photo by Alex Lear







            Since 1918 there have been fortyeight Tarzan movies. Fortyeight. 40 + 8.


            1918   Tarzan of the Apes      

                        Elmo Lincoln


            1918   Romance of Tarzan

                        Elmo Lincoln


            1920   The Revenge of Tarzan



            1920   The Return of Tarzan

                        Gene Pollar


            1921   The Son of Tarzan

                        P. Dempsey Tabler


            1921   The Adventures of Tarzan

                        Elmo Lincoln


            1927   Tarzan and the Golden Lion

                        James Pierce or Frederick Peters


            1928   The Mighty Tarzan

                        Frank Merrill


            1929   The Tiger Tarzan

                        Frank Merrill


            1932   Tarzan, The Ape Man

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1933   Tarzan The Fearless

                        Buster Crabbe


            1934   Tarzan and His Mater

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1935   The New Adventures of Tarzan

                        Bruce Bennett


            1936   Tarzan Escapes

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1938   Tarzan and the Green Goddess

            `           Bruce Bennett


            1938   Tarzan's Revenge

                        Glenn Morris


            1939   Tarzan Finds a Son

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1941   Tarzan's Secret Treasure

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1942   Tarzan's New York Adventure

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1943   Tarzan's Desert Mystery

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1943   Tarzan Triumphs

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1945   Tarzan and the Amazons

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1946   Tarzan and the Leopard Woman

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1947   Tarzan and the Huntress

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1948   Tarzan and the Mermaids

                        Johnny Weissmuller


            1949   Tarzan's Magic Fountain

                        Lex Barker


            1950   Tarzan and the Slave Girl

                        aka Tarzan and the Jungle Queen

                        Lex Barker


            1951   Tarzan's Peril

                        aka Tarzan and the Jungle Queen

                        Lex Barker


            1952   Tarzan's Savage Fury

                        Lex Barker


            1953   Tarzan and the She-Devil

                        Lex Barker


            1954   Tarzan's Hidden Jungle

                        Gordon Scott


            1957   Tarzan and the Lost Safari

                        Gordon Scott


            1958   Tarzan and the Trappers

                        Gordon Scott


            1958   Tarzan's Fight For Life

                        Gordon Scott


            1959   Tarzan the Ape Man

                        Denny Miller


            1959   Tarzan's Greatest Adventure

                        Gordon Scott


            1960   Tarzan the Magnificent

                        Gordon Scott


            1962   Tarzan Goes to India

                        Jock Mahoney


            1963   Tarzan's Three Challenges

                        Jock Mahoney


            1964   Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sor of

                        Taylor Mead


            1966   Tarzan and the Valley of Gold

                        Mike Henry


            1967   Tarzan and the Great River

                        Mike Henry


            1968   Tarzan and the Jungle Boy

                        Mike Henry


            1970   Tarzan's Deadly Silence

                        Ron Ely


            1970   Tarzan's Jungle Rebellion

                        Ron Ely


            1981   Gummi Tarzan

                        aka Rubber Tarzan

                        Soren Sjogreen


            1981   Tarzan, The Ape Man

                        Miles O'Keeffe


            1984   Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

                        Christopher Lambert





            Isn't the reoccurence a bit redundant?


            No. Not really. Not unless you think colonialism is redundant.



            I wish I heard more drums in the night. In Africa. Meaning the natives are restless. I would feel better if we were restless. Much more restless.

            The real Africa is life without western morality clouding the issues. Without the eternal heaven hanging over our heads. Without the eternal hell burning our feet. How is it we are always -- in all and every way: physically, mentally, spiritually, realistically, and, above all, imaginatively -- we are always closer to hell than to heaven?

            Does god want us in heaven? Why make heaven so hard to enter and so far away from our reality if god really wants us there?

            I can not imagine heaven.

            I can not imagine anything eternal.

            To be is to change. That which is unchanging does not exist. The very definition of what something is is what something isn't. In that sense in order for Christians to believe in heaven, they must believe in hell. Now, did god create heaven and hell or did man?

            Africa is hallcinatory.

            "You can say that again, old chap."

            You again.

            "Shall we finish our fifty questions?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "What is an African?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "That's a man who has gone through hell and believes in dying to get to heaven. Isn't that something?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "What is a heathen?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "That's a bloke who refuses to go through hell, would even commit suicide rather than submit, but at the same time he's not dying to get to heaven. Isn't that something?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "What's a bloody revolutionary?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer. "That's a guy who's living in hell, is willing to kill you to get out, and doesn't believe in heaven? Which one are you?" Tarzan does not wait for me to answer.

            Back in the States it's hard not to believe in White people. They're everywhere. They do everything. They have great luck. Like -- this is the absolute last part of the book to be written; everything else is complete except this little section, and yesterday this airforce pilot who was shot down in Bosnia walks out the forest essentially unharmed. This is the kind of shit that makes you think White people are invincible. They trumpet it in all the media. Thanks to CNN we have instant pictures. They start talking about survival training. His radio. His rations. His gun. And above all his belief in God and country. How he never gave up on western civilization. Wow. I wonder if this guy could have survived slavery. Wow. That's a "wow". Surviving slavery. But nine generations later, we are not feted, we are laughed at. And we are also confused. Too confused to answer fifty questions from Tarzan.

            And it's hard to believe in Black people.

            "I believe in Blacks. That's why I made so many movies. I know your potential better than you do."

            "You know us better than we know ourselves?"

            "As long as we're talking about the you that I created, of course, I do. But the rub, old chap, is that it's not about you. Tarzan is not about you, even though you may believe in Tarzan. Tarzan is about me."

            He sees I don't believe him, no, that I don't understand him. I believe him. If I didn't believe him, he couldn't appear as Tarzan. His naked truths wouldn't be clothed in myths.

            "Do you realize that most Tarzan movies are American creations. Yet, you blokes didn't have any African colonies even though you had one of the largest and most influential populations of Africans on the face of the earth. Besides my movies are philosophical. They're about desire and fantasy, and framing reality to conform to said drives. Whites were my audience more than you guys. You guys were... oh what's that term you use in Louisiana for something extra, lagging, napping, oh it's one of those French words?"


            "Yes, that's it. Langniappe! That you guys believed in me was langniappe. Each of my movies was really designed to justify my need to bugger you. My need not just to conqueror you but to desire you. Me, Tarzan. My movies are the only place where it is respectible to 'go native'. Sure, I'm the king of the jungle, but the point is not only do I own the jungle, I also desire the jungle. The jungle is not my home but I desire the jungle." Tarzan falls suddenly silent. His face clouds.

            "Is that why there have been more Tarzan movies than any other single character? I don't think Jesus has had as many features."

            "Jesus would never have made it without me."

            "What do you mean?"

            "It's rather elementary, old chap. You wouldn't, indeed you couldn't believe in Jesus except that I conquerored you. My gun. My bible. My language. My morality. Those are the real drugs." Tarzan holds up the brandy sniffer. Quickly throws back the entire contents. "Besides, don't you understand that Tarzan means one thing to you and another thing to me." Pause. Tarzan looks at the brandy bottle. Pauses. His face brightens. "Enough. It's not good to get drunk in the presence of one's lessers."

            Tarzan walks off into the night. He has left a sign on his chair: "The Never Ending Saga -- Coming Soon To Theaters Everywhere. EVERYWHERE!"






         WHAT TIME IS IT?


            On our third day in Ghana we traveled to Cape Coast for a week long colloquium which opened with a special candlelight procession to the castle. Because we were so late, after checking into the guest house, we drove straight to the castle and arrived before the program began.

            Time is just another means of oppression. Tarzan introduces the concept of schedules, a clock that must constantly be adjusted to the sun, and a calendar that is always falling behind. Every four years they add a day trying to catch up. If we counted like that in traditional society, they would call us stupid. Since they are not stupid, they just say "leap year."

            Calendars and clocks are conveniences of government, necessitated by the need to time the arrival of troops, of ships, of supplies.

            "Tributes must be paid on..."

            "Taxes are due on..." 

            "You may apply for your license to sell the things you have made between..."

            "The plane arrives at..."

            "The ship leaves on..."

            Show me a government with an army and I guarantee they will have a calendar and clocks.

            Calendars and clocks are a hold over from creating a culture in a climate that would kill you if you did not plant at a certain time of the year.

            Calendars and clocks are not needed near the equator where the weather is roughly the same year round. You can plant yesterday, today and tomorrow. So, here we are imitating Tarzan with our pieces of paper. Putting numbers next to everything we want to do. A time for this. A date for that. And when we fail to be on time we blame ourselves. But we set ourselves up for our own fall.

            Because Tarzan is everywhere, calendars and clocks are everywhere. And everywhere we use Tarzan's calendar and Tarzan's clock, even if we already had one of our own. Even if people keep going the way they did for centuries, rising with the sun  and resting with the moon. We can not escape the tick tick tick of Tarzan's time whip. As long as we have to conform to Tarzan's time, we are not free.




            Ghana teaches you the wisdom of patience, of moving on a human scale, of taking conditions into consideration, of being inclusive. That's what the elastic time concept is about: embracing.

            Embracing everyone. Africans know time should be made to fit people rather than people forced to fit time.

            When we get to the airport to leave Ghana, we are informed that the outbound flight is delayed four hours. Instead of round midnight, estimated time of departure is now 4:00 a.m. in the morning -- emphasis on "estimated." It seems the plane had to go to London and was delayed in London which meant that it will get to Ghana late, which means that it will leave Ghana late.

            And what is wrong with that? What is wrong with dealing with changing conditions. Industrialism was the rule of the assembly line, the time clock, the schedule, and there was nothing human about it. We bent to it, conformed, fought, resisted, submitted, tied our stomachs in knots, made Excedrin rich. Headaches became the order of the day, and we keel over at forty-five, victims of Type A heart attacks and strokes.

            At the end of your life, a clock will not be the measurement of your contribution so why let a mechanical object determine how you move about and interrelate with others?

            I have never forgotten Malcolm X's admonition to organizers to respect people's time and to try always to be on time in keeping one's word. But I doubt Malcolm would mechanically apply that dictum, especially to the point of being impatient when people exhibit a non-Western sensibility.  

            Working in cultural production in the Caribbean throughout the '80s taught me to appreciate that the hustle and bustle characteristic of the business world in the USA just doesn't cut it in many places outside of the tyranny of computerized time keeping. My rule of thumb for doing business in the developing world is to plan no more than two appointments a day -- one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and to count myself lucky if I accomplish both.

            I know there are those who think I'm simply making excuses for people who would be better off joining the industrial world and learning to be punctual. I know there are those for whom the maxim "time is money" is gospel. But what is time to poor people, people who don't have a chance in the world of making a million dollars in their lifetime? Regardless of what being in the West might teach us, time is not money. Time is simply a measurement of change. Where change is slow moving. Where change is routine, grinding relentlessly the same, day after day after day. Where indigenously determined order is constantly subverted by external authority. In those places, time is, relatively speaking, expendable.

            Once immersed into the Third World, time, as both a thing and a concept, becomes subordinate to people. Life ceases to be measured by the ticking of a clock or the speed by which things are made.

            Making widgets on time is not living. Relating to others is living.

            Loving one's neighbor -- do we even know who our neighbors are? Rearing children. Dancing with friends. Sharing conversation and music. Traveling with a soul mate. Eating fresh food. Learning what one doesn't know. That's living.

            In Cape Coast at night we would sit out under the tree and talk. The art of conversation as the main source of adult "entertainment" is passÇ in the contemporary West, and I realized just how unfortunate that was as we sat exchanging ideas, drinking tea, water, juice, and getting to know one another in ways that don't happen at meetings and conferences, or at panel sessions and at formal banquets.

            Making quiet love in the morning, aroused by the continuance of a conversation that started yesterday is living. Being artificially aroused to sexual activity by subliminal advertising, or by explicit equations of random copulating with happiness and satisfaction is not living. That's being sexually manipulated.

            Once away from the constant stimulus of violence and sex which is the social ambiance of America, after awhile the body adjusts. I could actually hold a conversation with a woman without wondering how it would be to be in bed with her.

            We are under an unrelenting mindfuck in the USA, behavior modification so severe that it twists our every perception of what the nature of social relationships ought to be.  Because we go through life looking only for what we have been told to look for -- at 9:00 a.m. a meeting with..., at 7:30 p.m. we'll meet for dinner at..., at whatever "tick-tick-tick" time we will whatever... -- we are lost. We find ourselves unable to reach out, unable to communicate with others.

            Our ability to see what is in front of us becomes very, very myopic because we spend most of our time looking for the scheduled that is not there rather than appreciating the unscheduled that is always there.

            We had gone for a performance at the National Theatre in Accra. When we got there we found that it was really an upscale, Eurocentric oriented, US$50 per person fashion show with music performances interspersed. Rather than waste money, we decided to get something to eat in the adjoining cafe. After eating, Nia and I were sitting and talking. A fellow passed. I said he looked like he was from Trinidad. Something told me to speak to him. I spoke up, but he was already well pass me. He didn't hear me. I hadn't spoken very loudly. Then he came back and sat at the next table from us, talking with some people he obviously knew.

            I looked at Nia. I decided to try again. I reached over, "Excuse me. Are you from Trinidad." He was. "How did you know?" One thing led to another. We introduce ourselves and Bob Ramdhanie, Administrative Director of Black Voices, an acapella, female singing group from England, joins our table. We talk. Delightful coincidences abound. I have played selections by Black Voices on my radio program in New Orleans. Bob also knows Marta Vega of the Caribbean Cultural Center. Plus, he was a participant in one of the England based regional meetings of the Global Network for Cultural Equity. I am representing the Global Network at PANAFEST. We begin talking about people we both know in England. Before the night is over, Bob introduces us to F. Nii-Yartey, the Artistic Director of the National Dance Company of Ghana, who in turn invites us to see a children's dance program which we otherwise would not have checked out.

            The next evening, Nia and I attend Nii's program which focuses on the world of the children who basically live on the streets of Africa.

            The dancing was exuberant, some of it on a par level with any of the professional  companies we have seen at PANAFEST. There was a strong element of Western pop dance incorporated into many of the moves. I could not help but smile because what is generally identified as Western or American pop, is actually African American.

            Even though much of our culture is presented under the general rubric of "Western" and even though the "star" performers are often Whites, the fact is, at its core, Western musical culture is African.

            Part of Nii's praxis of choreography was the stylization of everyday movements. Children as young as five and six years old were performing as though they were professionals. At some point the dance floor was filled with at least forty children creating scenes of chaos, brutality, caring, anger, love. All with a minimum of dialogue. It was smoking.

            Suppose I hadn't reached out to Trinidad? My tendency is to remain aloof, but everywhere we went in Africa, people were there, people who, to an extraordinarily large degree, shared our interest in Africa and development. In the West we ride through our lives encased in shells and don't routinely reach out to others.

            In the West we are living under threat of a slave culture, a culture which enslaves and arrests the human spirit. We don't trust each other. The person we talk to might turn around and rob us. Kill us. Steal our dreams.

            It's not about rejecting Euro-centric concepts of time in an abstract sense but rather about making the embracing of other humans the primary consideration of our living. Choosing to elevate the creation of community rather than the manufacture of things. The patient embracing of each other, in all our contradictory and sometimes inspiring, sometimes disappointing humanity, rather than the artificial adherence to a schedule which forces us to flagellate ourselves with the Western whip of time until our social backs are bloody.

            How can we be free if we have neither the time nor the temperament to love and relate to each other?

—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear







            Tarzan's voice startles me. It was late, very late. Nearby some star crossed rooster was crowing even though it was 3:00 a.m. in the morning.

            I was supposed to be sleeping. I had been writing. Now I was lying in bed. Thinking. Thinking. Unable to sleep. Lying quietly. Lying still. Thinking.

            "Can't sleep, can you?"

            I don't bother looking for him in dark. In fact, I raise my arm and cover my eyes.

            "You know old chap, it seems to me your people have forgotten how the west was won. I'm talking about you Black Americans, is that what you're called this year? I do so want to be correct."

            In the dark I hear pages rustling.

            "Oh, it's changed. It's African Americans now. Well, that's romantic. Af - free - can? Really! You guys are afraid of Africa. You're like lions who were born in a zoo and have never been let loose in the wild. I don't mean to offend you, old boy, but you can't drink the water, find the food distasteful, and would always prefer to ride in a private car rather than walk or crowd into a bus. So what's African about you?"

            I'm tired. Tired of thinking. Tired of looking through the wall of my eyeballs at people in the dust and knowing that those people are me, yet I am not fully comfortable with them. Tarzan is trying to rile me. I answer his question with a question.

            "And what does any of that have to do with how the west was won?"

            Tarzan smiles.

            "Oh, it's fifty questions time is it? Well, I shall answer your questions one for one as you answer mine. Goose and gander. Fair enough?"

            The rooster crows again. Tarzan smirks.

            "I'll start with an easy riddle for you. Why does an African rooster crow at night?"

            "Because day's work is never done. We can't stay up too late nor rise too early."

            "That's plausible, but the real answer is simple: because he wants to. You fellows are always looking for some big picture answer. Sometimes the answer is very simple. You know what people do? They do exactly what they want to do."

            I respond quickly, - And likewise, people don't do whatever it is they don't want to do, unless, of course they are forced. -

            Our eyes engage each other. Neither of us blink. Finally, Tarzan raises his brandy sniffer.


            He throws back the entire shot.

            "Shall we walk some, old chap?"

