Africa

Kites

My boyfriend Kilson and I are flying kites off of Ned’s dock. It is a perfect day, sunny and, natural to any ocean environment, windy. We found a few kites on Ned’s desk, a big rainbow one and a butterfly, and although Ned later tells us that we broke the law flying kites so close to the airport (so sue us), for now we take them for a spin.

We race to see who can unravel their entire kite string first. There are shouts behind us but we are not to be deterred. When the race is over (the winner is debatable- depends on who you ask), we look behind us. There are maybe 10 children crowded on shore, waving their arms, hoping to get our attention. “AMIIIGAAA!!!!” They shout. This is how you get someone’s attention in São Tomé. You either “pssst” them, or you yell, “friend!!!”

I motion them to come closer. Do they want to hold the kites? They look at me in disbelief, then run over, scrambling past the house dogs, jumping on tables to avoid the terrifying beasts (in actuality these dogs are smaller than beagles), others climbing up sides of the bridge by way of the ocean. They all make it to the dock in record time, either looking at the kites above or gazing at the ocean below. Their clothes are torn. Their body odor is strong. I see that they are most certainly of the poorer class here. Some hold empty jugs, en route to a water source so that they can fill the jugs and bring them home. The kids are working but they want to play.

Faia comes outside of the house to see what all the racket is. I ask him if it’s okay that the kids are on the dock with me. He nods a gradual, unsure consent. I suppose what I’m doing is totally out of the ordinary, but that’s okay. I’m pretty used to being out of the ordinary at this point.

After playing for a few minutes of play, the kids look over to me. They ask me where I’m from. I tell them to guess. “Gabon,” they guess first. I laugh, no.

“Cape Verde.”

“No.”

“Angola???”

It’s as if these are the only countries they can think of, the very farthest ones from reality, and they’re still African, prominently black. One child guessed Portugal. That was a good guess; the only non-African country suggested.

I thought it was funny that these children could only name African countries. And then I realized that they may not even know that there are countries out there where dark skin is not the majority. It’s entirely possible that they believe that my skin tone is a rarity everywhere, in the whole world. And for this reason, why would I not be African? They know I’m not from São Tomé. I don’t seem like everyone else in the way I talk or dress. But who is to say that I am not from Africa, which is essentially their world?

It was an interesting reflection that made me understand these children’s enviable levels of both curiosity and acceptance. Perhaps so many children stare at me from time to time because they do not realize that I come from a country where my skin color is not abnormal (which is why adults don’t stare- they know otherwise). Perhaps they think I am the same, an African, but that my skin is particularly different, due to some disease, defect, perhaps simply an unusual birth, like a person with dark hair and blue eyes, for example.

What happens when you are totally ignorant of the existence of another country, another world? These children don’t shun the differences that come at them. They notice the differences, they recognize that they are different, but they still accept them as part of their own. I am not a foreigner. I am an African with a different skin color. Why would you possibly suggest otherwise?

It’s a beautiful way to look at things. It’s also a horrific lack of education. It makes me want to stay and do what I can to teach them about our world, which is so different than they may believe it to be.

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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