Sometime in the last two years, I lost myself. Like the spin cycle on a washer, I couldn’t hold onto anything stable that defined me. In 2004, I had arrived in the U.S., a fresh faced teenager and now I was nearing 30 in the midst of America’s reckoning with its systemic racism and my own grapple with identity as a Black Kenyan immigrant. The trauma of living in a Black body in America was becoming too much. Meanwhile, I had never felt more Black, yet significantly less Kenyan and less African—an unsettling thing when these are the things meant to define you.
When I talked to my diasporic African friends, we talked often of home. When I talked to my Black American friends we talked often of Blackness. But what we all wanted was the sense of belonging. That the spaces we existed in were indeed our homes; places that would protect, love and nurture us. In 2016, courtesy of the Jerome Foundation’s Travel and Study Grant, I got the opportunity to travel and conduct a series of conversations in place on what home means and who we are as a global diaspora of Black folks.
The conversations spanned two continents and three countries with individuals who, collectively, have lived in twelve different countries and identify as African. I imagined each of these dialogues as Letters: letters to each other as Africans, letters to the things we want to remember and the things we have forgotten. Letters to the people we have been and the ones we want to be. With each Letter, I asked the question, “What does home mean to you?” The answers, though not always direct, were illuminating.
*A special thank you to every single person who made the time to sit with me, whether formally or informally in the creation of these letters. And to Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo’s seminal book, Our Sister Killjoy: or Reflections from a Black-eyed Squint, that gave me the truth I knew had always existed. These Letters are for you, for me, and for anyone who has ever felt lost.
Letters will be published until I have honored every word entrusted to me. Please check in for regular updates.
I hadn't expected to interview Lucky for Letters, but I have the good sense to never turn down the chance to sit with someone interesting. By the time we were done, Lucky would leave me questioning the Kenyan identity I had held onto with such pride for nearly three decades, bringing to mind Arundhati Roy's words, "What is this love we have for countries?"
I am one week into Nairobi when I meet up with Rageh: a college friend I haven’t seen in years though we’ve always maintained a fondness for each other’s radicalness. Since I last saw him in Minneapolis, he has done stints in London, Somalia and Nairobi. It is early afternoon when he picks me at a coffee shop in South B—one of Nairobi’s southern (and poorer) suburbs.
I met Nimo Farah by pure chance though we had always existed in the same circles—breathing the same dreams and whispering the same wishes. When I met her, she was like frequency moving through air or like the calming motion of the ocean rocking itself to sleep. She was kinetic energy.
Mugo Mukunya is a man who knew me before I knew myself. Who taught me to question everything, reminded me often that “life is not fair,” and inspired a lifelong affair with books. He is a man who has been many things—an effortless charmer and duplicitous often—but to me, he has always been ‘Dad.’ Ours, a relationship bound by blood and geography.