            "Tarzan, I don't want to walk with you."

            "Why, afraid you might learn something?"

            "The only thing I want to learn from you is how to kill you."

            Tarzan takes a seat, crosses his legs, looks toward the ceiling, and, after a few moments, begins speaking in a contemplative manner. "You know I sometimes stayed in the bush for years without seeing a White man and it didn't bother me."

            "It wouldn't bother me if I went for the rest of my life without seeing a White man."

            "I'm glad to hear you are feeling a bit better. You know you can't reduce everything to race."

            "You should talk. Isn't that a little like the pot calling the kettle..."

            "All I meant old chap is that can you be yourself when you're living among people who are different from you?"

            "You're assuming that Africa is different from me?"

            "I'm not assuming anything. I was merely commenting on what the bush was like for me and wondering whether you're up to the challenge."

            "Tarzan, why do you visit me and carry on these conversations, especially since you know I intend to kill you?"

            Tarzan ignores me at first, then he crosses close to me, stands close enough that I can smell the peach brandy on his breath and looks me in the eye.

            "The only reason I come is because you call."


            Someone knocks at the door. "Yes," I call out through the door. It's one of the workers awaiting breakfast instructions. Have Tarzan and I been talking that long? I open my eyes and there's light in the room. I must have fallen asleep. I tell the man what Nia and I want for breakfast and inform him that we will be down in forty-five minutes.

             I begin thinking again about how the west was won and suddenly realize what Tarzan was saying. In order to win the west you have to leave where you were born and settle somewhere in the west. In order to win we will have to go to the battleground, live in the bush. Walk deep into Africa's night. Alone and go for years without...

            "Now, you're getting the hang of it. You just might catch on yet. See you in your dreams."

            I look up. I thought Tarzan was gone. Tarzan winks at me and nonchalantly walks through the wall.






            No man can return to anything he has destroyed. That is why Tarzan can not return to Africa. The people Tarzan encountered when he first arrived no longer exist. Tarzan destroyed them.

            Tarzan the ruler can not return to Africa.

            But of course, Tarzan can and will continue to frequent Africa as an  investor such as a hotel owner, or as a physician and industrial engineer, as a missionary caring for the bodies and souls of the poor and/or an educator working to insure future skills, as a mandated economic consultant turning the screws on the economy, and certainly as a technical advisor teaching everything from computers to catering, tourist services to office administration. Nevertheless, it will not be like before.

            The innocence Tarzan first encountered is finished. First, some of us met the Europeans man to man, warrior facing explorer. Then king to ambassador and merchant. And, as slavery progressed, eventually, we all -- woman and child, as well as man -- had to face them. Slave to master. Conquest to conqueror. Raped to rapist. It was then that we submitted, physically overpowered and, eventually, also psychologically overpowered. Then the Whites graduated from men, from conquerors, to gods; their far off countries became "heaven" in comparison to the colonial hell we suffered in our homelands. Then the crulest cut of all, the colonialists handpicked and educated our leaders. Everything has been shit since then.

            But even though we still suffer from that scenario, nevertheless, at least we know that the Whites are not gods and that we are not animals. The old myths Tarzan perpetuated are ruptured. Though a certain gullibility remains exploitable and though the effects of the myths linger, naive acceptance of the god=White myth is done. The magic of the myths is no more.

             We Africans have a better understanding of ourselves as a whole because Tarzan forced us to recognize that we had a commonness that was not so apparent to us before Tarzan's arrival. We never conceived of all of us being Africans until after Tarzan made it impossible for us to ignore both the problems and the potential of embracing ourselves. Before Tarzan we were Ashanti or Ibo, Mandingo or Fulani, but not Africans. Zulu and Ndebele, Tutsi and Hutu. But not Africans as a common denominator.

            Indeed, the sad truth is that we often considered each other the enemy. Some of us even mistook Tarzan for an ally against our neighbors whom we had known for ages, our neighbors whom we regarded as age old enemies. How naive we were. Thank you Tarzan. You cured some of us forever of our innocence with respect to our alienation from each other.

            Of course old myths die hard. Even after the spell is broken the effects linger on. We are still struggling with being our own worse enemy. Still clawing through the cocoon of colonized thinking that wrapped around and continues to smother the very African identity which emerges from it. Like the worm called a caterpillar, after a gestation period of confinement within the shell of colonialism, in order to be the beautiful butterfly we are destined to become, we must break through the cocoon or else the cocoon will become our coffin. We will literally abort unless we break free.

            Even after all we have suffered (or is it because of all we have suffered), there is a pretty steep price to pay for our freedom. After many, many years of struggle, we still ain't free. Most of the original freedom fighters have been discarded, the original leaders discredited or forgotten. Toppled in coups. Replaced in elections. Brought down by economic conundrums. Or something.

            Its almost like the whole African world is caught captive on a slave ship and fated to toss and twist forever on the churning seas of the Atlantic. The bulk of us enchained below. A thin professional crust entertained on deck. And Tarzan's kin at the wheel.

            So now I am returning to Africa with a bundle of questions for it, for myself, for my survivors on the Black side of the water. Chief among these questions is what does it mean to break free?

            Freedom, I believe, is not a thing to possess but a process we must struggle through each and every day if the sacrifices of slavery are to ever bear fruit. Is sankofa (the Akan bird faced backward but moving forward) our destiny?

             We Pan Africanists in the diaspora are guinea fowl searching yard. We peck the corn but not every kernel is eaten. Sankofa. We must retrieve but not every tradition should be carried into the future.

            I have come both to embrace Africa and to criticize Africa. To embrace myself and criticize myself.

            To embrace, to hold, to touch.

            To critique, to question, to make choices.

            We will inspect and peck, but not all the food of this ancient ground will be eaten.

            It is such a funny thought: I am not returning to Africa, I am going forward into Africa. Going forward. Steady. Forward. Forward. For what?






            (Excerpt form the PANAFEST Opening Address by Ghana's President, Flt-Lt. J. J. Rawlings at Cape Coast, Ghana on Saturday, December 10, 1994.)


            However long you may have been away, we know that many of you yearn to be reunited with your ancestral home. I assure you on this happy occasion that a warm welcome awaits you here. Our traditional extended family has ample room for all its members.

            In bringing this family together again, I hope that we will experience more than just an exercise in nostalgia for the lost years. It should strengthen our determination to work together for the development of Africa and raise the dignity of people of African descent.

            The integrity of the family permeates every level of social, political and economic institutions as also does family disintegration. At this festival we are  laying emphasis on strengthening the family because it is the building block of our societies.

            Membership of a family implies more than a shared past. A family also looks to the future, and I trust that before PANAFEST '94 is over, links will have been forged which will lead to positive and practical action in uniting the extended African family in a purposeful drive into the future.

            But we may also look at the African family in its narrower and generic context. For those of you in the diaspora, the separation and break-up of the family suffered by your ancestors centuries ago might have influenced your concept of the family.

            More recently, the experiences of the slums, of inner city crime, the drug culture, the loss of parental control, the emphasis on material things, have also struck at the foundations of the family. The declaration of the International Year of the Family is an attempt by the world community to restore the dignity and integrity of the family.

            Whilst in some of you, this has been a source of strength, self-discipline and motivation with which to confront the scourges of the modern world, in others it has led to cynicism, apathy and a penchant for finding scapegoats to blame our troubles on, instead of bravely facing up to our difficult circumstances and striving to improve our lot.

            One of the most troubling aspects of this last reaction is the loss of respect for each other.

            The African family here in Africa is also under serious threat. Some of the factors could be traced to the colonial period, when policies were introduced which laid siege on our traditional values.

            The current urban drift also adds a further strain by destabilizing relationships in the rural areas through the easy association that pressures of city life impose on vulnerable new comers.

            But much more disturbing is the bombardment of our young people by the international media, through TV, films, video, magazines, etc. with what can only  be described as the lowest common denominator of international pseudo-culture.

            The powerful international media message is about individualism, self-gratification, material values and a cynical lack of respect for any moral authority which stands in the way of the instant attainment of perceived wants.

            Our traditional African values which define the responsibilities, duties and respect owed by the individual to the family and to the community, to the ancestors and to the land, are threatened by this flood of empty media hype served as the latest international trend, fashion or personal ideology.

            My Brothers and Sisters, Nowadays there is so much talk about the world becoming a global village. Modern communication technology especially television is 'shrinking' the world and homogenizing its cultures. However that process has tended to either exclude or subjugate the cultures of our peoples.

            We have to be honest to admit that distressing though this is, a good deal of these unproductive and sterile material which undermine the values and ideals of our youth originate from Western and Christian sources.

            It is part of the purpose of PANAFEST '94 to challenge this picture of media imperialism and offer to the world the true African identity.






            Our first evening in Ghana is spent at the DuBois Center. A friend of Stephanie Hughley told her she should check out a performance by the Pan African Orchestra. I first met Stephanie when she joined the National Black Arts Festival staff as artistic director in 1990 -- she's now on staff with the 1996 Cultural Olympiad. We are hanging together in Ghana.

            The opening performance is by a traditional, predominately percussion music ensemble. They are good. In honor of the holiday season, they even do a rhythmically rich and melodically inventive version of Handel's "The Messiah."

            The Pan African Orchestra follows. The instruments are all traditional African instruments, including a one string fiddle-like instrument which is bowed. There are twenty-some musicians. One row of musicians on wood flutes also double on traditional "horns" (the mmenson) and percussion, two string players, and a brace of percussionists. They file in like a European orchestra and remain standing until the conductor seats them. Instead of a baton the conductor wields an enchanting instrument.

            "Televi" is a percussion instrument of the Ewe people of Ghana. It's basically two small balls, probably gourds, which have something inside so that they rattle when you shake them. The two balls are connected with twine. One ball is held in the palm of the hand and the other swings around the outside of the hand. As the free swinging ball wraps around the hand it clacks sharply as it makes contact with the ball that is held in  the palm. At the same time the player shakes the ball that is held. So you have a shaking sound on the regular beats and the clacking on the down beats or the syncopated off beats, depending on how the televi is played. The conductor is ambidextrous and plays one in each hand as he directs the orchestra, his hands held shoulder high, shaking this swinging, percussive metronome.

            The Pan African Orchestra reminds me of Wynton Marsalis' efforts at developing jazz as a classical music. The repertoire and styles unavoidably look backward in an effort to identify and preserve the high points of the historical musical development. In a similar manner, this ensemble uses traditional instruments, traditional themes, and attempts to perform them in a traditional manner faithful to the origins but also reflective of "high art" standards. The string instruments, for example, are tuned each time before playing. The overall sound is quiet swinging, even when full out percussive, they are never riotous. The overall effect is sonorous and contemplative.

            Part of me admires and loves these and similar efforts to quantify and preserve the classical aspects of our traditional cultures. But unfortunately, the very process removes the communal dynamic. We sat and listened to a performance rather than participated in a ritualistic outpouring. Some of the flute players read from scores and all of the musicians were directed by a conductor who controlled the whole performance. No one danced, although I'm sure we could have (or, perhaps, should have) if we really wanted to.  This aural archiving of the traditions is important, however, it is not the future of African music.

            Over the two week period, I will hear the Pan African Orchestra three more times: between addresses at the opening of the colloquium, as a feature at one of the Cape Coast Castle performances, and at the closing program. Each time I enjoy them. But the question remains, this is past, what is the future? What are we headed forward toward?

            Ironically, even though a major part of PANAFEST is a presentation of music and dance, most of the performances are either weak or incomplete -- incomplete because in far too many cases, the main headliners either don't show up or, when in the country, don't perform as scheduled. Based on my experience as a festival producer, I'm sure a  great deal of the no shows are due to the fact that deposit moneys were not put in place early enough to guarantee the presence of headliners. I had looked forward to hearing artists such as Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo in an African setting.

            One of "THE" headliners, Stevie Wonder underscores another weakness of the program. He actually arrives but does not perform at the major concert. (I learn later that he did perform on an untuned piano -- a piano tuner could not be found in time.) One unconfirmed report is that he did not finish the preparation of his music and equipment. I don't know what the real story is. but I do know that the majority of the performers are entertainers in the Western sense and project only a limited Pan African consciousness. I saw or heard no contemporary performances that were worth writing home about as exemplary of cutting edge new directions in African music.

            The closing program featured a line up of musicians, most of whom were scheduled to perform at the gigantic 18-hour show but, for one reason or another, didn't get to perform. The personal highlight for me was a performance by a legendary Ghanaian highlife vocalist who seemed to be in his fifties or sixties. His set got people up and dancing to his topical songs, one of which welcomed us to Ghana and spoke about pulling the African family back together. His warmth and sincerity were matched by his musicianship and professionalism as a performer. Unfortunately, because there was no printed program and because my ear was unattuned to the emcee, I didn't catch this performer's name.

            The two final performances were the negative highlights of the well intended but mismanaged closing program, which was in itself, already too long and meandering. The first climax was Kanda Bongo Man of Zaire with an exuberant display of soukous. His band, including a European keyboardist, was in top form. The drummer in particular was awesome as a percussionist and expert as a second vocalist.

            Dressed in a red suit with a black sash and red Zorro hat, Kanda sang and dance with the fervor of a true "soul man." He sweated and gyrated. He funked it up and dropped some pelvis swivels on us that left no doubt about his prowess as a love man. He also had a female backup vocalist whom he did not feature and dancers whom he did.

            Two African female dancers came out and proceeded to put their backfields in furious motion. A follow-up number featured the larger of the duo and she had muscles  controlling her muscles, able to ripple her bared stomach and micro move her ample buttocks. Later they did a comic routine dressed as White women with bustles. Then, out came a "real" White woman as a third dancer and this combination of pelvis thrusting feminity proceed to do an even more "exotic" floor show. All this time Kanda Bongo Man is whooping with delight and directing the female traffic, occasionally joining them in a chorus of twists and shouts. Needless to say, the whole dance floor is filled. Each song is met with rapturous applause. A thunderous ovation demands an encore. Out come the dancers and there is now a second White woman completely the female zebra in heat routine. They put Raquel Welch and Paula Abdul to shame.

            Oh what a show!

            What it all had to do with Pan Africanism I'm not sure. But, that's entertainment!

            The anticlimax was provided by Princess, a contemporary urban music vocalist from the USA. She can sing, but coming on just before midnight, after five hours of a wide range of performances and presentations (the obligatory thanks and awards to sponsors and short speeches from dignitaries) and immediately behind Kanda Bongo Man was the worse possible slot. Moreover, she didn't have her own band. A male cohort served as bandleader directing a Ghanaian contemporary music ensemble which did a competent job of serving up slinky, funky backbeats and melodies. Princess, dressed in a tight, hip-hugging, semi-sexy, Black outfit, did the in vogue, gospel-voiced, apolitical, ingenue routine currently popular in the States -- a routine which Diana Ross propelled to both its apogee and nadir. It was embarrassingly inappropriate as the closing performance at PANAFEST.

            Princess, in all fairness to her, probably really wanted to sing at PANAFEST, and undoubtedly has genuine feelings for the goals and aspirations of PANAFEST and African people in general. The rub is that, politically, African Americans are underdeveloped. At this moment, abetted by the willing compliance of young African American entertainers desperate to develop their fledgling careers, the state of Black music in the States has sunk to an abysmal level of apolitical non-relevance and mindless sexual hedonism. Princess is far from the worse of the lot. She has talent and, in time, may even become a major artist. But, the question is direction.

            In the United States, and elsewhere in the diaspora, there are literally thousands of  socially relevant and aesthetically exciting artists who would have loved to perform at PANAFEST. Clearly artists such as Sweet Honey In The Rock should have headed the U.S. delegation of artists. But the problem is not just the state of the entertainment industry but also the orientation of those of us in charge of programs such as this. We go for the "big names" and for people who work in the vein of the big name performers. We are invariably disappointed, but we have no one to blame but ourselves for not closely examining our criterion for including artists.

            On the other hand, PANAFEST was able to put itself financially into the black by selling television and video rights, and, no doubt, a lucrative deal could not have been closed without the presence of "big name" entertainers.






            African Americans are a dangerous fire. Africa needs our light but the burning must be controlled, otherwise, as the examples of Stevie Wonder and Princess illustrate, instead of being illuminated, our hosts will be burnt.

            I pay very little attention to most Black pop videos, the flaunting of light skinned, barely clothed, women. The macho posturing. The gaudy and glitzy ostentatiousness. The fantasy settings: sleek cars, fabulously laid out homes and apartments. The fancy, hi-tech accouterments and personal accessories. The drinking, dancing, drugging. The modern day minstrel shows.

            When I see these same videos in Ghana I am forced to pay attention.

            When you see these videos in Ghana, what you see is cultural imperialism in Black face. You see shamelessly misleading adverts of fantasy masquerading as reality. And all brought to you with a beat. The baddest beats in the world. Beats so bad even the drums of Africa are incorporating the African American backbeat.

            Traditional African drumming eschews the thumping backbeat. The rhythms are both more complex and more varied. But there's still nothing like basic African American  funk whether watered down into Western pop or dropped full force, uncut in the various manifestations ranging from the jumping jive of Louis Jordan to the digitized rumble of phat rap samples and beat loops.

            There is a battle going on for the souls of Black folk, and unfortunately albeit not inconsistently with our history, people of African descent are on both sides of the battleline.

            When you get to Africa, turn on a television and see one of these 90s videos, you see a lot more than you do sitting home on the urban plantations of America.

