The Blog Spot

An ongoing series of Black narratives

Omowale- from the Yoruba language of Nigeria, meaning, “the child has come home”

January 12, 2016

Zanzibar Part 1 – Omowale

Omowale- from the Yoruba language of Nigeria, meaning, “the child has come home”; name given to Malcolm X during his 1964 travels in Africa. I deeply believe that our lives are guided and if we should follow then we will never truly regret it. This thinking is at the heart of why I have the courage to travel and it is at the heart of so many of my decisions. So in June as I began to feel that I should suspend my reading of the Autobiography of Malcolm X because the timing did not feel “right”, I had no idea when I would pick the book up again. By chance, I ended up having a lot more personal time for myself while in Zanzibar when a friend of mine was unable to join me there for the holidays. The personal time and unfinished ended up being the perfect.

Unlike in Ethiopia, my appearance is not quite as similar to that of the people of Tanzania. Whereas nearly everyone spoke to me in Amharic in Ethiopia, few people in Zanzibar attempted Swahili in their communication with me. As a matter of fact, I found myself often referred to as an “mzungu”, which is the local term for white or western (accounts differ on whether it specifically means white). Thought I was less than enthusiastic about this identification, I couldn’t help but feel bliss while being in Zanzibar from the strong feeling of community and positivity in the air. On several mornings I sat outside of my host’s apartment and sat for nearly an hour just watching the people walk by and the children playing in the alley like roads in Stone Town. I found myself in a near trance watching the group of kids no older than 6 playing carefree up and down the road with no parents in sight. I can’t recall ever seeing kids in the US ever being able to stray so far from adult supervision! But there was supervision – the community. A clear but unspoken (at least from what I could see) community responsibility existed that would ensure that nothing would happen to those children.

In my spare time, I was attacking the pages of Malcolm’s autobiography. Drawn in from the moment I pick it back up, I quickly found myself reading a life I was myself living. Unlike any other moment in life, I have found that being in Africa has made me feel like a child- perhaps even more than when I was a child! And here I was reading about Malcolm’s journey to Mecca and Africa in 1964 as he reflected about feeling the same way. Constantly reminded how little we knew, slowly becoming more comfortable with practices we couldn’t have imagined doing before, feeling a enormous sense of appreciation for every single instance of acceptance and affection, I couldn’t believe it. As he talked about things like straying away from sharing meals with strangers that were eaten with hands out of the same bowl, I taught about how I winced at the same practice in Ethiopia and my feelings when I had to first bathe out of a cold bucket of water. Africa had steadily, for both of us, transformed from the place we wished to love to a land that felt perhaps more like home than the US.

I no longer wished to feel connected to the Motherland; I began to have that connection.

Justin Sankara