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Over the last year or so, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie morphed into one of my favourite authors for many reasons, the main one being that there is an alluring authenticity about how she portrays African stories. All her lead characters are Nigerian. Bar those that are foreigners, all her characters carry Nigerian names without compromise. She does not tell stories of Africans toing in villages without clothing, fetching food in forests and digging up water, nor does she tell fantasy stories of “black” magic, the “gods” and evil forests. She instead tells stories of people having human experiences, going through the motions and feeling things that anyone anywhere else in the world, regardless of their race, might experience, stories of a people whose stories are never really heard because the world does not permit them to have tales, a people whom the world has for so long dictated what they can and cannot be so that their stories are to it –the world- mere clamour. She tells stories of an Africa that the world refuses to see. And it’s always clear to see from her work how immensely proud she is of her culture, of her people, of where she is from. I have always thought that there is a certain relativity in her books that never fails to draw me in, a relativity that has me see myself in the pages of her work.

And it was by reading her books that I realized that I struggled with an identity crisis when I first got to Turkey, that I realized that an identity crisis was even a thing. See, for a very long while, I did not know what version of African I wanted to be. Did I want to be the African who went abroad, picked up an accent, and forgot how to speak his native tongues, or at least pretended to do so? Did I want to be the African who was somewhat ashamed to be one, the one who was apologetic for his being African, the one who bore his Africanness as a cloak that he only donned to the places he reckoned it would be appropriate for? Did I want to be the African who hoped to be less African, one who implicitly willed people to say of him, “Are you really Zambian? You neither look nor sound it.”

Or did I want to be the African who clung onto his roots, to his culture as though it were the last string of rope propping him up on an edge over which he had fallen, the one whose Africanness spoke for him before he uttered a word, the one whose Africanness was audible in his tone, in his accent, in his laughter? Did I want to be the African whose insides would seethe at the slightest implication of prejudice?

A huge part of me feels as though I would have ended up being the version of African I now distaste had I not come across Ms. Ngozi’s work. Because she made me realize that our stories are beautiful, that who we are as a people is beguiling, that our legitimate selves, undiluted by what we have been made to think we ought to be, is of value to the world, that we too have much to offer this world from our authentic selves, from the culture, principles and heritage specific to us. She made me realize that we are not a people who should be ashamed of themselves, a people of whom the world should for eternity think of as poor and uncivilized, a people with whom “less than” must forever be correlated, that we too are a people who have everything it takes to be great, to be more than the negative connotation that “African” carries. She made me realize that we are a creative people, storytellers, innovators, inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, leaders and everything they tell us we cannot be…that among other things, perhaps the greatest achievement of any form of segregation against us was convincing us that we are inferior, that we were damaged and hence needed fixing, that we were never and perhaps will never be enough. And so generations and generations are born into an environment that conditions them to envy being everything else but themselves.

And so I consciously chose to be the better version, the one who wore his Africanness as the fabric of his skin so that it would go with him everywhere he went, the one who refused to pick up an accent, but instead let his mother tongue influence how he spoke every other language. I chose to be the African who was tremendously proud of where he was from, the one who never let a syllable of disrespect of his origins be uttered in his presence. I chose to be the proud African, the proud Zambian. I am proud to be Zambian. I am proud of our very diverse culture and heritage, of the different shades of black, the different tones of language spoken amongst one people. I am proud of how creative, how innovative, how resourceful, how hardworking a people we are. I am proud of our ability, our desire to do whatever it takes to make it. I am proud of our inclination to just live in the moment, to enjoy life, of our ability to laugh it off, to find the humour in everything, to take the mick out of…well, everyone. I am proud of it all.

We do not come from much, but we do come from something. And that is enough to take us all the way to the top of the mountain, to have us be anything we want to be. Our legitimate selves, who we are, rooted in our origins, origins specific to only us so that we are as unique an entity as any other people, would be of such value, of such benefit to a world that does not ever really see us, a world to whom we have never really shown our true selves. We are what the world needs. But none of that will ever come to fruition for as long as we are a people ashamed of themselves, a people who feel as though their origins are incongruous with them, as though where they come from is not good enough, a people who wish to be anything else, to be anyone else save themselves. For as long as we are rueful of who we are, where we come from, the only thing we will be able to display of ourselves is our flaws.

And so, Zambian Child, be proud of yourself. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Be proud of this country, to have come from this very unique country. This country is and will forever be your genesis. And anything you ever pan out to be in this life will be in part owed to the fact that this is where it all started. Being Zambian, being whatever you are, is not something you ought to be contrite for. It is rather something you should feel ineffable pride about, something you are to hold as dear as you would a gem because that is the basis of everything that makes you so special and unique. Without it, you only ever be a replica of what already exists. The world needs a Zambia, an Africa at its helm. Do you not see how battered it is without one? I hope that you too will choose to be that African, the one who sports his/her Africanness as an integral part of who he/she is, the one who flaunts it as though it were as unique and as a precious a design as can be, the one who yearns to redefine what “African” means.

As for me, regardless of what I pan out to be in this world, I will always be the kid from Choma, Zambia. And I will always be proud of that.

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