            Imagine yourself explaining the cultural significance of any random half hour of BET soul videos. Explaining the meaning of this madness to people for whom this is their main contact with African Americans. Fellow Africans who want to claim us as sisters and brothers. What do you say?







            I used to wonder how could one ship load of Portuguese or English be enough to conquer mighty, mighty nations. I don't wonder any longer. The answer is obvious once you have been there.

            But you must be in Ghana, on the coast where the English were, pass through the five walls, the triple gates, walk through the stark, hard stone courtyard of the 15th century Portuguese fort which served as a slave castle -- a holding place for the exportation of enslaved Africans. Be there and feel the weight of walls, the thickness of canon, the cold iron of twenty pound (or heavier) shot, descend those steps and shiver listening to the echo of your footsteps in the clammy cavern, hear the waves splintering on the rocks with a poltergeist roar that pounded the last sound of Africa into your ancestors' woolly heads.

            After you have experienced the soft tones of the gentle Ghanaian people, eyes wide, men holding hands, women leaning against each other, everyone touched. After being there, you know.

            Once you have been there you will know why, after he secured a toe hold on the coast, we never stood a chance against Tarzan. A thousand spears could never have destroyed a single fort door. And we were just too humane to ever assume that someone would destroy our world. Even today, without airplanes it would be hard to take the fort, especially if the soldiers inside were better armed, ruthless and under the illusion that you were not even human.

            And especially if Lord Greystone's predecessors had collaborators: kings who sold. Merchants, mercenaries, and middle men who directly profiteered off the slave trade. Guides and translators who traitored.



             Our PANAFEST guide now is a young Ghanaian woman named Ivana -- yes, a Soviet name. Someone said to her "that's Russian?" And she said "yes"; but she should have said "Soviet" from when the communists worked in solidarity with the liberation movements. Sure they had their own agenda and were pushing their own philosophy, but they helped when the West refused. Refused even medicine and clothing to the liberation movements. Or worse yet, the West sent aid to emerging states, aid which was a Trojan bomb wrapped in IMF (International Monetary Fund) total tinkering with a country's economy. Tinkering at the level of a stern pa-pa parceling out fifteen cents daily allowance with a solemn lecture that if you buy any candy, even a penny's worth, all of the dole will be cut off immediately. And you better not get caught hanging with the wrong crowd.

            Structural readjustment is what they call this tinkering. Young college trained economists from the West are the de facto regulators of large sectors of the economy -- including the national airline company.

            We flew in on a leased, Ghana Airlines jumbo jet. Even though native Ghanaian pilots are available, the terms of the lease dictate that certain experienced ("certain experienced" is a euphemism for "White" or White acculturated) pilots and crew members be used. In the international leagues you don't even get to choose your own team players -- that's the essence of structural adjustment.

            In Cape Coast a young vendor explains that Western clothing is dumped on Ghana as part of IMF trade regulations. African clothing is more expensive than the Western commodities. So generally, the people acquire the cheapest apparel available. Even so you still see a lot of Ghanaians in traditional garb. IMF makes it difficult for Africans to dress in African styles.

            Ivana may or may not know about the terms of foreign aid, about the IMF and about the Soviets. Right now she and a fellow guide, also a young woman from Accra, want to see the slave castle. Ivana had tasks to complete and by the time she got to the castle, the dungeon doors were locked. I will ask Ivana later why she has that name.

            Ivana was born into a family of priestesses of traditional religion. She does not plan to become a priestess but she explained the whole ritual to Stephanie as we stood in an open square near the fort in downtown Accra. The kings of the area were there enthroned beneath gold encrusted umbrellas. Linguists whom you must speak through to talk to the king -- assuming that you can even get that close --  sit holding wooden staffs which are topped with solid gold emblems. I spot the sanfoka symbol atop one of the staffs and know that is the symbol for "return and fetch it." From a distance of twenty feet or so, even I can see that real gold has a shine that is deeper than glitter. Real gold is impressive, especially when thick and intricately carved. Or so it seems to my untutored eye. Immediately, I reflect on the African American penchant for wearing gold rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

            This is the night before we visit the slave castle on Cape Coast which is a long drive outside of Accra. This is our second night in Accra. The first night we went to the DuBois center for a concert. Actually this is the beginning of the third day because it is shortly after midnight and we have been told that there will be a special ceremony, an atonement ritual in which the chiefs will beg the ancestors for forgiveness because of what some of them did in collaborating with the slavers.

            Even though it is video taped, this is not simply a staged event. It is in a poor part of town. There are no politicians around making speeches. There is no Christian preacher beginning with a prayer to "our lord".

            What is here are hundreds of poor Ghanaians watching as their chiefs announce the purpose of this gathering. A bull is led out, later a goat. They will be sacrificed. Three different sets of drummers.

            Other than the chiefs and the priestesses, no one is dressed up. People wear whatever they wore yesterday, whatever they will wear later today. Whatever they will wear tomorrow.

            They stand in the dirt. Some laugh in the background. Some are somber as they watch the ceremony. And as they watch us, their American brothers and sisters.

            Although the event was impressive, it really was not for the benefit of the diaspora. This was a necessary step toward facing up to the painful negative realities of our history. No concerted effort was made to make sure that all of the diaspora attendees to PANAFEST were brought to the ceremony. It was not held in the national stadium or the national theatre. In fact there was not even a bus to bring us to this field in the poor part of town.

             This was a step that the continent needed to take. I watched from a distance and understood that although it was specifically about the slave trade, this purification ritual was not about me as a "diaspora survivor/descendent" of that trade. This was about those who had collaborated in sending me away.

            What was most interesting to me is that this was the traditional chiefs speaking to the masses and not the contemporary elected officials speaking to the educated. I knew that the traditional chiefs needed to atone, but I question why weren't the "contemporary chiefs" also present to assure the people and themselves that they would not fall victim to a reoccurence of this historic collaboration.

            Until repatriation of the diaspora is the law of every African state, and especially of West African countries, the betrayal will not have been fully reversed. Just as they sent us away, they must bring us back, otherwise our return will be seen as a threat and resentments will abound. The reintegration of the family that was torn asunder is no simple task. In fact it is emotionally taxing. Sometimes, like when I am standing there, one a.m. in the morning watching "them" slit the throat of a sacrificial bull, I find pause and wonder just how much I want to return if this is what I am returning to.

            Part of me is in the crowd of simple people, looking at the chiefs, listening to the words, looking at us, watching the ritual and trying to sort it all out. At least five or six people say to me in broken English, welcome home brother. Unlike the chiefs, the poor people intuitively know that our positions are interchangeable. It could have been them in the dungeon, and now returning centuries later ignorant of the mother tongue, a stranger in my motherland.

            Part of me is with the dispassionate observation of the media cameras angling for a better or more dramatic shot, taking it all in indiscriminately without any filter other than the consciousness of Tarzan the video director dictating what should be observed and remembered and what did not matter. Stephanie and Nia did not bring their cameras because they thought this was going to be a sacred ceremony. They were very disappointed when they saw the media video equipment. The world has changed so rapidly, Africa's growing pains are illuminated, and everything takes place within the public glare. Africa has no privacy.

            Tarzan spends most of his time looking at the chiefs, observing the rituals, talking  to an interpreter who explains what's going on. Very little of Tarzan's footage is of the people. Nobody translates what they are saying to each other.

            And there is another tortured part of me on that killing ground, my throat slit. Even though I do not want to think it, I have had enough experience with Black political leaders to know that not only would they sell us out, but they will even fake elaborate rituals of seeming sincerity if they think that is what it will take to maintain their power. I try not to make a judgment about these men whom I never met.

            At one point there is a delay. I find out later that Ivana told Stephanie the purification ritual required the participation of the women but the chiefs had not involved the women from the beginning of the program, even though the priestesses were there dressed in white.

             When the men finally got around to asking the women to participate, the women first said "no." After giving them a piece of their mind, the elder sisters relented and the ritual went on.

            Like, I said, even when they are sincere, sometimes politicians are still only thinking about themselves. Perhaps, like that bull kicking in the dust long after its throat had been slit and its blood had been gathered in a pan, and used in the ceremony; maybe, like that bull whose carcass was carted off on a flatbed wagon drawn to the field by two young boys, a cart whose two wheel flaps had pictures of a brown Jesus on them; perhaps like that bull, like that goat, perhaps I was simply being used as a sacrificial vehicle to assuage the guilt of these traditional politicians.

            It may sound totally cynical to view myself in this way, but the truth is, at some point it crossed my mind.

            The truth is that Black politicians have a history of selling us out.

            The truth is that I was in the dungeon, thanks in part to the chiefs.

             The truth is it will take more than the slaughter of one bull and one goat to account for that.

—kalamu ya salaam 


photo by Alex Lear






            When Felicia opens the sea blue piece of kente with symbols woven into the fabric, Nia turns her back to the cloth. "I don't want to see. I don't want to see it." One of those moments so overwhelming that you turn away because you know you cannot resist.

            I am not a shopper. I don't buy much of anything that is not either a book, a recording, computer software, or a piece of equipment. I especially am not much on buying clothes and fabric. Nevertheless, as soon as it is fully open, I convince myself that it would be wise to splurge and buy this gigantic piece of kente. It's big enough to serve as a spread for a king sized bed and beautiful enough to hang in a museum or art shop.

            Marketeer Felicia Kissi is a quintessential vendor at the Accra Art Center Market. Originally from Kumasi, she makes her living selling fabric, mainly kente, in the bustling capital city marketplace. Before our trip is over both Nia and I will revisit Felicia's stall and buy other pieces from her. Tourists are the main customers for these vendors.

            The market work is hard. The vendors arrive very early in the morning, set up their stalls, hanging fabric, articles of clothing, accessories, artifacts, and whatnots as high as twenty feet. Items are layered one on top the other. They sell all day and then completely break down their stall at night. In general, families work together and it is the women who seem to be in charge.

            As you walk past stall after stall, down the narrow aisles, your eyes beguiled by the seemingly endless array of African textiles and artifacts, choosing what to buy and which stall to buy from is mostly happenstance and the vicissitudes of personal preference.

            Of course, the vendors call out to you, invite you to stand in their small six foot square stalls, and greet you as "brother," "sister," promising the best deal in the market.  And "deal" it is. There are no marked prices in the market. Everything is an amiable haggle. The vendors start high expecting that the customer will demand a reduced price. The negotiating is part of the buying process.

            Nia loves the exchange. It's exasperating to me. Just tell me the price and then I will decide if I want to pay it. Although haggling back and forth turns me off, the blue kente puts even me in the mood. Felicia on one side. Nia and I on the other. We begin the bargain dance.

            There is no way I would ever have bought this piece of kente in the United States even though I might have admired it and desired it if I had seen it. First of all, this is not a piece one would find in a bookstore or small boutique which are generally the places from which I buy African material. I have never bought material from a museum or art shop. Moreover, the Stateside price for a piece such as this blue kente would undoubtedly be prohibitive. It's hard to believe it's me about to spend over $100 dollars for fabric. But here I am on a dirt field in downtown Accra, Ghana at an open air market shopping at a level I've never before done in my life.

            We bargain and end up getting two small pieces plus the impressive, gigantic-sized piece for a total of US$200. Back in the states, one of the small pieces alone would cost more than we have paid for the whole lot.






            It is Wednesday, 7 December 1994, our first day in Ghana and we are shopping. There is nothing on the PANAFEST schedule until the formal opening on Friday in Cape Coast. Recalling my trip to Tanzania for the 6th Pan African Congress, I encourage Nia to shop today -- which is a little like encouraging a fish to swim. I tell her how prices were actually cheaper when we first arrived at 6PAC than when we left. I suspect the influx of tourists for PANAFEST will be met with a similar rise in the prices that the market will bear. It's basic supply and demand economics. When there are lots of people with the money and the willingness to buy, you can charge more than when the number of people, the amount of spending money and the willingness to buy is less.

            We visit a number of stalls, including one recommended to us by Steve Bowser, a friend of mine from Atlanta who is chief of security at Spelman College and who was recently in Ghana. Our first day in Ghana, Nia and I do more shopping together than we have done in our almost four years together. And the vendors are waiting for us.

            We are shown masks, including some "old-looking" dusty masks which the owner invites us to view inside a small wooden enclosure. This is their living. The vendors know that the more "authentic" the sculpture looks, the higher the price they can demand. I am no authority on traditional African sculpture, so I can't even begin to identify styles and quality of workmanship. In cases like this I just go with my gut feelings. What I like, what I don't. We don't buy any masks.

            We are also shown some Asafo Flags. One set of three seems to be authentic. The fabric is worn. The embroidery and appliquÇs do not have a "finished" or "highly crafted" look. The lines are curvy rather than machine straight. Again, although I am no authority, these seem to be real. They are probably a very good buy for someone who is into art and knows the value, but they don't really appeal to me. I pass.

            After an hour or so of perusing the back end of the market where the sculpture and handicrafts stalls are located, we end up buying a leather grip which we get for US$24. We use it to carry the two outfits and a few smaller items which we had bought in the fabric section. The grip is a source of admiration everywhere we go. When we arrive back in the States, getting on the flight from New York to Atlanta, a group of three women ask Nia where she got it. They want to buy the bag, but Nia's not selling.

            After purchasing the bag, we return to the fabric area to bargain for two dress dashikis, one is a magnificent brown fabric with cowry shells. I end up paying US$80 for two shirts. The pricing started at $60 for just the cowry shell shirt. Throughout our two weeks in Ghana, in and out of various stalls, including making the rounds at the trade exhibition, we don't run into anything like the cowry shell shirt.

            We then look at a large bed spread sized piece of red wool-like fabric which has appliquÇs on it. It's starting price is well over $100. We like it but pass. Our last stop is back to the stall where we saw an impressive piece of kente for $60 when we first  came in.

            We spent hours going through the entire market. We are now back to this beautiful piece of kente. Nia and I decide to get it. The vendor shows us another piece which is almost as impressive and offers us a deal if we buy both. I am debating on whether I'm ready to spend $110 for two shawl size pieces of kente.

            Nia thinks it's a sound investment. I don't know. We have a very limited amount of money and if we spend over $300 dollars the first day, it might prove to be a very big mistake. I'm on the verge of changing my mind. I start looking around. Rather than taking advantage of a great deal, this just might be the licking of a sucker, and it's simply my minute to be born.

            I start looking up and down and all around. I've never ever in my life spent this much for fabric. I really don't know how to act. Then I spy a piece of blue way up at the top. I can only see the color and a part of some design in bright golden yellow. Maybe the pieces we're about to buy aren't the best pieces. "May I see that blue piece?"






            One of our main activities in Accra was shopping! We joked that it was a contribution to the Ghanaian economy.

            The foreign exchange generated from shopping for Ghanaian produced textiles, handicrafts and artifacts is potentially a major piece of Ghana's economic puzzle. Many, many developing countries, who generally produce one or two crops for export, are trying to figure out how to use tourism to generate foreign exchange at significant levels without suffering the moral debilitation that usually accompanies tourism.

            When tourism becomes a main source of foreign exchange, inevitably, at best, the country becomes a family oriented amusement park. At worse -- and unfortunately worse is the norm -- as tourism grows the country spirals socially downward becoming a mixture of brothel, gaming den and vacation spot for  moneyed people who cheaply "buy" natives to serve up and satisfy exotic/erotic fantasies.

            Over the past two decades, the island nations of the Caribbean have initiated numerous efforts to define and implement cultural tourism. Ideally, cultural tourism is benign in both its moral and material effects on the host society. Most cultural tourism efforts have centered around music festivals and national holiday celebrations such as jazz festivals in Aruba, Barbados and St. Lucia, or "Crop Over" in Barbados and "Carnival" in Trinidad.

            In theory, groups of people who have an interest in the ethnicity and heritage of the islands will attend these events as participants and not just as "idle rich consumers." The sad truth is that cultural tourism has been a failure.

            In Cuba, cultural tourism has led to a massive reappearance of prostitution and to the commodification of Afro-Cuban religious rituals and artifacts. For a specific fee, a tourist can be initiated into the religion during their ten day visit. Or, for a specific fee, a tourist can fulfill an exotic/erotic fantasy with a readily available young Cuban woman.

            Fierce debates are raging between cultural activists and government bureaucrats. The activists see the crass commercializing and commodification of the culture as a death blow. The bureaucrats on the other hand encourage, if not demand, that every cultural activity that receives any government support must in one way or another pay for itself through attracting the tourist dollar. Moreover, overt negatives such as black market activities, prostitution, and drug trafficking are broadly tolerated. This is a sad, but true, state of affairs in a revolutionary, socialist country which has been economically squeezed well past the breaking point. To a greater or lesser degree the situation is the same all over the Caribbean.

            The worse part about this development is that the foreign exchange generated from cultural tourism is relatively modest, if not insignificant. We people of color wherever we are found literally sell ourselves, our flesh, our dignity, our human spirit and in return receive barely enough money to survive, and never enough money to develop. Moreover, the cruelest twist of the tourism trap is that, in an effort to build hotels, convention centers, upgrade roads, provide "first class" transportation and guides, install air conditioning and insure an abundant supply of hot water, plus keep on hand a broad array of succulent meals day and night, our developing countries end up going deeper in debt to the governments and corporations of the tourists to whom we sell ourselves.

            Other than a "good time," we produce little that the tourist wants to buy. Most of the money that is generated from this type of tourism is made by those who own and operate the capital intensive areas of the tourist economy: the international transporters, the hotels and resorts, and the management of exclusive tourist activities and events.

