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AFTERWORD Back to Africa by Lucius Lomax rom Cairo a night train took me south to Aswan. At Aswan there was a steamer down Lake Nassar and, eventually, the open Nile. We passed the pyramids at Abu Sirnbal and the next morning we were already in what had once been ancient Nubia. Among the other travelers on the steamer and later on the train to Khartoum was a French guy and his well-endowed girlfriend, on their way to Zaire to check out the music scene. The only other Westerners on board were a young uptight British couple who had been studying Arabic in Alexandria. The Africans themselves were more interesting than any of us, and one traveler in particular caught my eye, both on the boat and later again on the train to Khartoum. He was a Christian boy, tall and willowy, with shiny ebony-smooth skin. Originally from southern Sudan, he had been studying in Cairo but was returning home to become a guerrilla in the neverending civil war against Sudan’s Moslem government. Gentle, unaffected, with an easygoing sense of humor, he suggested a little of what a young Martin Luther King Jr. might have been likeif MLK had decided not to , turn the other cheek. Before long the Sudanese boy was trying to convince me to see Moslems as he did: extremists, intent on beating down the Christian south of the country and cutting off the hands of anyone who resisted. Looking at the sheathed daggers and hard blue-black faces around me in the train carriage, there wasn’t much doubt that Sudan’s religious majority included some pretty tough customers. But after only one day in-country it seemed like a good idea to keep an open mind. If you really think about it, Africa has an undeserved place in the consciousness of black Americans. Most of our families have been on the North American continent for hundreds of years. The slave trade ended almost two centuries ago. Perhaps the way we without a chance to settle business or say good-bye, explains why after hundreds of years, we feel we’re being called back. Khartoum was exceptional because it was the major urban pause of my pilgrimage. The central market attracted me with great cold glasses of lemonade, and in the Kartoum market, too, my first encounters with average Africans took place. Once or twice men passed me, looked up into my face, smiled toothily, and said what sounded like, “How are ya?” A few weeks later, another Westerner explained that the Sudanese had not been asking about my health, but were saying, “Cou-ad-je”: an. Arabic phrase for which one translation is “foreign devil,” or infidel. The rude encounter in the Khartoum marketplace turned out to be pretty much my experience everywhere. There’s a misconception about going “back” to Africa. Native Africans do not always meet African Americans with open arms. What they know of us they have mostly picked up secondhand, through the media, and the news has not all been good: crime, race riots, police brutality … missed opportunities. On a purely emotional level, our presence in the Motherland isn’t always welcome. It’s what psychologists call a double bind: We’re blamed if we don’t come back, and cursed if we do. Some Africans, for example, hold it against us for not coming back sooner. What can you tell them? “I got here as soon as I could … But I’m not staying.” Others don’t understand why we came at all. You had a choice between Bamako and New York City, their eyes ask, and you chose Bamako? \(There are, in fact, some embarrassing questions to be asked on both sides. For one thing we in the black diaspora would like to know what’s all this Hutu/Tutsi, Christian/Moslem crap? Is it like the difference between Crips and Bloods? Or is it more like Illness colored the whole journey, giving every watering hole an unhealthy glow. Leaving Khartoum, looking out the window of the train, there were thin cows and dry brush, emaciated kids, green hills in the distance. What surprised me most was that, everywhere, the barriers to communication seemed . high: . French, English, Arabic, Hausa, Swahili, Afrikaans7there wasno common language. And even when everyone. was speaking the same tongue, There’s a misconception about going “back” to Africa. Native Africans do not always meet African Americans with open arms. F 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER