Going home to the Motherland

Early Beginnings:

My interest in Africa and love for African culture was born in the late 60’s and early 70’s, during the era when there was a growing sense of Black pride and African consciousness in cities throughout the US. Growing up in Englewood, NJ – 5 minutes from NYC – afforded me the opportunity to explore Harlem and the myriad of African and multicultural programs, celebrations and festivals all of NYC has to offer.  This was a time of great social change: Malcolm X and Dr King were already gone and the Civil Rights era was still in full swing, the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam had strong visibility & productive businesses nationwide in Black communities, James Brown was singing “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud”, Essence magazine had launched its first issue in 1970 making Black women feel special & beautiful in images that reflected us, Nikki Giovanni had wowed us with “Ego Tripping”, and we were claiming our Blackness publicly for probably the first time as a badge of honor. There was Saturday morning Soul Train and commercials for Black hair products – using Swahili words to talk about our natural beauty – “Wantu wazuri use Afro sheen” –  “Beautiful people use Afro Sheen.”

Helen 1973As a young Black woman coming of age, I along with countless others from coast to coast stood up proudly claiming our Black and African heritage. We no longer used the European image as our standard of beauty, as we learned we were descendants of African Kings and Queens. Afro’s became the hairstyle of the day – and the bigger the ‘fro the better, dashikis, gele’s (head wraps), caftans made of African wax cotton, and African centered jewelry were fashionable,  and many sisters stopped using make-up to showcase our natural beauty, (I have practically never worn make-up ever since).

Helen - 1973I even took it a step further, as a bold and fearless freshman at Lincoln University, I shaved my head bald like the beautiful Masai women, and the fly sister with the Ohio Players – showing (in my mind) that our “beauty” is not even tied to our hair or how we style it.

Many Black people began to rethink our religious practices, family traditions and national holidays, and began embracing what was seen then as  “new age” spiritual practices and cultural celebrations. I began learning about Kwanzaa and other African traditions and I was eager to learn more about the African culture  my family had been forcibly separated from for centuries. I  envisioned going to Africa as the experience of a lifetime.

In 1975, I  was originally scheduled to take part in a 6-week trip to Nigeria for a college project when I was an undergrad after transferring to Glassboro State College. My grandmother actually surprised me by giving  me the money to go. However, the trip was cancelled and my hopes went out the window. I tried to join the Peace Corps as another way to see and experience Africa and also give back, but I was pregnant with my daughter and you could not join the Peace Corps with dependent children. My daughter was the first of my four children, 1 girl and 3 boys – all spaced 3 years apart. Needless to say, the next 30 years were spent mothering, working, and teaching. Now they are all grown and all but the youngest have families of their own.

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My 4 beautiful children in their youth…

However, my passion to go to Africa grew stronger, after studying in the Nation of Islam, the Harlem Center for Egyptological Knowledge, attending First World lectures  in Harlem, reading Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, seeing  the 8 part Roots miniseries  and becoming a self-taught student of African culture, art and history.

In 2012, I enrolled in a Doctoral program at Rowan University and it was truly one of the most demanding and time-consuming challenges of my life (while having a full-time career), second only to raising 4 independent-thinking children. I decided early on in the program that my graduation present to myself would be a trip to Africa – my first trip home to the “Motherland.” Well, those 5 years of the program came and went, and lo and behold I was finally looking at May 2017 for my graduation with my Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership. I debated on having a graduation party – but decided I would rather spend my hard-earned money on a trip to the motherland. I assumed the first country I would travel to would be Senegal. I have had several Senegalese friends over the years when I used to hang out in Brooklyn and I fell in love with the culture and the food. In fact, Thiebou Dienn (a fish and rice dish which is the national dish of Senegal) is one of my favorite foods. So it was only natural that I thought I would begin with a somewhat slightly familiar culture. Well, after losing touch with my Senegalese friends I didn’t have a direct contact anymore.

One day In January, 2017 a post popped up on my Facebook timeline by a “facebook friend” Marlene Ware – announcing an upcoming trip to Ghana in October 2017 – open to anyone interested. I didn’t know the sister personally, but I knew her brother from growing up in the Englewood/Teaneck area, and we also went to the same college way back in the 70’s. He was cool so I figured she must be cool. So, I immediately contacted her and said I was interested. In reality, I was PSYCHED, because here was the opportunity I was looking for!  Once I made the financial commitment, I knew this was real and I had 9 months to prepare. As an avid reader, I have an extensive home library, with a diverse array of books. I went through my bookshelves and pulled out all of my coffee table books “Africa Adorned“, “Masai“, “Feeling the Spirit“, “Face of the Gods“, and poured through the images and text. Marlene sent us book titles about Ghana – I instantly ordered them on Amazon Prime and immersed myself in reading and learning about Ghana. I knew I would be starting a new chapter in my life, and this trip would be life-changing and it truly was. Follow the blog to stay tuned and travel with me as this journey unfolds…

 

Come along with me…

IMG_0736Traveling provides the opportunity to meet and engage with diverse people, learn about different cultures and practices, experience historical sites, understand geography first-hand, and broaden your horizons. I love the ease and ability to travel – to plan and book a trip, throw my stuff in a bag and in a matter of hours land in a totally different environment and begin a new adventure! The world has become “smaller” as globalization is easily available via the use of technology or travel accessibility. Yet, I recognize many people have the desire to travel, see images of  and learn about different places, and due to a myriad of reasons are unable to make trips. In this blog, I will show  you through my eyes an up-close look at cultural journeys from near and far. Come along and travel with me…

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