            Our governments posses neither the resources nor the skills required to compete with multinational corporations. The airline companies, for example, of small countries are severely limited in their ability to match price discounts and services offered by the major American and European airlines. Governments are completely out of their league in running hotels and resorts. Usually the results of such efforts are both wasteful of valuable resources and hopelessly amateur by comparison to the Hilton's, Marriotts, Meridians, and hundreds of other hotel and resort chains which operate internationally.

            Moreover, the cultural events which are produced to attract the tourists often end up alienating our own people. Local people are too poor to buy tickets to and participate in the very events which were setup to attract foreign exchange.

            Additionally, the actual cash return on investments in festivals and specially staged events has been far less than projected. I speak from the experience of helping to organize festival and special events in the Caribbean and also from my background of growing up and working in New Orleans, a city which is economically defined and sociologically influenced by tourism.

            In most of the Caribbean cases, we were unable to attract the quantity of tourists needed to sustain and profit from the events. Additionally, we ended up either importing culture that was alien to the host country or presenting  commercialized replications of indigenous culture for the entertainment of tourists whose tastes are geared toward hedonism. In New Orleans we on the ground are unable to compete with the major tourist infrastructures. Thus, we end up filling service slots in the cultural tourism scheme.

            Moreover, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, competing for the foreign exchange of the tourist dollar becomes the major, if not sole, preoccupation of the managers of cultural tourism.

            PANAFEST exhibited some of the negative aspects outlined above, especially 1.)  the inability of government civil servants to plan and manage cultural activities and 2.) the alienation of local people from the performances and special events.

            This is the second, biennial PANAFEST. In 1992 it had been mostly in Accra. The secretariat decided, I suspect based on government suggestions, to decentralize PANAFEST 1994. Performances were held in five or six different cities. The colloquium was held at the University of Cape Coast except for one day of presentations in Kumasi. Opening and closing activities were held in Accra with an ongoing trade fair, exhibitions, film festival, and concerts in the capital city. Stevie Wonder, for example, was scheduled to perform in Accra.

            The idea seemed to be to spread everything around and also to figure a way to develop the Cape Coast area where the two main castles are located: Cape Coast and Elmina. The actuality was that it was almost unmanageable. In Accra many of the performances were sparsely attended because of the pricing structure and because the people who could have afforded the concerts and who were also most interested in PANAFEST were in Cape Coast attending the colloquium. 

             The planning committee found itself right up to and past opening day making "structural adjustments." The government guaranteed money was not received until two weeks before the event, meaning that there was very little hard promotion outside of Ghana. For example, even though Ghana Airlines offered a very reasonable $1200 dollar round-trip, direct flight from New York, we received the specific information only three weeks before our departure date.

            PANAFEST came into some fierce criticism from Ghanaians who felt that 94 was a step backward in comparison to the first one.

            In 1992 the first PANAFEST was more successful in organizing programs that encouraged and achieved major participation by locals in PANAFEST activities. But in the second year, most of the events were sparsely attended by Ghanaians. Ticket pricing was one major reason. But also the level of coordination with and involvement of local associations and organizations was minimized. The colloquium, for example, which was held at the University of Cape Coast had very little attendance from students at the University. There were no organized outreach activities to present the wide range of guests to the Ghanaian people through educational, religious, social or other indigenous institutions.

            In this regard, Ghana is neither unique nor even particularly bad at planning and administration. It's just that most of the people who were in charge of planning and administration were civil servants and tended to think in discreet, status quo, exclusive paradigms. They did what they had been trained to do. They did only what they knew how to do and what was acceptable to government superiors.

            Fortunately, the diversity of PANAFEST participants and the rural location of Cape Coast offered a great deal of informal interchange between visitors and villagers. Everywhere we walked, people welcomed us, talked to us.

            Perhaps in 1996, PANAFEST will build on the positives of people to people exchanges. Perhaps they will send us into schools and community centers to learn from and share our experiences with local people. Even on the level of peer to peer networking and workshoping, there were literally thousands of missed opportunities.

             On the other hand, part of the reason we were able to see the potential of these opportunities is because a large and diverse body of us had been invited to PANAFEST. This grouping is a critical mass which unavoidably sets off sparks, some of which will die out, but some of which will catch fire in the hearts and minds of one, two, twenty or however many participants. Some of us will not only be emotionally touched, we will also be motivated to action as a result of our PANAFEST experience in Ghana.

            Regardless of the numerous snafus and programmatic inadequacies, once in motion, PANAFEST brings literally hundreds of Africans from the diaspora into direct contact with Ghana, a contact which is destined to produce long term impact important to future development of both the host and the visitors. Get enough of the diaspora there, and we'll figure out for ourselves how to make something happen.

            The Pan African reintegration of the diaspora is an experimental process, the results cannot be premeditated nor quantified, or even qualified, in advance. The raw experience of Africa, the rock of our diaspora experiences: our ignorances and assumptions, our nostalgia and romanticism, our postmodern aggressiveness and Western temperaments. The rock of all of that hitting the hard realities of Africa will produce the spark required to resuscitate Pan Africanism.

            What is fired in the hearts and minds of PANAFEST participants no one can predict. But what is clear is that the PANAFEST experience will touch some in significant ways, and we will leave Africa burning with a determination to reclaim Africa within ourselves wherever we are. Possibly, a handful of us will even physically return to work temporarily, if not to live permanently.

            Ghana's main success with PANAFEST was that it invested in the cost to get us there. Sponsoring PANAFEST was an economic risk on the one hand, but, from another perspective, sponsorship was also a necessary step in Ghanaian national development, a step of healing, a step of re-completing, reuniting, rebuilding through embracing the diaspora. We in the diaspora have our own problems to sort out with the actualization of Pan Africanism and this sorting out process sometimes blinds us to the difficulties that continental Africa has with making Pan Africanism real.

            Because of its history and because PANAFEST seems as  though it will outlive FESTAC and similar efforts at Pan African cultural celebration, all of PANAFEST's deficiencies stood out in bold relief and were closely inspected by both friend and foe. Were Ghana not sponsoring PANAFEST, there would be nothing to criticize.

            There was a legitimate concern for the health and future of PANAFEST in the criticisms of participants. Some of the general criticism from non-participants, however, was not intended as a critique to help improve PANAFEST, but rather was an attack whose objective was to bury PANAFEST. Undoubtedly there are those in Ghana who would prefer that PANAFEST not exist at all. There are those who think it is a wasteful and unnecessary event. Such critics are particularly distrustful of involving large numbers of diaspora Africans. So, while we acknowledge the shortcomings, we must also resolutely support PANAFEST.

            Overall, PANAFEST is a good thing, and potentially could become a major, if not "the" major Pan African event. At the end of the colloquium there was even a criticism and suggestion session designed to elicit both honest assessment of the positive and negatives of the event, as well as to encourage participants to make suggestions for future PANAFEST activities.









Monday, December 19 - Wednesday, December 21, 1994





PANAFEST: An apology...and a celebration of the Soul.


COMPARED TO OTHER cultural fiestas like the Nottinghill Gate festival in London, (a purely West Indian affair), or the Rio Carnival in Brazil, or Mardi Grass in the USA, our Pan-African Historical Festival, PANAFEST, is a minor cantata of Kindergarten proportions.

            But the execution of these bigger events, which are annual celebrations, have been remarkable in their flawlessness. Baring the occasional run-ins with the British Police by revelers, the Nottinghill Gate festival in the British capital, an explosive fusion of sounds, culture and magic that involves thousands of performers and groups with elaborate paraphernalia has been exquisite presentations by our fellow brothers and sisters in England.

            Sadly, our own cultural festival which took two years of high-brow preparation to put together will probably be remembered as an epic failure.

            An event which the average Ghanaian, indeed the African on the continent sought to present as a vehicle for the breaking of bread with the rest of the African Family may be antithetical to the very theme we set out ourselves.

            Almost without exception, the performers and the visitors, high and low, low and high have had legitimate cause to complain about the unparalleled paucity in preparations, and huge personal frustrations. They were promised the moon, but they didn't even get past the clouds.

            Even our President went on record to voice his own disappointment. Unfortunately, he also did not fail to beguile our soul brothers with some tangential vituperations about death and grasscutters in his speech at Cape Coast. We apologise on his behalf. He is our President. We tolerate him. He goes off at times, but well, he is the only President we have got at the moment.

            THE GHANAIAN CHRONICLE wishes to apologise most sincerely for this floppy, scrappy preparations and the anguish it has caused the brothers.

            For those who were deceived and became the victims of sleight-of-tongue officialdom, we want to say 'Yepamo kyew'. Let us just hope that they can write it  off as the price of a pilgrimage to the Motherland.

            We hope they see the visit more in terms of a celebration of soul, the return of brothers and sisters uprooted in decades gone past into slavery, now returning completely liberated and strengthened to the Original family home. A home with all its problems, its difficulties, its shortcomings, but the Original Home all the same.

            Again, we implore participants, visitors, our guests, our brothers and sisters not to characterise this Panaflop as indicative of the much-touted African failure story. This was a government enterprise that had virtually zero private sector participation. Our government is now realising the wisdom in turning over the 'commanding heights' of our economy to private hands. At the Head of the National Commission of Culture which has oversight of PANAFEST, is one Lieutenant-General whom every Ghanaian kid knows as a monumental failure. And we are not that surprised that he could not arrest this failure as well. Next time, there will not be a Mr. John "Octopus" Darkey to personally engage in outright silly things like personally violently seizing video recorders as he did last Thursday and arrogating to himself a hundred tasks he cannot execute. He will run away when we start our own inquisition when you are all gone back to your 'civilisation'.

            We are sorry. We will do a better job next time, but let the spirit of brotherhood and unity remain and continue to glow as you begin your return journeys. Accentuate the positive in your accounts and testimonies to the folks back home. Tell them there are no marauding gunmen and colonies of drug junkies, that our school kids do not know what guns are, let alone take them to school as is the case in all the inner cities in the United States. But also tell them of the filth and stench in our cities, our struggles, the bankruptcy of our leadership, and the shimmering mirage of the so-called Economic Star-Pupil of the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Please come back. We love you. (P. 5)







FREE PRESS (Accra, Ghana)

December 16 to December 22, 1994





(Part Two)


            IT was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, one of the sages of our time, a Nobel laureate, who once lamented, "While America is reaching for the moon, Tanzania is reaching for the village". This saying sums up the tragedy not of Tanzania alone but most of Africa as well.

            In his vision, Nyerere no doubt sees the village of old where the people only scratch the surface of the earth for their bare existence on a few headloads of produce; where for their music, the village folks thwack the surface of tympanic parchment upon dug-out stems for percussion, and blow wind through wooden flute, and sing and dance with frenzied abandon; the village where for their entertainment, the young folks gather by moonlight at the village centre, sing, clap, and dance; where girls of ripen age, heavily adorned with rich beads, and baring the sexy parts of their bodies, are paraded through the village under the Dipo or Otofo custom; the village where little children sit under the shade of the compound tree to learn ABC, and the elderly drink palm wine or pito.

            Yea, Nyerere must be seeing the village where the folks worship their chiefs like demigods, who decide the destiny of every soul, and whose word must be obeyed; the chiefs who having been adorned with riches are carried in palanquin on festive occasions and when they die, seven heads must carry their  dead body in his grave; the village where the farming, fishing and hunting men and women retire to rest at night in the thatched-roofed mud huts.

            But, O, when shall we leave this village in which we all live to where it belongs, and set our eyes towards the moon?, Nyerere would lament.

            By setting our eyes towards the moon, Nyerere would want Africa to look forward not backward for development and progress.

            Relating Nyerere's lamentation  to PANAFEST and its theme "The re-emergence of African civilisation" the crucial question one would ask is, is this the right time in Ghana's political, social, and economic tragedy to devote such enormous time and resources to promote "The Re-emergence of African Civilisation" on such a huge Panafestic scale?

            Is it right to spend billions of cedis in promoting "The Emergence of African Civilisation" while the economy is in shambles and inflation has become the order of the day, making life not worth living for the people, and parents cannot pay school fees?

            Is it right to spend billions of cedis to organise PANAFEST while the people live in abject poverty, and while our hospitals lack the basic materials and equipment to look after the sick and the people cannot pay for the cost of health care?

            What do we benefit from the billions wasted on PANAFEST while our young men and women roam the streets without jobs, some of them taking to peddling dog chains.

            Our educational institutions - from JSS to the Universities - have a chilling story to tell. No classroom accommodation, no equipment, no text-books, yet billions of cedis have been thrown into the PANAFEST drain.

            Where is the wisdom in sinking billions of cedis in a white elephant like PANAFEST while our police force lack vehicles, men, and even the stationery needed to establish and maintain law and order in the community, and while the defiled environment  breeds diseases?

            Can a country in need such as Ghana, begging for money all over the  world, waste so much money on such a hopeless venture as PANAFEST just to satisfy the appetite of a tyrant for ceremony and adulation, and his admirers from the Diaspora?

            Since, from all  indications, PANAFEST is being organized also to enable our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora to see and participate in "The Emergence of African Civilsation", it is fitting to bring under focus their entire relationship, their attitude towards Africans as brothers and sisters, and advancement of the continent.

            It is, indeed, sad that African Americans have nothing to show the world even as a memorial to their roots, a contribution for the development of Africa, to make the motherland a place worth living in not for Africans alone but for themselves as well.

            It is true that although African Americans had lived for centuries in America as slaves from Africa, whenever they come around to Africa they are shocked to see the backwardness of the motherland their forefathers left behind centuries ago. Indeed, they find their social conditions far more advanced than those of the brothers and sisters back home.

            A few of them like W.E.B. Du-Bois and Marcus Garvey, concerned with this situation, have in the past made suggestions for the emancipation, advancement, and development of Africa, yet these patriots met with strong rebuff from the majority, led by the likes of Booker T. Washington and others.

            So a Black Endowment Bank for Africa Development that could have saved Africa from World Bank imperialism in the 20th century for instance, never was.

            Indeed, since the second half of this century, there have been Black Americans of substance who could have contributed greatly towards Africa's well-being. From Paul Robeson, Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Bill Cosby, to Michael Jackson; from Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Don King, to Mike Tyson; and many others, including businessmen, fund raising shows could have been and tournaments organised to raise billions of dollars into an African endowment fund, but all that never was.

             Interestingly, the luckiest Ghana had been was when Farrakhan contributed 50 dollars (yes 50 dollars!) in 1992 towards an appeal for funds at the W.E.B. Du-Bois centre. One, therefore, clearly sees the mischief done by Rawlings in donating as much as 50,000 dollars to Priscilla Kruize and her Heritage Museum in America!

            It is indeed painful to think that Ghana gains nothing from the camera-bearing, cap-wearing bespectacled African Americans who are occasionally invited to take part in festivities like PANAFEST, many of them addicted to taking photographs of dancers, and collecting sculptural pieces and other art works back home.

            Perhaps, next time round, Ghana would need the good services of notaries like Marva Collins, and Johnette B. Cole, in the field of education; Toni Morrison, Alex Harley, Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelow [sic], in the field of Arts and Literature; Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, in politics; Angela Davis, Coretta Scott King, Anita Hill, social activities; Dorothy Height, Phyllis Wallace, Oprah Winfrey, Cardis Collins and Joan B. Johnson, in the business fields and not singers, clowns, and clappers.

            In any case, may we have the pleasure to welcome our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora who have come all the way to join in the fray, and the raping of the national coffers as it is believed to serve other political ends in the name of PANAFEST. O' what a great contribution to the cause of the motherland.  (P. 6)






            Part of what PANAFEST wanted to do was encourage capital investment in Ghana by people in the diaspora. A number of Ghanaian officials were focusing in this direction rather than on raw tourism. Part of the reason is conditions: Ghana does not have a tourism infrastructure in place. In Cape Coast there was not one hotel which could offer the two hundred or so rooms required to house most of the colloquium participants and performers in one place. The new hotel complex which was scheduled to be completed and which would have been large enough to accommodate the participants, unfortunately was not ready.

            Ghana recognizes they need serious development. Fortunately, they also are proud of their own culture and social traditions. They are not looking for "fast food" development.

            At the newly opened theatre/cultural center in Cape Coast, there was a Taco Bell restaurant. It was toward the rear of the building. I sought it out because I wanted to see how Ghana was handling multinational corporate participation in the national developmental process. There was nothing Taco Bell about the restaurant. There was no quick anything. The food was Ghanaian for the most part. There was not one "Tex-Mex" item on the menu. No Taco Bell napkins, imprinted paper products, or the like. In fact, if a small sign on the door didn't say Taco Bell, there would have been absolutely no way to know that this was a Taco Bell. And then, maybe it wasn't a Taco Bell. Maybe somebody just decided to call the place Taco Bell.

            Throughout Accra and the Cape Coast area there are few Western fast food restaurants. I don't personally remember seeing any, although I'm sure some do exist. In fact, I saw more computer billboards and businesses than burger or chicken advertisements and businesses. Coca-cola, of course, is there but Ghana has an indigenous product which favorably competes. "Citro" is a lemon/lime beverage which I liked better than either "Sprite" or "7Up".

            In any case, rather than rely solely on a large influx of multinational franchises, Ghana is hoping to attract capital investment from the African diaspora. Ghana has all kinds of developmental opportunities for those with modest (by diaspora standards) amounts of capital who are willing to work at long term development. Opportunities abound in a numerous areas, from agriculture to retailing, medicine to tourism, transportation to compact disc manufacturing. Ghana has both the need and the desire to involve diaspora Africans.

