“Je rit, je cache, le vrai derrière un masque”
“I laugh, I hide, the real behind a mask”
sings Natasha St Pierre.
One lady finally explains it.
You see African women, in Africa, they're always smiling. They look and sound happy, content with life. This is because, in Africa you're never alone. “That's your problem! Deal with it!” is an advice which is almost never given. Grief is shared. Wherever you turn, you're lent an ear. You're fed. You're housed.
My family was among the first Muslim families to settle in Boundiali. A village in the North of Ivory Coast. My paternal grand father was the Imam of the mosque. Like his father before him. We never really lived in Ivory Coast. We went there for holidays only. It fascinated me.
We have this huge huge “Land”. My grandfather, his brothers, the wives, the children and the children of some of the children all built houses and live here. I still don't know the names of half of them all. There are so many of them. We, my siblings and I were really spoiled. Maybe because we didn't live there. Only, whenever we'd go back to where we came from we were all overweight. Not our fault. The food was good and everybody wanted you to taste theirs.
The “Land” was also inhabited by other people. Foreigners. Passing-by-Boundiali people. I forgot to mention threre's only one Hotel in Boundiali and I heard it wasn't doing well then. It's called le Dala (picture). So the Passing-by-Boundiali people are directed to the Imam's house, whoever he is. My grandfather, then. Of course, now I know that they were Passing-by-Boundiali people. When we asked then, we were told “he's a brother”, “she's a sister”, “they're relatives”. “Another one!” we'd think. The last time we went to Boundiali, 13 years ago, there was a Passing-by-Boundiali lady with her kid living with the people of the land. Her mother came to visit her from far. She got a Permanent Residence Permit. Her mother came to visit and was very happy with her daughters new home.
At nightfall, we'd gather at my granduncle's place and his son would entertain us with stories. Some kids came to memorize Quran which my granduncle taught during the day. It was such a life! It rubbed off on us, for which am grateful.
I spoke to my cousin who lives in France. She calls often. To talk. Calls are expensive. Still. We got to talk about sharing your problems and not letting them bottled in. she says to me “Fatma, you are going to turn into one unhappy girl if you ever come to Europe. You talk to people the way you are doing with me and they'll think you're bananas. You don't talk about your problems here, you deal with them. Better, you pay a shrink to listen to you.” I told her “I have this very very big failing, I was born with a happy disposition.” And we laughed. I do that a lot. Laughing. Therapeutic.
I read in Psychologies Magazine: The people who laugh the most are those who are the most sad. Maybe, but its a positive sadness.
I think about all this, think about what the lady on TV Monde said. I think about how some friends tell me, mockingly, that African's are technologically retarded and have never heard about Internet and chat. I think about it all and smilingly tell myself that whatever changes Africa has undergone, the humanity and the importance given to relationships is something we're holding on to.