A few years ago in Sudan
It wasn't until I got to college - almost seven years after I arrived in the U.S. - that I had the chance to become good friends with another African who was not my immediate or extended family. A Nigerian-American who had only recently moved to Massachusetts to attend college, I basically thought she was one of the coolest people around. With her, I didn't have to explain anything about my life prior to the US because it all just made sense to her. She would take me African events throughout Boston and introduce me to Africans from all over. From African history, to music, to literature she became a new open window the continent for me. I can't explain how excited I was to have her in my life while at the same time feeling completely inadequate around her. Clearly I was not "African enough" compared her and the world she was introducing me to so I stuck to my best laid plans and followed my pursuit of other worlds...first Spain and Europe where I studied abroad and then Latin America which became my focus during graduate school years.
Even longer ago when I was in Liberia
No one was as surprised as me when I chose to go to move to Kenya upon graduation! (Did I mention I didn't have a job lined up and basically didn't know anyone in the entire country?) While the decision had absolutely nothing to do with a "finding my roots" agenda, in hindsight, it was a big part of my discovery of what being an African means to me. First there was the whole - "hole mole I'm surrounded by a majority of African and Black people" business. On the streets, billboard ads, tv, magazines, parties, clubs, etc. suddenly, I was part of the majority; a part of the golden standard for what was the norm and beautiful. It's amazing!! Second, I loved being "included" in that there was no guessing about what Caribbean island I was from (as is the case when I meet people here or in Europe or Latin America). Instead, it was more of a "are you South Africa, Kenya, Ugandan, Mozambican, Ethiopian" because "obviously" I was African it was just a matter of which country I was from. Third and most importantly, I just felt at home. It's really hard to explain this feeling considering I had never been to east Africa before, but there it was. Being around Kenyan, Sudanese, and Ugandan cultures, I was able to find those threads that were common to the way I had grown up and to the ways of my Liberian culture. While I had not always understood what the past had to do with my present identity as an African, over time it all began to make sense. I could now understand why I felt more connected to the history of my mother, aunts, grandmother and generations before than I had felt with any version of U.S. history I had learned over the years because it was their history and experiences that had played both major and minor roles in my understanding of family, home, culture and myself....and all of that links right back to Africa.