            Which brings us back to shopping. Nia and I bought quite a few items in Ghana which were far more substantial than tourist trinkets and souvenirs. Ghanaian textiles, particularly the kente cloth, has significant retailing potential. Unlike other examples of  "African print material", kente is actually manufactured in Ghana rather than merely designed by and for Africans but manufactured somewhere in Europe or Asia. Moreover, Africans in the diaspora are predisposed to wearing the material as both a fashion statement and an expression of ethnic pride. Finally, kente is part of the traditional Ghanaian culture. Although tourist oriented kente (with Greek fraternity/sorority slogans, Christian quotes, and the like) abound in the marketplace, kente was not originally created to sell to tourists.

            The potential of cultural tourism will never bear fruit as long as the emphasis is on "selling" entertainment to tourists. Selling entertainment invariably leads to decadence and hedonism. Ideally, like some of the emerging industrialized Asian nations, we would also like for African countries to be in the business of exporting technical equipment, such as computers. But, at the moment, that's an unrealistic dream. What is within our grasp is the encouragement of capital linkages between continental and diaspora Africans.

            For a number of reasons, ranging from the negatives of our deteriorating social conditions where we live to the positives of ethnic pride in our motherland, Africans in the diaspora will increase our interaction with the continent. Moreover, when we go to Africa, we will also want to bring Africa back with us. As more and more of us go, that pool of those who have returned and immersed ourselves into Africa's reality will produce individuals and opportunities which will result in serious capital investment.

            As I travel around the United States, whether traveling by car via interstate, or especially when flying through various airports, two characteristics strike me: one, the enormous size and level of development of the United States, and, two, the fact that America is in no way willing, prepared or even minimally inclined to share the resources and material development built up in the 20th century.

            Look at a small town like Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, which doesn't even register as a major city by U.S. standards. In terms of physical infrastructure, Baton Rouge is light years ahead of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There are literally thousands of American cities the size of Baton Rouge with fully functioning airports, higher educational institutions, health and sanitation, communications and other industrial infrastructure. Although this density of development would be extraordinary in any other country in the world, most of we African Americans are blissfully unaware of the immensity and import of America's industrial infrastruce.

            In many, many ways, because all we really know about industrialism is consumerism, African Americans are unaware of what industrial development entails. We don't think about heavy machinery manufacturing, transportation concerns, sanitation, general utilities, medical services, and on and on. I remember reading one of the Sandinista writers who talked about the bewildering process of administering newly liberated Nicaragua.

            The mettle of any revolution is most severely tested not in the armed struggle phase, but rather in the reconstruction phase. This is where Africa needs the most help, and this is precisely where the bulk of we African Americans are deficient simply because we have not been in management and skilled labor but rather traditionally we have been relegated to being the brawn and brute strength of the American economy.

            On the level of material standard of living, we are, of course, very aware of being "better off" than most people in the world, and especially "better off" than Africa. Yet our "better off-ness" is both relative and solely material rather than absolute and social. As citizens of the U.S.A. we have some (depending on our particular financial wherewithal) access to the "good life" and some enjoyment of the material trappings of a modern industrial society manifested as a so-called high standard of living. Yet our relationships to the wealth and means of production, the infrastructure that makes all this possible, is tenuous at best. Whatever access we have is generally one of proximity or of being a "servant of the system" (whether as Joint Chief of Staff or Supreme Court Justice does nothing to change the ultimate reality that our participation in the affairs of the ruling class is to serve at their pleasure and to do their bidding).

            There is a big difference between being close to power or serving the interests of power and actually sharing power. Indeed, when looked at in detail and on an economic basis, those of us who live poor and Black in the inner cities of America have a standard of living (in terms of health care, life expectancy and other measures of social wellbeing) which is amazingly similar to our brothers and sisters in major cities throughout sub-Sahara Africa. We neither control nor produce, and therefore are dependents in relationship to America's industrial standard of living.

             Finally, to whatever degree we are better off, it is only in possession of material things. In terms of social wellbeing, in terms of individual and collective sanity, in terms of mental health and community, morals and ethics, well, let's just say things ain't what they used to be for African Americans at the end of the 20th century. Confronted by Africa's underdevelopment in an industrial sense combined with our own penchant for the material trappings of the so-called good life, Africa quickly teaches the diaspora that African Americans in general are the "whitest" Africans in the world. Our up side is that we have greater access to "things". Our downside is that our proximity to American power and mores has bleached us spiritually and socially.

            My critique of African Americans allegedly being better off than continental Africans focuses not only on our relationship to U.S. industrial development and our adoption of an American consciousness, but also we should focus on and question the cost of that development -- the whole world has suffered so that those of us in America can live as we do, even those of us who have limited access to and share very little of the wealth and power of America.

            The recent rise of the Republican party in America is further reinforcement that there will be no sharing of this wealth. From coast to coast, border to border, I go into what is left of the "Black community" and I am saddened. While we were never in a position to compete, at least, during the first half of the 20th century, we African Americans were building an internal economic infrastructure. Today, with far more political freedom, we have regressed into a state of near peonage, into an economic serfdom which is most accurately measured by noting deficiencies and lacks.

            Those of us who try to start businesses find ourselves severely outclassed and hampered not just by a lack of expertise and capital, but also hampered by having to compete with fully developed multinationals who are becoming increasingly adroit at employing niche marketing schemes designed to sew up the African American market. If we are to develop and compete as a people, it just seems that there is so very little room for growth available to us in the United States. People talk about opportunity, but what kind of opportunity do we have when we are first generation business people going up against the major, minor and even bush leagues of Wall Street corporations? Africa is a much more sensible and level playing field in terms of competition and also in terms of need.

            In African developmental terms, a $50,000 project is serious and significant. In the USA, that amount barely qualifies as venture capital in business development. African Americans who want to develop businesses and make serious money, stand a much better chance at competing and succeeding in Ghana than they do in the home of the brave and the land of the free.

            While they are not discouraging nor overlooking the tourist dollar, at this historical moment, Ghana is seeking African Americans to make venture capital, developmental investments in Ghana. There is both a genuine need and a genuine desire for an infusion of diaspora African skills and capital. When it comes to foreign exchange, the Pan African potential is enormous.

             Some suggest that South Africa will be the new "promised land". My particular reading is that South Africa will see blood shed and rough times before it sees a real improvement in the lives of African people. The White controlled, industrial infrastructure which makes South Africa so attractive to investors, is also the major obstacle for indigenous African development. Although I am not a prophet, the clash of Black expectations for a significant increase in their standard of living versus White determination to hold on to wealth and economic power is an obvious and unavoidable obstacle in the path of South African national development.

            Although Ghana is certainly not the only African country which is desirous of and could benefit from an infusion of diaspora capital and skills, psychologically, Ghana is the most prepared to make use of the unique diaspora configuration of foreign exchange. Some refer to this as the "Israel" model.

            The basic foundation of a large diaspora able to offer capital and political support is a point we and Jews have in common, there are also significant differences, not the least of which is the fact that Israel is one state, while Africa is a continent made up of many states. More important than logistical questions is the fact that the Jews as a people have never had a serious inferiority complex about themselves nor have they, as a people, been brainwashed into believing that the White man's ice is colder, the White man's businesses are better, and the White man's brains are smarter. While individual Jews


photo by Alex Lear




— PANAFEST 1994 — 





         WHY DID I SAY THAT?


            "Tarzan, I have come to kill you."

            He laughs at my statement.

            "Why do you laugh? I am serious. My arrival means your demise. Your death."

            He chuckles, "Old boy..."

            I stiffen.

            "Oh don't take yourself so seriously."

            Pause. My eyes flare Ghanaian red as if cosmetically colored with the extract of a traditional root.

            Sensing my anger, Tarzan waves a manicured hand. Did you notice how Tarzan's hands are never dirty? "OK. 'Sir!' Shall I call you sir? I don't mean anything honorable by it. You know my contempt. I know my contempt. But I shall lie to you and call you 'sir' if that makes you feel better."

            I face him down. "Your last words?"

            He beats his chest.

            A lion roars. The elephants arrive. A blonde scurries in and adjusts his make up.

            "Do you think my right or my left side is better?"

            We pause as Tarzan poses, standing still until the director shouts "cut."

            Striding purposefully off the set, Tarzan takes me by the arm, "Come, let me show you something."

            We walk for a few days along the coast past twenty-eight castles. I keep him in front of me.

            "Well? You know, we couldn't have done all of this alone."

            I am not going to debate my history with him. "Are you ready to die?"

            "Oh, that again."

             "Tarzan, I've come to kill you."

            "You can't kill me."

            "Watch me."

            "You can't kill me because I am you and you are me. You are Tarzan, don't you get it? Of course you don't. You think you're free. You think you're African."


            I advance. Which weapon should I use. Maybe my bare hands. Yes.

            "I'm the only Africa you grew up knowing. Novels. Comic Books. Movies. Television. You can't kill how you grew up. Remember swinging on a rope and yelling like me?"

            He yells and beats his chest.

            "Remember the dumb spear chuckers? That was your Uncle Robert. I gave you two choices: you could be me or you could be them. You could be oog-la-boog-la or you could be Aaahh-Owwww-Ooooh-Ooooh!"

            Tarzan chuckles quietly.

            "Let's have a drink. Brandy would be nice, don't you think?"


            "How long did it take you to realize that you had no choices?"


            I don't know why I couldn't answer him. Why I didn't just kill him right then.

            "You know I've learned all of your languages and you've forgotten all of your languages. Dreadful, isn't it? All you have is my tongue."

            Tarzan takes his tongue out of his mouth and sits it on the table.

            "Go on, pick it up old man. Come, come now. Really it won't bite you. Teeth bite. Tongues don't. Oh, you know sticks and stones, and all that rot. Oh don't be a twit, go on try it. Give it a go."

            He nods at me. The tongue is wagging on the table.

            "Pick me up. Pick me up. Pick me up."

            Tarzan smiles. Nods to me again. Looks away.

            I raise my knife. Tarzan turns calmly, looks at me, smiles, raises his brandy  sniffer.

            "Cheers, old chap. And good luck. God knows, you will bloody well need it."

            Tarzan fades to dust. The brandy glass is empty. I am standing with the stupid knife in my hand and you enter the room.

            I hear my voice but not my tongue. I look on the table. Tarzan's tongue is gone. I turn to face you and break the silence of our communication with two words.

            "Me, Tarzan."




            " white American ever thinks that any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man's clothes, eats the white man's food, speaks the white man's language, and professes the white man's religion." said Booker T. Washington in his classic book, Up From Slavery. To which, it is both highly accurate and unfortunately necessary to add, "no Negro either." No Negro ever thinks he is wholly civilized until...

            In this regard, those of us who think of ourselves as human beings "just like Whites", who think of ourselves as capable of achieving civilization, have not arrived until we have ceased being ourselves.

            Except we never ever fully succeed at either arriving in civilization or leaving our selves. We are forever late, forever leaving. Never making a clean getaway and never able to recline in rest knowing that we have achieved the finished line.

            For the Negro there is no finish precisely because the Negro wishes to be other than what the Negro is. And no one can be that. No one can be other than what they are. No matter how much they master impersonation, they are still an imitation. Sometimes technically dazzling, even self-delusionally so. Sometimes able to fool all who witness them. But deep inside, no matter. Because at some point, the lights go down, the audience leaves, the stage is emptied of actors, and one is left to face the truth. We are what we are, regardless of what we want to be or what we pretend to be.

            Besides, there are no Black Tarzans. By definition Tarzan (the epitome of the "all knowing" and mythically powerful colonizer) is not a Negro. Not Black. Not African. And no mastery of language, no matter how elegant, will ever transorm us into what we are not.






            I am invited to participate in PANAFEST 1994 in Ghana. The official invite comes from John Darkey, the director. I had met Mr. Darkey at an October 1993 Cultural Groundings conference in New York city which was organized through the initiative of Marta Vega, Executive Director of the Caribbean Cultural Center. Marta Vega called me and asked me to stand in for her at PANAFEST. She felt that I could represent our efforts because I was one of the founding members of the Global Network for Cultural Equity and a contributor to Voices From The Battlefront, a book of essays on multiculturalism and the fight for cultural equity. Even though there is less than a month to prepare, I had been hoping to go. At that point I began seriously reorganizing my schedule and started the process of getting immunizations. The only catch was that other than the form invitation in the mail, I had received no direct contact. Would I be accepted as a delegate in place of Ms. Vega? Which of the two chartered flights? What specific time schedule? Would I present a paper?

            I want to go but it's difficult to get information. Communication is almost non-existant. More often than not we can't even get a fax through. There is a constant busy signal on the phone lines, even two a.m. in the morning.

            Calls to the Ghana Embassy in New York invariably result in a ten minute roundabout through a voice mail system with a prerecorded message that tells you how much the visa costs but neglects to supply an address. Finally, and after numerous and expensive efforts, in the "soon come" way endemic to underdevelopment, direct contact is made. I receive a comforting call from Julialynne Walker. Ms. Walker, a sister from the States, is the director for the Ghana division of the School For International Learning and volunteer coordinator for PANAFEST.

            Julialynne Walker tells me the time and date of my presentation, and confirms that all of the necessary information has been received. Her assurances and information fuel my fire -- obviously this was meant to be.

            The first step of a long journey is made.

            Later, three days after I arrive in Ghana, I find out that from the logistics and administrative standpoint, Ms. Walker is the key person. Working with a staff of Ghanaians, Ms. Walker is the funnel through which most of the day to day colloquium related problems are triaged. In fact, we first meet by what initially seems accident. I'm sitting in the temporary secretariat office in Cape Coast waiting to find out where our housing assignment is and she strides through on a reconnaissance mission. "I was just passing through to see if anyone needed any help and spotted you." As the week wears on, I realize that she was not "just passing through", she was making sure that as much as possible every detail was nailed down and that whatever had come loose was at least noted.

            Julialynne Walker has been in Ghana for awhile and is easily the most skilled  administrator that we encounter during PANAFEST. Not the least of her skills includes dealing with African (continental and diaspora) male egos which are threatened by her self-assured, efficient and effective leadership. Over and over again, situation after situation makes clear that quiet-fire Julialynne Walker is the engine moving the train down the track.

            That a woman is at the center of the inner workings is no surprise, because in most of the African world, on the continent and abroad, in a cross-gender but not inaccurate sense, a central truth reigns: the woman is also "the man."


photo by Alex Lear


Part 4 of 4


            "Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but there was a double homocide a couple blocks away and we have reason to believe the murderer is still in the neighborhood." The officer spoke of two people murdered with the casualness only a New Oreans policeman could evidence when discussing the carnage that had now become some common. "Have you seen or heard anything?"

            I could have stood there for ten hours and not been able to honestly answer that question. I didn't really know what I had seen or not seen. At that moment I doubted my own sanity. Just then my phone rang.

            "One minute, officer, that's my phone." The phone stopped in the middle of the second ring before I could answer the extension in the front room. It was too soon for the answering machine to pick up. No, couldn't be—I instantly rejected the notion that Cooper had answered the phone.

            I had left the door open and the policeman stuck his head in and made a quick annoucement. "Sir, we're just advising everyone in the area to be careful and please call us immediately if you see or hear anything."

            I dashed back to the door as the officer was talking. He was a young, black guy, medium build, clean cut, and he spoke with an air of authority. I was about to say something to him when I heard Cooper call out to me from the bedroom, "that was Kristin, I told her you would call her right back."

            "Ok." I said, responding to both Cooper and the policeman. Before I could say anything else the policeman was backing away from my door. I turned quickly looking for Cooper but it was completely dark in the back and I couldn't see anything. When I turned back to the front door, the police cruiser was pulling off from the curb. I closed the door, pulled out my key and made sure that I locked the deadbolt this time.

            As I started toward the bedroom, I realized that I had locked myself in the house with Cooper. I froze in the hallway next to the bathroom.

            I turned the hall light on. I started feeling afraid again. The bathroom door was partially open. I stood away from the bathroom door and pushed it fully open. Nothing.

            I turned on the bathroom light. Nothing.

            The front room light was on. The hall light was on. The bathroom light was on. There were only two more rooms: my bedroom and the kitchen just beyond it.

            The bedroom was completely dark, as was the kitchen. "Cooper," I called out in a subdued and shaky voice. Nothing.

            I repeated the call a little louder, "Cooper." Nothing.

            I put my back to the wall and inched into the bedroom. Just inside the door way, I stood perfectly still, opened my mouth to balance the pressure in my ears and listened as keenly as I could. Nothing.

            The table lamp was only about three feet away but everytime I went to reach for it, something kept me pinned to the wall. Was he in the dark waiting to waylay me?



            I took a deep breath, pushed away from the wall, and jumped on the bed. I was safe. I hit the lamp switch. Light filled the room. Nothing.

            All that was left was the kitchen.

            Now that most of the lights were on it was less frightening. I stepped into the hallway and reached my hand around the doorway to turn on the light in the little combination kitchen-dining room. This apartment was shaped funny because it was really a large double carved up into three apartments.

            There was nothing in the kitchen. I ran to the kitchen door which opened to the side alley. It was still locked with the deadbolt and I had the key in my trouser pocket.

            Every room was lit. There was nobody in here.

            I walked through every room growing bolder by the minute. I searched through each room three times. Nothing.

