There are a few reminders I come across in my daily living that reinforce that I’m not as “African” as I like to think I am. The latest reminder is what I will refer to as the “what is yours is mine” mentality which I truly believe is in the same vein as the “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality. The latter sounds great and selfless while the former borders on greed.
I recently watched Goodbye Solo, a small budget independent film by director Ramin Bahrani. It is the story of an unlikely friendship of sorts between an elderly Southern socially isolated white man and a younger Senegalese immigrant taxi driver who seems to know everybody. It’s quite predictable based on the trailer and I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I actually did as it had such depth to it. It is a must-see but that’s not my point here.
Essentially, the elderly man gets into a taxi driven by the Senegalese man and offers him a deal. For a grand he wants to be driven in about two weeks to the top of a mountain in Blowing Rock, a place so windy that snow falls up we are told, but he doesn’t make mention of a return trip. The driver accepts but is uneasy and begins to ask questions which result in him being told to mind his own business.
So why does brother-man not mind his own business? From what I hear, it’s because he has a love for life, or a great desire to help his fellow man, or an optimistic outlook, etc. etc. But while watching the movie, I couldn’t help be irritated by brother-man as he persisted in his quest to be friendly to the old man. I easily identified with the senior citizen who had just as strong a desire to not be helped. Is that so wrong?
See, I am going through a transition myself one that is forcing me to make quite difficult and sometimes unpleasant choices for myself. I don’t see how that needs to impact anyone else. It’s my cross to bear and I’ve come to terms with it. So I don’t appreciate my very African family, and sometimes friends, who want to know what I’m going through and to give me their opinions, desires, and disapproval, that is to “help” in any way they can. As stubborn and introverted as I am, and I suppose un-African, I demonstrate just as strong a force to not let them in to my worries. I know I have no problems going to them for advice or help if I feel that I need it, but the fact is I don’t need their help. Unfortunately, I can’t keep my frustration to myself just like the old man in the movie, my kindred spirit. I’m baffled when I’m told in retort by said well-meaning family trying to force themselves into my life, that I’m the one being unreasonable. By blocking their assault on my very personal life I’m the one not being “proper”. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job of explaining myself. I do know that these are traits that make me who I am. I’m learning now that they are not African apparently. Is it selfish to not want to share my worries and burdens?
Sometimes people really do need to mind their own business!
The other manifestation of this “what is yours is mine mentality” is the habit my people have of assuming they can come into my home and take whatever – a dress, a pair of shoes, a book, spices, a decoration off the wall, a CD, photos from my album undsoweiter. Just take it and go. No. You can tell me you like such and such personal belonging of mine and I will remember to make you a gift of buying one for you if I can (wall decoration), or making a duplicate (photo), or allowing you to borrow it (eg. book, dress), or take some (spice, foreign candy), but NO WAY CAN YOU JUST HAVE IT! Please!
Call it selfishness on my part. I call it greed on yours. I don’t go into other peoples homes expecting to come back with spoils. It is interesting to me when people are offended that I would ask permission to do or take something when they expect me to feel as if I’m at home in their home. Or they are offended that I would come visit their town and not stay with them. To me that’s being a burden. They are annoyed that I act like a stranger in what is assumed to be my own home because after all what is theirs is mine. I guess I’m going to have to just accept that I’m not as African as I was raised to be.