A Missing Piece Restored....Part II- (scroll down to Part I first)
I don't think I've ever really been the jealous type. When my sister and her family were visiting last weekend, we joked about how all the rich kids we went to high school with got new cars for their birthdays and some would actually complain that they didn't get the car they wanted. "You know Becky, I asked for the Land Rover and all I got for my sixteenth birthday was a stupid Jeep Grand Cherokee!!! My parents suck!" As they drove past us in their shiny new rides, we'd always say (we being all the minority kids on Bus #18- including Jordan), "Must be nice!" It was a funny paradox because we all appreciated everything that we had. We understood that we had what we needed, food, clothes, a home and loving parents- all that other stuff could wait, if it came at all. Complaining about a luxury was ridiculous idea and we'd take every opportunity to crack a joke at those unappreciative folks whenever we could.
During my Senior year in high school, an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself when a school sponsored trip to the Gambia was organized and both my sister and I planned on being a part of it. In my African/Asian/Latin American History class (it was the ONLY one offered for cultural history other than European history and they had to fit all three into one) we sat and talked with our teacher Barry Simmons about our personal reasons for wanting to go if we could. A lot of the other kids said things like, It would be fun to see what Africa is really like or I'd like to see another part of the world. Me, on the other hand said something that people weren't really expecting. I said:
"I would like to go because it represents a part of history that most Black people have no real connection to. I would like to see what life would possibly have been like had slavery never happened. For all of you in this room, you can pinpoint your heritage to another country, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland etc. The majority of Black people can only trace their heritage as far back as the earliest American plantation. The history beyond it was wiped away due to the slave trade and it's something that cannot be recovered. I would like to see for myself where it started because that's the closest I'll ever get to discovering those roots."
The class sat silent as if I had said that the pope had an unnatural affection for farm animals, almost as if they were dumbfounded- and maybe they were. See, most people take that sort of thing for granted, I know where I come from and probably still have distant relatives there... but hearing me say those words made a lot of them realize that the ancestral information they can refer to time and again is not something everyone has access to, and that's not something they had never thought about before. What it made ME realize is that I was actually jealous of them. Jealous that the only thing I could only say was that my ancestors were brought over in chains and forced to work in horrific conditions or be whipped- or worse. Jealous that I couldn't talk about my "cousin Mubutana from Senegal" who I visited in Dakkar over the summer. Jealous that the one thing I should take the most pride in is but a secretive whisper somewhere on the Atlantic sea floor. Then to top it all off, a week later, they cancelled the trip to West Africa citing safety concerns. Talk about salt on a wound! From that day, I pledged to uncover the mysterious ties that bind me to Africa, no matter the cost.
And it COSTS!!!!
I took the information from Leonard Pitts' article and sat on it for a while, mainly due to a lack of funds but partly out of fear. What would I feel? What if they can't find anything? What if it's a scam and they're just taking folks' money? But I had to know! In February, I sent my money into africanancestry.com and requested the kit consisting of four long cotton swabs and two envelopes- one for a paternal test and one for a maternal test. That's kinda expensive for some paper and cotton don't ya think? But I digress....Once I received the package, I carefully removed the swabs and scraped the DNA from inside both my cheeks, 20 times each. Once the swabs dried, I sealed the envelopes and sent it in. The way the test works is that they scan your DNA and compare it to the samples in their database. Once matches are found, they list the various African ethnic groups that you share the genetic information with. After 6 and a half weeks of waiting my results have FINALLY come in.....and here's what I found out (drum roll please.....)
On my mother's side I have found that I share ancestry with the Mende, Temne and Limba of Sierra Leone, the Balanta, Bijago, and Fula of Guinea, the Kru of Liberia and the Mandinka in Senegal.
On my father's side, I share ancestry with the Yoruba in Nigeria.
The irony is that my parents have just returned from Nigeria two days ago and apparently while they were there, people referred to my father as "Yoruba Man" due to his close physical resemblance to the Yoruba. I wouldn't have been able to tell, but who am I? Strange how time hasn't affected his genes OR his looks! As I said before, this is merely the beginning of a long journey to understand and appreciate where it is that I truly come from, but at least I now have a starting point, a place (or places) to look to for guidance and inspiration. I can honestly say now that there's no more reason to be jealous, I know where I come from and I have distant relatives who still live there! Alaafia oun ife.