            Opened closet doors. Nothing.

            Pulled the shower curtain back and looked in the stall. Nothing.

             Looked under the bed. Nothing.

            I must have been hallucinating.

            I turned off the kitchen light and haltingly inched my way back into the front room.

            I turned off the front room lamp.

            I turned off the hall light.

            I turned off the bathroom light.

            I sat down on the bed and turned off the lamp.

            As soon as I felt the darkness envelop me, I flicked the switch back on. What was I doing? Where was Cooper? Was Cooper ever here? What the hell was going on?

            Then I remembered Kristin.

            I picked up the phone and dailed her. Her phone rang, and rang, and rang until the recorder came on. "Hi, I'm out at the moment, but I'll be right back. Please leave your name and number at the tone and I'll get right back to you. Thanks. Ciao."

            "David, get a hold of yourself. This is crazy," I mumbled to myself as I sat on the side of the bed staring into space.

            I got up again, went from room to room turning on all the lights. Tested the kitchen door. It was locked. Walked to the front of the house. Tested the front door. It was locked. Started at the front room and searched each  room in the house again. Nothing.

            I turned the lights off in every room except the bedroom. I sat down on the bed.

            I got up and walked around.

            I turned off the table lamp.

            As soon as it was off, I switched the lamp back on.

            I called Kristin again. No answer.

            I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face. Dried my face on the green towel hanging from the towel ring, turned off the bathroom light and went back in the bedroom.

            I kicked off my shoes. Lay down on the bed. Turned off the light. Heard something in the room. Turned the light back on. Nothing.

            I couldn't go on like this. Afraid of my own apartment.

            I called Kristin again. "I clearly remember Cooper saying that Kristin called," I said out loud to myself. She still wasn't home.

            I turned the radio on. I turned the radio off.

            I slipped back into my shoes and walked from the bedroom to the front room, turning on lights as I went.

            I walked from the front room to the bedroom, turning off lights as I went.

            When I got back in the bedroom I reached out to switch the lamp off, but I couldn't. So I stood there and looked at my hand on the switch. Finally, my hand moved to the phone and I called Kristin one more time. No answer.

            I lay down. I got up.

            I got tired of standing.

            I sat on the bed.

            I stood up.

            Then I thought I heard a knocking on the side of the house—Cooper was coming back. I walked through the house and turned all the other lights back on.

            I was exhausted. I didn't have the strength to leave the front room.

            I looked out the front window reconnoitering the area in front my house. I couldn't see anything.

            I left the window and stood in the middle of the front room.

            For the first time since I had come back from the Port Of Call, I thought to check the time. I looked at my watch. It was 9:05.

            I started to walk to the back of the house, instead I turned around. I had to go outside. I pulled out my key, unlocked the deadbolt, and threw the door wide open. I didn't think about setting the alarm, getting a jacket, or anything. I just stood in my open doorway and felt relatively safe now that I was halfway out the house. After a few minutes of deep breathing, I stepped completely out of the doorway and closed the door behind me.

            I looked up and down the street. A young guy was walking down the street with his hands in his pocket. Miss Sukky was pacing back and forth, plying her wares at her usual spot down the corner at Esplanade Avenue. A dog came sauntering toward me sniffing at the ground between the street and the sidewalk. The street mutt paused when he saw me, snorted gruffly, backed up briefly, turned and trotted away. A couple of blocks down, a police car's blue lights were flashing. It looked like every other night.

            Pow. Pow. I heard two shots in the distance and I jumped as each one went off. This was just like any other night. I had gotten used to the gunfire. Or so I thought. Pow. A third shot.

            I slumped down on the top step and before I knew better, I felt uncontrollable waves welling up inside me.

            For the first time since I arrived over a year ago, I began to question whether living here was worth playing Russian roulette, betting your life that the next murder wouldn't be your own.

             The economy, such as it was, was disasterously close to imploding. The gaming industry was a bust. Crime was spiralling out of control. Everywhere you looked the neighborhoods were disenigrating. Abandoned buildings, vacant property and housing for sale dominated the landscape—even on exclusive, posh St. Charles Avenue. The whole city was up for grabs.

            New Orleans wasn't fun like I had expected it to be, like I had wanted it to be. I couldn't go on pretending everything was cool. It wasn't.

            Madness again. That's what Cooper had said: Madness. Again. What did he mean by again? Was it ever this mad? Was New Orleans ever like this before?

            Kristin was always saying she admired my integrity. What would she think if she could see me now? I almost started crying again. I had to keep screwing up my face and rapidly blinking my eyes to fight back the tears—a crying man sitting on a stoop wouldn't last long in this neighborhood—but I wasn't totally successful and, everytime I wiped one away, another small tear droplet would form and sit at the edge of each of my eyes.

            Why was I crying? I wasn't hurt.

            But I was in pain.

            I wasn't robbed.

            But an essential part of my sanity was gone.

            "Kristin, I'm sorry." I had been so condescending toward her. I threw my head back and bumped it repeatedly against the front door. Harvard educated. Bump. Physically fit. Bump. And emotionally traumatized. Bump-bump. I head-knocked the door a couple of more times, partially dried my face with my shirt sleeve, reached into my pocket, pulled out my handkercheif and, in an almost pro forma attempt to clear my nasal passages, blew gobs of mucus into the white cotton. I sniffed once more, gave the tip of my nose another cursory brush and then dabbed hard at my moustache and down the sides of my mouth and over my beard. I folded the handkerchief and stuffed it back in my pocket. As I did so, my fingers touched my keys and I recoiled with a reflex action. I couldn't go back in there. Not now. Not tonight.

            I resigned myself to sitting on my steps all night. Or maybe I would walk over to the Exxon on Rampart and Esplanade and call for Kristin, and ask her... ask her what? To come get me. Ask her... somebody was standing in front of me.

            I was almost afraid to look the youngster in the eye, he might interpret my gaze as a challenge or a putdown. I had seen him around a couple of times. He unblinkingly looked at me like he was trying to decide what to do with me. I just looked at him.

            I could have gotten up and gone inside. I could have spoken to him. He could have spoken to me. But I just sat there and looked at him. He just stood there and looked at me. Neither one of us said anything.

            Finally, he nonchalantly turned, walked to the corner and stood there with his back to me. He pulled out a cigarette, lit up, blew smoke up in the air, turned around and started walking away. When he reached the far corner, he turned and disappeared. I finally exhaled.

            Leaning forward, my forearms resting heavily on my knees, I clasped my hands and dropped my head. "I don't want to die. Please, God. I want to live. I'm trying God. I'm trying my best." I couldn't remember the last time I had prayed to God. Whenever it was, for sure I had never uttered a more sincere prayer in my life.

            My hands were shaking. Literally shaking. I tried to keep them still. I could feel them shaking uncontrollably. I pushed them under my thighs momentarily, trying to sit on my hands to keep them still. It didn't help.

            I passed my hands through my hair, interlaced them behind my head and leaned back against the door. It didn't help.

            I leaned forward again, clenching and unclenching my fists. My hands were still shaking. I entwined my fingers and tightly clasped my hands. I had my eyes closed. I was afraid to look at my hands. Afraid to look at myself.

            I took a deep breath.

            "It's not worth it. It's not worth it," I heard myself muttering a bottom line assessment I never thought I would be thinking, not to mention saying it out loud.

            "David, what's wrong? Why are you sitting out here?"

            I looked up and there was Kristin, dashing out of her car and racing breathlessly toward me. I hadn't even heard her drive up. Her trembling voice was full of anxiety as she sprinted across the sidewalk.

            "Are you OK? I got here as fast as I could. Who was that on the phone?" her words gushed out in a torrent of concern and consternation.

            At that moment all I could do was drop my head and tender my resignation. This business was a bust, it was time to move on while I still could, "Kristin, I'm scared. Please, take me to your place."




photo by Alex Lear


Part 3 of 4

            When I got back from Port Of Call it was fully dark. I should have taken my bike. Cycling was safer than walking. Moreover, walking through the quarter was more dangerous than walking through Treme which was flooded with police once the casino had opened in Armstrong Park.. Hummppp, I wondered if they would keep up the policing now that the casino was closed.

            It was about twenty minutes to eight. I had casually checked my watch as I turned off Esplanade after crossing Rampart. When I got close to my place, I saw somebody had left a 40 oz. beer bottle on my stoop. I picked it up and routinely checked all around me to make sure nobody was trying to slip up on me as I unlocked my front door. The alarm beeped until I punched in the disarming code—that was my one concession to Kristin. No, I wasn't going to buy a car, but yes I would get a security alarm system put in.

            I locked the deadbolt and flipped on the front room lamp. I felt like some Dr. John. I put the empty bottle down, twirled my cd rack, pulled out Dr. John's Gumbo, slid it in the cd player, turned the volume up to six and sang "Iko Iko" along with the good Dr. as I danced to the kitchen after turning off the floor lamp. I was using the empty forty oz. as a microphone and moving with a pigeon-toed shuffle step. I ended with a pirouette and a slam dunk of the forty into the thirty gallon kitchen trash can.

             While pulling off my windbreaker and hanging it in the closet, I heard a faint knocking but I thought it was one of the neighborhood kids beating out a rhythm on the side of the house. The knocking persisted, only louder. Who could that be, nobody besides Kristin ever visits me. I jogged into the front room.

            "Yeah, who is it?" I shouted out as I detoured to turn the music down.

            "I'm Brother Cooper, man."

            "Who?" I shouted through the locked door.

            "Bras Coupe," came back the indistinct reply.

            "I don't want none."

            "I ain't selling nothing. I just wanna ask you something."


            "Open the door, please, mister?" There was an urgency in his voice which I couldn't deceipher. I peered out the window next to the door but the streetlights were to his back and most of his face was in shadows. I turned on my front flood light. I still didn't recognize him. His left hand was empty, I couldn't see his right hand.

            "I ain't goin' do you nothing, man. I just want to ask you something."

            "I can hear you," I shouted back through the solid wood, dead-lock-bolted door. I continued watching him through the window.

            "Look, I'm just as scared as you, standing out here, knocking on a stranger's door, enough for to get shot. I know you don't know me, but I used to live here twenty-two years ago. I left town and I'm just passing through. My people done all gone and I just wanted to see the house I grew up in."

            This sounded like a first class line to me. He stepped back so that he was fully illuminated by the flood light. "Look, I couldn't do you nothing even if I wanted to—I'm cripple." He twirled around to show me the empty dangling right sleeve of his sweatshirt. He was probably too poor to procure prosthesis. "If you got a gun why don't you get it and hold it on me, I just want to see the house."

            I was in a quandry. Suppose the gun thing was a trick to find out if I had a gun. Suppose he was planning to come back later and rob me. He didn't look like anybody I had seen in the neighborhood before. And there was this tone in his voice—it wasn't fear, it was something else. He pleaded with me, "I wouldn't blame you for not letting me in, but it sure would mean a lot to me to see the house."

            "The house has been completely remolded, you wouldn't recognize it now."

            "If you don't want to let me in, just tell me to get lost. That's your right. It's your property now..." Renters don't have property rights I thought as I weighed his appeal. "But, you ain't got to handle me like I'm stupid. I know the house don't look nothing like when I lived in it."

            I said nothing else. He backed down the steps and stood on the sidewalk. A car passed and he flinched like he thought the car was coming up on the sidewalk or like he feared somebody was after him.

            "You white, ain't you? And you afraid to let a one armed, black man in your house after dark. I understand your feelings. Can you understand mine?"

            It pained me to realize I didn't and, worse yet, possibly couldn't understand his feelings. I had all kinds of black acquaintances that I knew and spoke to on a daily basis, but not one whom I was really close to. I had been here over a year and still didn't have one real friend who was black and not middle class.

            My mind ping ponged from point to point searching for an answer to his softly stated albeit deadly question. Could someone like me—someone white and economically secure—ever really understand the feelings of a poor, black man? Especially since I wanted honesty and refused to settle for the facade of sharing cultural positions simply because I exercised my option to live in the same physical space with those who had little choice in the matter.

            My pride would not let me fake at being poor, walk around with artifically ripped jeans and headrags pretending I was down. Besides when you get really close to poverty you understand that poverty sucks big time. You see how being poor wears people out physically, emotionally and mentally.

            These neighborhoods are like a prison without bars and a lot of these people are doing nothing but serving time until they can figure a way to get out, which most of them seldom do. Especially, the men. They just become more hardened, callous and emotionally distant. My stay was temporary. I was not sentenced by birth, but visiting, one step removed from sightseeing. Regardless of what I like to tell myself about commitment and sincerity, it was my choice to come here and I always have a choice to leave—a real choice backed up by marketable skills that would be accepted anywhere I may go. I know that most of the people in this neigborhood have no such choice.

            As if to distract myself from the meaning of this moment of conflict, I looked at the disheveled man on my sidewalk and wondered had his father ever played him music and told him that "love was mad"? Obviously his father had not sent him to college. Could not have. But the conundrum for me had nothing to do with poverty in the abstract, or even with letting this man into the apartment. For me the deep issue was stark and cold: was I mad for trying to love the people who created jazz? If this man had appeared at my father's door, would dad have let him in?

            I overcame my fear and my better judgement, pulled out my key and unlocked the deadbolt. I started to throw the door open, but realized that there were no lights on in the front room and the hall door was wide open exposing the rest of the house. "Wait a minute," I said firmly through the door.

            I turned around, flicked on my black lacquered, floor lamp, turned the cd player off in the middle of Dr. John singing "Somebody Changed The Lock" and then closed the hall door. I quickly surveyed the room to make sure there was nothing lying round that... wait a minute, why was I worried about the possibility of a one armed man being a thief?

            I returned to the door, peeked out the window—he was still standing there—and then released the lock on the doorknob. I cautiously opened the door. "I guess you can come in for a minute." I felt my pulse pounding and struggled to remain calm.

            He started up the steps slowly. His hair was the first thing I noticed as he stepped into the doorway. It was untrimmed, it wasn't long, but it was uncombed. As I surveyed him, I instinctively stepped back from him and then I reached out my hand to shake, "My name is David Squire"—suddenly I was assaulted by a distinct but unidentifiable pungent odor that I had never smelled before. He reached out his left hand and covered my hand. I realized immediately that it was a faux pas to offer my right hand to a man without a right arm. He seemed to sense my embarassment.

            "I'm Bras Coupe. Lots of people call me Brother Cooper." His hand was rough and calloused. His skin felt leathery and unyielding. I looked down at his hand. His claw like fingernails were discolored and jagged. When I withdrew my hand and looked up at his face, he was examining the room. He said nothing more and just stood there looking around.

            Finally, I stepped around him to close the door. The scent that I had caught a wiff of in the doorway, engulfed me now and wrestled with the oxygen in my nose. I had to open my mouth to breath. I was certain I had made a mistake letting him in, now the question was how to get him out.

            "You want to sit down," I asked in a weak voice?

            He slowly sank to one knee right where he was. After swivleling around so that he was facing me, he locked into what was obviously for him a comfortable posture. He leaned his weight on his left arm which was braced against his upraised left leg. It was almost as if he was ready to jump up and run at a moment's notice.

            "You do not use the fireplace." He raised his head slightly and audibly sniffed twice, his nostrils flaring with each intake of air. "No windows open." He sniffed again. "You don't cook." He rose in a surprisingly swift motion. And then for the first time he stood up to his full height. He was huge.

            I backed up.

            He laughed.

            "I'm not going to hurt you. If I wanted to, I could have killed you by now."

            As I measured him from head to foot, I couldn't hide my shock when I saw that he was barefoot.

            "You wear your fear like a flag." He nonchalantly watched me inspect him and laughed again when my eyes riveted on his bare feet. "Show me the rest of my house, David Squire."

            I was glued where I stood. I couldn't move. I had never felt so helpless before. "Do you understand what you feel? You should see yourself. Tell me about yourself," he commanded.

            I stammered, "What wha... wha-what do you want to-to know?"

            "I already know everything I want to know. It's what you need to know about yourself that matters. Why are you here? What do you think is so cool about all of this mess?"

            I couldn't answer. Somehow to say "I came to New Orleans because I wanted to get to know the people who created jazz" seemed totally the wrong thing to do. He turned his back to me and looked at my stereo system. "Do you have any of my music?"


            He stomped on the floor three times in rapid succession with his right foot, shouting "Dansez Badoum, Dansez Badoum, Dansez Dansez." Then he spun in slow circles on his left foot while using his one hand to beat a complicated cross-rhythm on his chest and on his upraised left leg. Somehow, simultaneously with turning clockwise in a circle, he carved a counterclockwise circle in the air with his head. His agility was breathtaking. He dipped suddenly in a squat, slapped the floor and froze with his piercing eyes popped out in a transfixing stare. I felt a physical pressure push me backward.

            "I thought you liked my music." He looked away briefly and then returned his full and terrible attention to me. I was quaking in my Rockport walking boots. Neither of us said anything and a terrible silence followed.

            "Talk to me, David Squire."

            "It's, it's about life." I stammered quietly.

            "Eh? What say you?"

            "Black music. Your music. It's about life. The beauty of life regardless of all the ugliness that surrounds... usss...." Instantly I wished I hadn't said that. It was true but it sounded so much like a liberal line. Just like when Dad had introduced me to Mr. Ellington, I couldn't think of anything right to say. So, I said the only truth on the tip of my tongue, "I love your music."

            "Am I supposed to feel good because you love my music? Why don't you love your own music? Why don't you make your own music?"

