ulcer or become a meditation instructor.

    I kept trying to convince My Man that we could make a go of it, but fate had other plans.

    For you to have married the woman you loved, fathered beautiful-accomplished children with her, traveled the world with her serving on the fronteirs of political action...oh my god, Alan...what a life of ex-patriate exile you lived!

    And, I'm so glad that now you are both in Iowa City....and I'm so glad I'll see you in Botswana soon...and I'm so glad that even though you "don’t live in Ghana anymore, but Ghana lives with [you]".


  5. Give my love to Africa, Janet. I'm glad we went on our three trips there, they were very interesting. I learned a lot. They showed me a lot. Those trips showed me the reason behind your attachment to the place. But, I'm glad you came home. It was an important season in your life, but I don't think it would have worked out over a lifetime.


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