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Journey Yields Glimpse of Missing Past
American Dream

The Miami Herald
November 7, 2004

Photo by Sarah J. Glover
While traveling from Niger to Sierra Leone, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts had a layover in Senegal. He visited Goree Island, known as an exit port for African slaves that were forced into slavery and taken to the Americas. Pictured is the door of no return, the exit door which slaves passed through prior to boarding slave ships headed for the Americas. Pictured is a moment when a tourist walked into the doorway to get a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
For Africans, U.S.A.
is lighthouse in the storm

We spend a lot of time here trying to explain America. It is the lighthouse in the storm in this part of the world, an exemplar looked to with hope and expectation. People speak of America as they speak of dreams. Every bright young man, every beaming young woman, tells you confidently that they are going there.

You ask an old person if they'd like to go to America and their eyes go out of focus as if fixed for a moment on yesterday's ambitions, now yellow and brittle with disappointment and age.

"I'm too old now," they'll say. "But maybe my son or daughter. If my child can get there, get an education, make some money …" The thought makes them smile. It's always a sad smile.

"America is a country that helps other countries a lot," says Kedidia's cousin Souleymane, "and that cares about humanity and about the well-being of the rest of the world. A lot of young people and even some adults' life dream is to visit America."

"You are from America?" asks Hassan, a 28-year-old shopkeeper, excitedly. I am in his store buying a soda.

I tell him yes. He points to the floor. "First time?"

Yes, I say. This is my first time here. Hassan, who says his command of English is "small, small," makes me understand that he desperately wants to go to America someday. "In Africa is difficult to succeed."

Having spent so many years in the United States, Kedidia's view is a bit more jaded.

"I went to a black school in Alabama," she says. "After that, they took me to Nebraska to study agriculture. And it was so hard. First of all, we have the culture shock of being there, people you don't know, a culture you don't know. I lived in this little off [campus] house with a lot of white people who came from rural Nebraska. I was longing to get closer to the African Americans, but there was no connection until later on.

"It was very, very difficult," she adds. "Sometimes, some white people played a game of dividing the African Americans and the Africans. ‘Oh yeah, Africans are different from African Americans.’ They have this stereotype of the African Americans and they try to make you feel [like you are better than an African American]. I'd tell them, ‘The only difference between me and an African American is my ancestors were not brought here. If my ancestors were brought here by force, you would say the same thing about me.’ "

But Kedidia would like to return to the United States someday. Or barring that, to France. Still, there's the matter of her family, pressing her to stay in Niger.

I ask if she ever feels herself torn between cultures. She hesitates before admitting that she does.