            I had never thought about that. It didn't seem right. There was no white man I could think of who could come close. Even Dr. John was at his best when he sounded like he was black. When I looked up, Brother Cooper had his eyes steeled onto me like an auditor who has found the place where the books had been doctored. My mouth hung open but I had no intentions of trying to answer that question.

            "After you take our music, what's left in this city?"

            "I'm not from here." Words came out of my mouth without thinking.

            "You're from the north."

            "I'm from Normal, Illinois."

            "Where did you go to school?"

            "In Boston."

            "Where in Boston."


            "Sit down David Squire." Still in a squatting position, he motioned toward my reading chair with his hand. "You look a bit peaked."

            I sat.

            In a swift crablike motion, he scurried quickly over to me without rising. He touched my knee. There was nothing soft in his touch. It was like I had bumped into a tree. "Harvard eh, your people must have a little money."

            "Most people think going to Harvard means you're smart." I blurted out without thinking. Putting my mouth in motion before engaging my brain was a bad habit I needed to loose.

            "Smart doesn't run this country. Does it?" He looked away.

            I began sweating.

            "Go relieve yourself," Cooper said without looking at me.

            As soon as he said that, I felt my bladder throbbing. I almost ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I turned on the light, the heat lamp, the vent. I unzipped my pants, started to urinate and felt my bowels stir with an urgency that threatened to soil my drawers. I dropped my pants, hurriedly pulled down the toilet seat, plopped down and unloaded.

            I wiped myself quickly. I washed my hands, quickly. I threw water on my face, quickly. And then I looked into the mirror. My face was pale with terror.

            "David Squire, come, I must tell you something before I go." At the sound of Cooper's voice, my legs gave way momentarily and I fell against the wash basin. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't go back out there and I couldn't not go.

            "David Squire," the powerful voice boomed again. "Open the door."

            My hand trembled as I flicked the latch and turned the knob. I pulled the door open and there he stood directly in front of the door. "Every future has it's past. What starts in madness, will end in the same again. My name is Bras Coupe. Find out who I am and understand what made me be what I became. Know the beginning well and the end will not trouble you." He looked through me as if I were a window pane. I couldn't bear his stare, I closed my eyes.

            "Look at me."

            When I opened my eyes I was in total darkness. I shivered. I felt cold and broke out sweating profusely again when I realized I was laying on my back on my bed. Now I was past scared. I was sure I was dead.

            Then that voice sounded again, "You fainted."

            His words wrapped around me like a snake. I felt the mattress sag as if, as if he was climbing into my bed. All I could think of was that he was going to fuck me. All the muscles in my ass tightened as taut as the strings on my tennis racket. From somewhere I remembered the pain and humiliation of a rectal exam when I was young.

            My mother was sitting on the other side of the room and the doctor made me lay on my stomach. The last thing I saw him do was put on rubber gloves. They squeeked when he put his hands in them. And they snapped loudly as he pulled them snugly on his wrist, tugged at the tops and let the upper ends pop with an omnious clack on his wrist. "This might hurt a little but it will be over in a minute." And then he stuck his finger up my rectum.

            It felt like his whole hand was going up in there. I looked over at my mother. She didn't say anything, she just had this incredibly pained look on her plain face which always honestly reflected her emotions. "It will be alright, David. Yah, it will be alright," she said, sounding the "y" of yes as though it were a soft "j"—her second generation Swedish background was generally all but gone from her speech except for the stubborn nub that stuck to her tongue when ever she was under duress.

             What had I done? What did I have? The pain shot up from my anus and exited my mouth as a low pitched moan. I was watching my mother watch me. I resolved that I was going to be strong and I was going to withstand whatever this man was going to do to me.

            The man with his whole hand up my butt wasn't saying anything. He just kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing. I don't remember him stopping. I don't remember anything else except that despite my best efforts, I cried.

            And now, here I lay in the dark awaiting another thrust up my ass. The anticipation was excruciating. My resolve to remain stoic completely crumbled and I started crying—but not loudly or anything. In fact there was no sound except the impercible splash of my huge tears flowing slowly down the sides of my face and falling shamlessly onto my purple comforter.

            Suddenly the bright light from the table lamp illuminated my perdicament. He was standing next to the bed. I recoiled, rolling back from the sight of him. "Are you Ok?" he questioned me. "You look..." he stopped abruptly and cocked his head as if he heard something. After a few brief seconds he returned his attention to me. "They're coming." Without saying anything else, he turned and walked away toward the kitchen. A moment later, I too could hear a police siren.

            And then it seemed like nothing happened. Just hours and hours of nothing. No sound from the kitchen. Nothing at all. My heart was pounding.

            I tried to make myself sit up. It was like a dream. I couldn't move. I told myself to get up. But I couldn't move. I wanted to move. I wanted to run. But I couldn't move.

            Eventually I made myself stop crying. It took so much effort, I was almost exhausted. Suddenly there was a loud knocking at my front door. The rapping startled me. I involuntarily let out a brief whelp of fear, "Ah."

            Cooper appeared soundlessly at the foot of the bed. "Go."

            I jumped up.

            I was in shock.

            The knock was louder. I don't know how I got to the front door, but when I got there, I didn't say a word as the insistent tapping started again. It sounded like somebody beating on my door with a club. Suppose this was one of Cooper's friends come to do me in.

            I glanced over my shoulder at the back of the house. Cooper had turned the bedroom lamp off.

            I glanced out the front window. Two policemen were outside. One on the stoop, one on the sidewalk. I hadn't done anything wrong. Why were they knocking on my door?

            "Yes," I said meekly without opening the door.

            "It's the police, sir."

            I cracked the door—I had forgotten to lock it when I let Cooper in—"Is anything wrong, officer?"

(end of part 3 of 4)


photo by Alex Lear


(Part 2 of 4)

            Now we were both looking at the plaster ceiling with the swirl design—I wish I could have seen how those plasterers did that. "Shoot your best shot," I said, my eyes still following the interlocking set of circular patterns as I reached out to hold Kristin's hand.

            "Mike says you probably moved to Treme because you've got a black girl on the side," she paused as the gravity of her words tugged at a question I knew was coming sooner or later. Her grip on my hand involuntarily tightened slightly, "Have you ever done it with a black girl?"


            Her hand went limp and I heard her exhale sharply. I turned to look at her. She frowned, closed her eyes and spoke softly, barely moving her quivering lips. I wouldn't let her hand go even though she was obviously a bit uncomfortable interreogating me and touching me at the same time.


            "Five years ago, in college."

            She turned now and focused intently on my eyes, "That was the last time?"


            "Do you... do you... I mean Mike says..."

            "I'll answer any questions you have Kristin, but I won't answer Mike's questions. I'm not in love with Mike."


            My turn.

            "You want me to compare doing it with you to doing it with a black girl, don't you?" Her face tensed. She pulled her hand away.


            There, it was out in the open. "If you want to know you have to ask."

            Silence. She rolled onto her side, faced me and used her cherry red, lacquered, finger tips to outline my short, manicured, strawberry blond beard. She started at my ear lobe and when she got to my chin, she hesitated, sighed, lay back squarely on her back, and tried to sound as casual as she could, "Did you ever have trouble getting it up with her?"

            "No," I replied quickly, almost as if I didn't have to think about it, but, of course, I had already thought about it when I discerned the direction her questions were headed.

            A terrifying hurt escaped Kristin's throat, it sounded like she couldn't breath and was fighting to keep from being crushed. "I can't..." Kristin's words peeled off into a grating whine. "David, why..."

            "Why, what? Why did I do it with a black girl? Why did I have trouble getting it up a few minutes ago? Why did somebody shoot Etienne? All of the above? None of the above? What?"

            "I'm going home." She threw the covers back and started to climb cross me to get out of bed. I grabbed her waist and pulled her down on top of me. She tried to resist but she only weighted 112 pounds and was no match for my upper body strength.

            "No, don't run from it. Let's face this. We can do this." I held her in a bear hug. She vainly tried to push away.

            "David, stop. Let me go!" she hissed, struggling to break free as I determinedly tightened my grip. "Let me go."

            Her small fists were pummeling my chest while I forcibly retained her in my embrace. She had been momentarily kneeling over me trying to scamper out of bed when I caught her in midmotion.

            "David, you're hurting me." I used my left hand to grab her right wrist and yanked her right arm. As she lost her balance, I rolled over, pinning her to the mattress. "Stop! Stop!" She started pleading, "please stop. Let me go."

            "Kristin, listen to me."

            "No, let me go. Stop." She was tossing her head back and forth, trying to avoid looking at me.

            "Kristin, that was five years ago. Five damn years. If you didn't want to know, why did you ask me?" We stared at each other. "Five years ago doesn't have anything to do with us to..."

            "It has everything to do with us. That's why you can't get it up with me, because I'm not black."

            I pushed her away, swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up.

            "Did Mike tell you to say that?" I spat out the accusation over my shoulder.

            After she didn't answer, I pushed my fists into the mattress and started to get up. I heard Kristin crying.

            "Why... how do you think it makes me feel? I come out here to be with you and... oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit."

            I stopped midway in pushing myself up and allowed my full weight to sink back onto the bed. Now she was really bawling. I looked over at the Abita, grabbed the bottle and drained it. I sat focusing on the beer label and asking myself how did I let a couple of hours in bed degenerate into this mess.

            I had drunk the remaining third of the beer too quickly. A gigantic belch was coming and I couldn't stop it. For some strange reason I just felt it would be disrespectful to belch while Kristin was laying there sobbing, but I couldn't help it.

            The belch came out long and loud. "Excuse me," I apologized. Afterwards, I looked over my shoulder at a heaving mass of flesh and hair—even after our tussel, her long luxurious hair flowed beautifully across her shoulders as though sculpted by an artist.

            Her back was to me as she faced the wall silently crying and sniffling. I didn't know what to do, what to say. "Kristin, it's not..."

            "Give me a cigarette, please," she said without turning around while making a strenuous effort to stiffle the tears.

            I had an unopened pack of cigarettes sitting on the night table. Neither one of us smoked that much anymore except after we made love, we liked to share a cigarette. I ripped the cellophane with my teeth, peeled the thin plastic from the box and nosily crumpled the crinklely protective covering. I started to ask, why do you want a cigarette and we hadn't made love, but realized that would be a silly and insensitive question at this moment. I flipped the boxtop open and took out one cigarette. I pushed it back and forth between my fingers. As I lit the cigarette I felt a sudden urge to urinate but it seemed inappropriate for me to step away now. I didn't want Kristin to think I was running from her, or didn't want to talk, or whatever.

            "Here." As I reached the cigarette to her, she sat up and took it without really looking at me and without saying thanks or saying anything. She must have really been pissed because she seldom became so nonplussed that she forgot her equiette training.

            I picked up the empty beer bottle and, at a loss for what to do next, I began reading the fine print on the beer label.

            I felt movement in the bed. When I turned to see what she was doing, Kristin stepped to the floor, cigarette smoke trailing from the cigarette she held in her left hand behind her.

            I felt like I was sitting for the CPA exam. Neither of us was saying anything, but I knew I had better come up with the right answers or this deal was off. I looked up as she stepped into the bathroom and partially closed the door behind her.

            I saw the light go on in the bathroom. I heard her lower the toilet seat and then the loud splash in the bowl as she relieved herself. After she stopped urinating, I heard the flush of the toilet and then nothing. Maybe she was sitting there still crying.

            I sat on the bed with an empty beer bottle in my hand. Damn, five years was a long time ago. Linda. I don't think either one of us was really in love. We thought we were. I rubbed the cool beer bottle across my forehead as I remembered those crazy days in Boston. I think what was the most surprising was how unremarkable the sex was. I mean it was good but it just was. It was no big thing. No ceiling falling on us, the earth didn't move. And there was no scene about it. We did it and enjoyed it and that was it. Not like... I didn't want to go there. I looked at the vertical shaft of light paralleling the edge of the partially open bathroom door.

            I think Linda caught more grief than I did. A lot of her friends stopped speaking to her. All my friends wanted to know was what it was like. Sex really doesn't have to be all this. I remember how nervous I was the first time and how she just said, "look, I don't know what you expect and I don't care what you've heard. We're just people. I'm not into anything kinky. You will use a condom and if I ever hear you talking any jungle fever shit, you'll be swinging through the jungle all by your damn self."

            The thing I most remember is that she said thankyou the first time I ate her out and she reached a climax. "I don't know what's wrong with me but this seems like the only way I can get a climax."

            I had tried to cautiously ask her what she meant without being crude or rude.

            "Head. Straight sex is ok but I can only reach a climax when I get some head."

            "Is that why you're with me."

            "David, don't believe that shit about brothers got dick and only white boys give head. And, for sure, don't believe that you're the only one willing to lick this pot."

            "No, I didn't mean...ah, I didn't mean to im..."

            "Shut up! You talk too muc..."

            "David, I'm sorry. I kinda stressed out because..." As I snapped back to the present, Kristin was standing over me. I hadn't heard her return from the bathroom. I realized I had been sitting with my eyes closed, rolling the beer bottle over my face, thinking about Linda. "...well because I was afraid of losing you. I know you love me. And I think you know how much I love you."

            Yeah, enough to come over to the black side of town at night, is what I thought but, of course, I didn't say anything.

            "You don't feel like talking do you?"

            "No, I feel like it. I want to talk. Let's talk," I answered quickly. I opened my eyes and focused on her petite, immaculately pedicured feet. Her toenails were polished the same brilliant red as her fingernails. Her feet were close together and her toes were twitching nervously in the shag of my persian blue carpet. Kristin was standing so close to me that when I looked up, I was looking right at her muff.

            I quickly placed the empty beer bottle on the night stand. I pulled her close to me, embraced her waist and kissed her navel. I felt her slender hands caressing my head. Where was the cigarette?

            "I know I'm not very sexy..."

            "Kri..." I tried to turn my head upward but she hugged my head hard to her stomach.

            "No. Just listen. I've got to say this. I know sex is important to you and I'm willing to try whatever you want to make you happy. Anything. OK? Anything."

            "Hey babe, we're going to be alright. You'll see. We're going to make it just fine."

            "Be careful who you love because love is mad," was all my father ever told me about love. Nothing about sex. Nothing about understanding women. Just love is mad. We were sitting in the front room listening to his Ellington records. He played that Ivie Anderson song where she sings about love being like a cigarette. And he played a couple of other songs. And a concert recording of Ellington, employing his trademark suavity, telling the audience, "We love you madly." I don't know how many other Ellington fans there were in Normal, Illinois, but early in my life my father recruited me simply by playing records for hours as he sat in the twilight on those evenings when he wasn't running up and down the road selling farm equipment.

            I guess I just wanted to be around him. He was so seldom there for any length of time, when he was there I did what he did. I listened to jazz. Mostly Ellington, Basie, and Charlie Barnet playing "Cherokee." I remember once Dad played Charlie Parker's "KoKo." Dad said Koko was based on Cherokee but I couldn't hear any Cherokee anywhere. He laughed. "Yes, sometimes life can be complicated." And then it was back to Ellington and all those gorgeous melodies. I still have the record Ellington signed for us backstage at the Elks dance many years ago. Well, not really signed because his signature wasn't on there. Just a scrawled "love you madly."

            "I believe you when you say that," Kristin intoned without missing a beat.

            "That's because I love you madly and mean it with all my heart." It had become easier and easier to reveal that truth to Kristin.





            "David, I just heard on the news that the casino is closing. What are we going to do?"

            "Well, you're going to hold on to your job with the tourist commission and I'm going to draw unemployment."

            "I guess now would be a good time for us to live together. I could move in with you—I mean if you want me to—and we could split the rent."

            "A couple of months ago you were scared to spend the night, now you're talking about moving in with me."

            "Only if you want me to." I detected a note of anxiety in her voice. Both of us were probably recalling that angry exchange we had when we first discussed living arrangements over dinner at Semolina's: "David, all I pay is utilities and a yearly maintenance contract, it would be a lot cheaper for you to move in with me even if you took a cab to work everyday."

            That's when I had unloaded, "I didn't move down here to live in a white suburb twenty miles away from the center of town. I know your family finds it a lot more pratical, i.e. safer, to enjoy New Orleans from a distance, but if I'm going to live in New Orleans, I want to live in New Orleans. Besides, that's one of the main reasons the city's so crazy now."

            And then Kristin had exploded with a preprepared litany of rationalizations: "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be safe. I love New Orleans. I didn't move to the suburbs to run away. I live in Metairie because it's family property and..."

            "Because you can't live uptown anymore because your family sold their lovely, hundred year-old, historic Victorian house," I had replied drily.

            "David Squire, you're just a starry-eyed idealist. You have no idea of how neat New Orleans used to be and how messed up it is now..."

            "Now that Blacks run and overrun the city. Right? Now that they have messed it up and made it impossible for us nice white folks to have a really neat time?"

            Kristen drew up sharply as if the bright faced college student who was our waiteress had put a plate of warm shit in front of Kristin instead of the shrimp fettuccini, which she hardly touched.

            "David, let's just change the subject, please," Kristin had said in the icey tone she used when her mind was made up and, right or wrong, she was going to stick to her guns.

            "Well just think about it, David. I'm not trying to push you or anything, it's just that my half would help with the rent." Hearing Kristin's languid voice flow warmly through the receiver made me realize that I hadn't responded to her question and that there had been several long seconds of dead air while she waited for my tardy reply.

