Are you from Africa?
Yes. Is it that obvious?
Sure. You speak funny.
Oh. I almost forgot. We sound funny to you guys. Where I come from, I speak excellent English.
Did you come to America by boat?
Boat? Yes. A canoe actually. It was a canoe hewed out of the sturdiest tree in my father’s compound. It took us four years to build. We were pretty desperate and intent on coming to America. We’d seen pirated copies of that Eddie Murphy movie, Coming To America and knew instantly it was America or death for us. You have to understand we don’t have airplanes in Africa. It had to be a canoe.
Do you have cars?
Only the village head has a car. He doesn’t drive it though. He can’t drive. He keeps it covered in front of his house and only exposes it a couple of times a year to wonder at the miracles of Western technology. His son sent it to him from right here in New York. His son stowed away on a trading ship years ago. His only son, can you imagine that? The poor man is dying now and the only successor to the throne of his forefathers is doing time and half at K-Mart.
How long did it take you to get to America?
You were on the sea for three years? That’s crazy! A ship takes two weeks or thereabouts!
You forget we didn’t have a motor boat. It was a canoe and we propelled ourselves with paddles made out of wood. We could only travel as fast as the strength of our arms. And we had to contend with the elements of course. Even the gods were against our coming, sending all kinds of terrible weather… But I had my cloak of invisibility with me on the journey and we all got under it whenever the sea demons got angry. They couldn’t see us and couldn’t harm us. That’s how we beat your coast guards and patrols. They didn’t see us passing.
Did you say…cloak of invisibility?
Yes. I got it from my father and he from his father.
And this cloak thing, It makes you what…disappear?
It’s magic. Black juju. Don’t even try to understand it.
You’re messing around with me, aren’t you? You crazy, man!
Why would I want to do that? Do I look like an unserious person to you? I am always interested in people who ask questions about Africa…like you. People who don’t waste their time asking about specific countries and identities like Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia… They’re all black. All black people are the same. I wouldn’t mess with you.
We hear a lot of stuff on the news about Africa. Is it true there are no shoes and all the children have to go to school barefoot?
There are no roads, my brother. No roads as you know it, tarred and lit like you have here. Who needs shoes? We have footpaths, places worn out of the jungle by many feet. You need the bare sole of your feet to grab the many dips and contours of the paths, like monkeys grab branches. The soles of our feet are pretty tough, you know? It’s all that walking. In some parts of Africa, we actually walk on fire.
Really? Can you do that?
Absolutely. Every African can walk on fire. Fire is an African god.
Wow. That’s so cool! Do you have houses? Tree houses?
Exactly! Those are the best you know! Natural airconditioning!
It must feel strange wearing clothes here in America.
Yeah, that’s one of the things I miss most about home. You can’t run about naked in America.
The cops will arrest your ass, man! I’m going to Africa someday to look for my family.
You lost your family?
I mean my roots. I will find it in Africa someday. I know I will.
Good for you.
Is it a big country, Africa?
Not really. Just about the size of New York State. We all know each other. Some people think it’s a continent, but it isn’t. It’s just a little old country. Do you remember Eddie Murphy shouting “Good morning my neighbors!” in Coming to America? That’s how easy it is for us to shout out to each other.
There’s an African guy in my company. His name is Sonje. Do you know him?
How do you spell that?
S-o-j-i, I think.
We all know each other.
That flower thing in the movie…Is that how kings have flowers scattered before them in Africa?
We believe a king is a god. Don’t you think your president is a god?
God? No, we don’t. Many of us don’t even believe in the real thing. Can you imagine anyone thinking Clinton a god? Please! We’re in a different century here. A little more advanced. Why is there so much war in Africa?
All over the place? And the children are so hungry!
Don’t believe everything you see on television. The war thing is mere entertainment, believe me. We fight to attract attention to ourselves or to release tension. It works, right? You guys do notice. And the children you see, we really starve them to get them into that condition, so they will attract international media, which in turn will bring food and all sorts of free foreign stuff we can’t find locally.
How long have you been in America?
A few weeks.
Where did you learn to speak English?
Right here. We don’t speak English back home.
You must be a fast learner. When I go to Africa, I’m gonna run around with the elephants and giraffes and monkeys.
Oh, wouldn’t that be interesting now…
Is the elephant really as big as this house?
I don’t know.
You’ve seen an elephant, right?
You didn’t play around with any animal in Africa…like in the movies?
Yes, my dog, Bingo.
I mean wild animals. That’s what Africa is known for. Tigers, alligators –
They stay out of my way and I stay out of theirs.
You’ve never seen a lion or tiger?
I have no cause to go looking for them, my friend.
But they come into your town all the time. In that Kim Bassinger movie, I Dreamed of Africa, Simba was always snurking in at night to kill the cattle and stuff. Are you for real? Are you sure you’re from Africa?