            "OK, I'll think about it, Kristin. You know this whole job thing has happened so suddenly, I'm not sure what I want to do. So I'm going to just cool it for awhile and see how the chips fall."

            "God, David, you sound so cool to say you just lost your job."

            "Yeah, well, getting excited isn't going to change anything. Besides, I can get another job. Good accountants are always in demand."

            "David, I've got to go, but I just wanted to call as soon as I heard on the news..."



            "I love ya."

            "And I love you." The worry vanished instantly when I reassured her that our relationship was not in jeopardy. Her tone brightened. "I'm on my way to the gym. I could swing by when I finish."

            "No, I'm alright," I heard the disappointed silence like she was holding her breath and biting her bottom lip. Why was I being so difficult when all she was trying to do was reach out and touch? Besides I had come to really enjoy her perky company. "But, on second thought, babe, it would be great to be with you. Call me when you get back in."

            "I can come now. Skipping one day of gym won't be the end of the world."

            "No, no, no, no, noooo. Go to the gym. Call me when you get back home."

            "I'll call you from the gym."

            "S'cool." I said slurring my signature sign off of "it's cool."

            "It'll be around 8:30."

            "S'cool. I think I'm going to walk down to Port Of Call and get a beer or something. Later gator."

            It was a near perfect November evening in New Orleans, what little breeze there was caressed your face with the fleeting sensation of a mischievous lover enticingly blowing cool breaths into your ear. It would have been a waste of seductive twilight to stay indoors. I grabbed my lightweight, green nylon windbreaker and ventured forth as though this evening had been created solely for my enjoyment. I didn't have to go to work tomorrow. I would hook up with Kristin a little later. My rent was paid. I had twenty dollars in my pocket and a healthy stash in my savings account. I didn't have a care in the world.

            As I neared Rampart Street, just before crossing into the French Quarter, indistinct sounds of music mingled from many sources: car radios, bars, homes. No night in the old parts of New Orleans was complete without music.

            This is where jazz began. My father the jazz fan had never been to New Orleans. Satchmo and Jellyroll walked these very streets. I looked up at the the thin slice of moon that hung in the sky, "Dad, I'm here."

            I knew he'd understand what I meant. He had been a farm boy who never really cared much about the land. What he liked was meeting different people. All kinds of people, but mostly people who weren't living where we lived. Dad would have loved New Orleans and the plethora of street denizens of amazing variety who seemed to thrive in the moral hothouse of liscentious and sensual living which was the trademark of Big Easy existence.

            Before I reached  the corner a police car slow cruising down the street passed me. I looked over at the cops, one blond the other dark skinned, and waved. Their visibility was reassuring.



(end of part 2 of 4)


photo by Alex Lear




            "Kristin, I love you," I blurted, sounding like I was trying to convince myself more than Kristin, even though I was sincere. I both wanted her and wanted her to know I wanted her. Nevertheless, like rotely instructing a client on how to fill out a 941, at the moment, I felt emotionally disengaged.

            I snuggled closer. "Kristin..."

            "David, you don't have to say that to get me to do it. I know you love me."

            As I pressed close to her, all down my chest I felt her body stiffen. There was no smile on her face as my fingers traced the outline of her lips. She was distancing herself from me like I was the manager of a department where thirty grand was missing. I reached across her head and turned off the lamp on the night table. Almost as soon as the room was dark she spoke, "I'm not staying tonight. I've got an early meeting and I want to be prepared."

            I had been caressing the side of her face, down her neck and moving toward her breast when I stopped. Suddenly, I had the strangest sensation we were being watched. The light was out and we were alone, but it felt like Kristin's conscience was standing by the side of the bed auditing us. I imagined an unemotional spectre with PDA in hand intently and efficiently noting the details of every movement of two overeager people who were gropping in the dark searching for the right words to say to each other, determinedly trying to discover the right touches to unlock passion in each other.

            I wanted to say, Kristin, what's the real reason you're not staying? I wanted to say, Kristin, are you tired of sleeping with me? Maybe you want out of this relationship. Maybe you don't know where this relationship is headed. God knows I don't know.

            She placed my hand over her breast, "Come on, hurry up. I want to leave before ten."

            I didn't want to hurry up. I wanted to take it slow, like they say women prefer in those self-help, sex manuals Kristin furtively reads. I don't know why people even read those books, the procedures never work like they say. Even the ones with pictures don't work. It's a case study of diminishing returns. You try all that stuff and afterwards, all you've managed to accomplish is you've "tried stuff." The profit margin's too thin when you only accrue an extra penny's worth of pleasure for every dollar of time you invest in reaching the ultimate climax.

            She reached down and touched my dick. "You're not hard." She gently tugged at it. "Oh, David..." An exasperated exclamation, and then suddenly she scooted beneath the thin sheet covering us, and I felt her take me in her mouth.

            Please hurry up and get hard, I vainly instructed my dick.

            It didn't.

            After a minute or so, she gave up, pulled the covers back and sat up in bed. So instead of me asking her what's wrong, she was checking on me, "Honey, what's wrong?"

            I could feel my dick limp against my thigh. "Nothing."

            "Nothing," she softly repeated my lie like a proctor giving you a second chance to admit you cheated on a test. Then, with the adroitness of a prosecution lawyer waving a key piece of evidence before the jury, she reached under the covers and fingered my dick. "Yes, there is."

            I felt like I had been caught with a signed, blank company check in my wallet. Kristin had the uncanny ability to make me feel guilty about wanting to enjoy sex with her.

            "Maybe, I'm just trying too hard." Upon hearing my words, she immediately moved her hand.

            "Oh David," she said as she leaned over and kissed me. I didn't respond to her kiss.

            I wasn't looking for pity and besides it wasn't me taking the prufunctory approach. "I'm alright."

            I loved Kristin but I wasn't fully comfortable in bed with her yet. She would do whatever I asked her to but I always had to ask. I could never get a sense of what, if anything, she really wanted. Our relationship was humming along like a chain of hardward stores, efficient, neat, well stocked, well managed and totally without excitement.

            The lamp light blazed on. I turned my head into the pillow. The light physically hurt my eyes. After the metallic click of the lamp there was a long silence.

            "Did you hear about the shooting?"

            So that's what it was that was bothering her. God, somebody was always getting shot.

            "They," she paused briefly to let the weight of the loaded, one syllable sink in, "shot this lady's baby. My god, they shot a baby. None of us are safe."

            "What color was the baby?"

            "What difference does it make?" She misunderstood me. That was precisely my point, color shouldn't make a difference, but I knew that color was what she was really concerned about and not murder. "It was an innocent baby. Somebody has got to do something."

            "What color, Kristin?"

            "They didn't show the baby on television..."

            "What was the child's name?"


            I turned my head away and looked at the wall. I knew what was coming next, the same old white/black issue. I didn't feel like arguing about the color of a dead baby and whether color made a difference.

            "David, why did you turn away while I was talking? You make me feel everything I say is so wrong."

            The words I didn't dare let out of my mouth, played loud and clear in my head: Because if I turn around and tell you how racist you're acting, we'll end up arguing with each other and I don't feel like fighting. The truth is you're upset because the baby was white. If the baby had been black you might or might not have said anything but you certainly wouldn't have felt threatened. You...

            "I know you think I don't like blacks but that's not it. David, I'm scared."

            "I know. I'm scared too," I agreed, except my fear wasn't for my personal safety. My fear was that blacks and whites would never get beyond being black and white, separate, unequal, and distrustful of each other.

            "If you're scared, why did you move into this neighborhood? Something like fighting fire with fire?" I didn't answer and Kristin chattered on barely pausing for a response to her rhetorical question. "Soon as the sun goes down the only people walking around outside are..."

            I turned over slowly, lay on my back, and covered my eyes with my forearm. "Are what? Murderers? Muggers? Rapists? Thieves?"

            "You said yourself that some of these people don't even like the idea of you living in their neighborhood."

            "I'm really sorry to hear about that baby." I uncovered my eyes and reached out my hand to touch her knee. She covered my hand with a firm grip.

            "My brother says I should get a gun if I'm going to keep spending time with you."

            "I bet your brother Mike owns every Charles Bronsen video ever made and carries a long barrelled forty-four like he's Dirty Harry, or is it David Duke?" my accusation hung in the air like a fart.

            I could see her wanting to recoil but, like being trapped in one of those small interreogation rooms that IRS agents use for audits, there was no where to run and she had run out of documentation to prove her innocence. "Kristin, you don't have to come here unless you want to."

            "I want to be with you." Our eyes locked and searched each other until I turned my head and flung my forearm back across my face. Kristin started her well rehearsed sales pitch, "Besides, it's senseless for me to come pick you up, take you to my place, then bring you back to your place, and then drive back to my place."

            "That's right."

            "And you refuse to buy a car."

            "That's right. My bike and the buses do me just fine."

            "So obviously if we're going to be together I have to come see..."

            "At least until yall get bus service out their in civilized Metairie."

            "David, I'm not complaining about coming to see you. I was just talking about the safety issue."

            "Has anything ever happened to you around here, or to me? Has anybody even so much as said something out of line?"

            "David, it only has to happen once... and then... then you're ruined for life."

            "You only die once."

            Why did I say that? I have to learn to control my mouth.

            "Why did you say that? Mike says you have a death wish."

            "So your brother Mike has given up the family construction business to become a psycologist, huh?" She flinched at my parry but continued her offensive.

            "I told you about Ann Sheridan didn't I?"


            "She'll never be right again."

            We were about to get into a bad scene. This was one of those classic delimmas: you're callous if you don't sympathize with the victim and you're a bleeding heart if you criticize the routine stereotyping. I felt like I was trying to talk to a client who was also a good friend and who was trying to get me to help them cheat on their taxes. I guess I could say, let's not go there; it's not healthy. Or I could sympathize, being raped is a terrible, terrible thing.

            "She's seeing a psychiatrist. She stays pumped full of drugs. And she can't even stand to be in a room with a black man." Clearly this was going to be one of those evenings when all of our time in bed would be spent talking about the major issues of the day rather than more productive and more pleasurable pursuits.

            "Hey, you want a beer?" I bounded out of bed. Two hops and I was in the doorway, "Abita Amber." I looked back, Kristin shook her head no.

            When I got back from the kitchen Kristin was laying still with the covers pulled tightly around her. I stood looking down at the trim form shrouded in my ice blue sheet. I had been so smitten by her from the first time I saw her jogging in the 5K corporate run.

            "Hi, my name is David, and I just got to tell you, I think you're beautiful."

            "David, I'm Kristin. Your flattery is appreciated, but you said it so easily, I'm sure I'm not the only girl who's heard that today."

            "Look, I'm not from here. How does one get to talk to a girl like you?"

            "Do you want to talk to a girl like me, or do you want to talk to me?"

            "Touche." We walked in silence for a moment, catching our breath. Then we started talking, and we talked and talked, and talked some more. And now here we are several months later.

            As the immediate past of our getting together jetted through my mind, I concentrated on Kristin's hairline and on the upper half of her face which was the only part of her visible. Her eyes were closed but I knew she was awake.

            "Suppose it happened to me?" she said, picking up the conversation where we had left off when I tried the let's drink a beer evasion. Her voice was partially muffled by the sheet but the import of her question came through unimpeded.

            I put the beer bottle down on top of Ed McMann's smiling face on the Publisher's Clearinghouse envelope announcing that I had won $30 million dollars. At least the worthless envelope made a convenient temporary coaster. Usually that junk went straight from the mailbox into the front room trash can, but Kristin insisted that I ought to reply because "who knows, you can win a lot of money"—as soon as she leaves it's trashville for that scam.

            "Don't think like that," was my reply to her question as I leaned over and pulled the sheet down so that I could see her whole face.

            "I can't help it. I'm a woman. You're a man. You just don't know."

            I sat down facing the foot of the bed, one foot on the floor, my left leg drawn up next to Kristin.

            "Every time I leave here after dark, it's traumatic." Ignoring the strain in her voice, I turned, leaned over, brushed back her auburn hair from the side of her face and lovingly surveyed her facial features. She was ravishing.

            The subtle scent of an Italian perfume intoxicatingly waffed upward from the nape of her neck. The milk white orb of a perfect, polished pearl, stud earring highlighted her porcelin smooth, golden colored facial skin which was cosmetized with a deft finesse that made it almost impossible to tell what was flesh and what was foundation.

            New Orleans women, the mixture of French, Italian, English, Indian, Black and, god knows, what else gave a new meaning to feminine pulchritude. She had a classic Romanesque nose and a pert mouth whose tips ended in a slight upturn which almost made it impossible for her to frown. The attractiveness of Kristin's almond shaped, light brown eyes nearly hypnotized me and made it hard to respond to what was clearly some serious issues that she wanted to talk about.

            "Sometimes, when I get home, I have nightmares thinking about whether somebody has broke in and...

            "And what, shot and robbed me or something?"


            "Is that why you always call in the morning."


            "I'll be sure to phone you if something happens to me," I tried to joke.

            "David what are we going to do?"

            "Try to keep on living. Try to love each other. Try to make this city a better place."

            "That all sounds so noble but I keep thinking about that baby and about Ann."

            "Don't think about it."

            "That baby wasn't thinking about it and now he's dead. Before it happened to Ann, she never thought about it. I'm not an ostrich. I can't just stick my head in the sand and forget about it." I had to smile at that and hold my sarcasm in check. I had started to say that's exactly what you're doing by living in Metairie.

            After a short pause, Kristin continued, "Why do they act like that. They have to live here too? Can't they see that..."

            "Kristin, sweetheart, we're all in this together," I whispered while running the back of my fingers up and down her forearm.

            "No, we're not. We're the ones who have everything to l....," her vehemence indicated a real feeling of being wronged.

            It never seems to occur to many of us that black people suffer more from crime than we do. "You know the overwhelming majority of murder victims are black. You know most of the rape victims are blac..."

            "I know about Etienne. I know Ann."

            "I bet Ann was crazy long before that guy raped her," I said under my breath. Before she could ask me to repeat what I never should have uttered aloud in the first place, I tried to change the subject. "Come here," I said as I slid beneath the covers and pulled her toward me. Outside somebody was passing with some bounce music turned up to 15. Bounce was that infectious, New Orleans variation on rap that featured chanted choruses over modern syncopated beats. I felt Kristin stiffen in my arms as the music invaded the atmosphere of my bedroom.

            "I don't know how you stand it," she said into my chest.

            "It's just music," I responded while rubbing my face into her hair.

            "I'm not talking about the music."

            "What are you talking about?" I asked, pulling back slightly so I could read her physical expressions.

            "Not knowing when one of them..."

            "Them. Them! Who is them? You mean a black person," I questioned while disassembling our embrace and stretching my arms upward.

            She propped up on one elbow and spoke down to me. "No, I mean one of those crazy young black guys, the kind who would shoot you for a swatch watch."

            I looked her directly in the eyes, "You mean the kind who listens to that music we just heard?"

            Kristin didn't answer. After a few seconds, I turned away briefly at the same time that Kristin reclined and twisted her head to stare up at the ceiling. I watched her and waited for her reply for about forty-five seconds. Although she didn't say anything, something was clearly going through her mind. Her eyes were darting quickly back and forth like she was checking figures in a set of books against figures on an adding machine tape. I finally broke the silence with a dare, "Penny for your thoughts."

            She responded while still looking up at the ceiling, "Honest injun?" That was our playful code to inaugurate a series of questions and answers with no holds barred.

(end of part 1 of 4)


photo by Alex Lear

Tasty Knees


in the dark of touch

my face pressed heavy

to your head i open

my eyes and see the

night hair of you dark

as the lightless black

of a warm womb's interior,

your wetness inviting touch

your earth quakes, shakes and opens

as my rod my staff

slids across your ground

though i want to scream i

resolve to remain mute

as a militant refusing to snitch

to the improper authorities, but

suddenly, a riot of joy breeches my resolve

and i disperse the joyous quiet of our union

with an involuntary shout loud

as a bull elephant's triumphant ejaculation


of course i am exaggerating, but my, my, my

your knees did taste some good, yeah


—kalamu ya salaam


photo by Alex Lear

exit left


when i came to i didn't know where i was

on the ground, prone, near the levee bottom—i blacked out

while jogging, got up, walked home, still laboring a bit

between deep gulps i told nia as much as i could remember


my brother is a cardiologist, nia urged me to call him

tuesday morning early i take an ekg and the results are so disturbing

keith schedules me for a battery of tests an hour and a half later

i still have a meeting to do in between, my blood pressure was normal


i reappear, am radioactively injected, get wired up and climb on

a treadmill, lay under a nuclear camera, chat as though nothing

was wrong, submit to a sonargram, nia is there the whole time,

the results are negative, acceptable, i did not have a heart attack


keith can not determine the etiology of the alarming ekg

but i know the hard truth: at fifty i am almost through

i am dying and perhaps there is a metaphysical reason

no physical break down showed up on the machines this time


as the world unravels around me i coolly center the resulting chaos

within the calm of my karma's core—this is how i exist: i dare to do

all the good i can, i accept the uneveness of chance, i simply love

life for what it is and when my time comes, i am not afraid to exit


—kalamu ya salaam


Music—"Monk's Mood" by Thelonious Monk


Kalamu ya Salaam – vocals

Stephan Richter – clarinet

Frank Bruckner – guitar

Georg Janker - bass



Recorded: June 14, 1998 – "ETA Theatre" Munich, Germany



—kalamu ya salaam