Magazine article New African

Egypt: Crisis of Identity; Fed Up with Living in Toronto, Canada, Franklin Okot (a Ugandan) Decided to Go "Back Home" to Africa. He Chose Cairo as His New Home, but Egypt, Sadly, Turned out to Be a Place for Everybody "Except Black Africans", He Writes. This Is One of the Most Harrowing Tales an African Can Ever Tell

Magazine article New African

Egypt: Crisis of Identity; Fed Up with Living in Toronto, Canada, Franklin Okot (a Ugandan) Decided to Go "Back Home" to Africa. He Chose Cairo as His New Home, but Egypt, Sadly, Turned out to Be a Place for Everybody "Except Black Africans", He Writes. This Is One of the Most Harrowing Tales an African Can Ever Tell

Article excerpt

My African compatriots in Canada could not believe why I chose Cairo. Was I crazy? I knew what they meant, but they had no idea what I had been through in the Canadian "paradise". Uncertainty about life in North America after September 11 had raised anxiety to an excruciating level. One froze at the sight of powder and dreaded the mailbox. Racism had reared its ugly head.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Mohamed!" A staff sneered at me in a Toronto hospital where I had gone to recover from a lingering hangover, in a futile attempt to drown my worries and anxiety. I was so inflamed! It was time to move on, to go back home.

Confidently I set off, hoping to be welcomed with open arms in the land of Nasser. Like the Osagyefo (Kwame Nkrumah), I would wed an Egyptian as a symbol of solidarity with my Arab "brethren".

The British Airways plane hovered over the Nile in this pulsating capital of almost 20 million people, a moonscape of skyscrapers only dimly visible through dense, brownish smog. Inside the airport, small by international standard, I handed over my passport. "Sit here and wait", I was told.

All I needed was a slumber, frazzled after a 24-hour journey from Toronto via London. However, why did my fellow European travellers just walk past while I was told to sit and wait? One hour and ticking! Finally, more documents please! I handed all and sundry, including my bankcard.

Next day I emerged into the damp evening chill. I felt nervous; there were policemen in every corner! Soon I realised they were there to keep the streets safe; prevention is better than cure.

The taxi driver pulled alongside a bus that towered above us. Above the frantic din of vehicles, he soon picked up a conversation with the bus driver and his assistant who kept staring at me.

"What were they saying?", I asked my driver. The brown-faced man never minced his words: "That we're too dark". Too dark! The blood rushed to my face as my optimism collapsed in a heap around me. "Fools, they don't have mothers!", I cursed. The driver tried to soothe me.

I reflected on the ugly forces of "shadism" at work in the Dominican Republic. I never imagined it exists right here in Africa. Moreover, I had read on the internet that Egyptians were the nicest people on earth. Now I know! Arab hospitality appeared to be reserved for Caucasians who wonder everywhere, confident of being loved. My enthusiasm turned into ire. I felt no comfort, even as the aroma of Ramadan roast surrounded me.

Flanked by Sudanese and Nigerian newfound friends, I sat gazing upon the Nile. Hundreds of Cairenes came out of their homes to the river in evening stroll. Young ones, accompanied by their mothers, or both parents, stared at us as if we were zombies planted on the seat.

I became a pot-shot for stones to be thrown at--the first time at a sidewalk in a Cairo suburb by a little girl. I smiled and looked at her face, expecting her to smile back. Instead, she picked another stone and cast it in my direction. She assumed she knew everything about me just by looking at my skin. It is how stereotypes work.

In Asmara (Eritrea), the latest craze is things African--language, music and fashion. But in Cairo, my pricey, embroidered Nigerian top only invited contempt and stares.

Though not violent by nature, Egyptians drive you mad, ever reminding you of your birthday suit. "Chocolata!" a kid shouts at us in a passing car. On the street and in buses, young people (called shebabs), call you "Siyabunga!" sometimes so politely that you would think it a eulogy, not an insult.

"What's the time?" means "watch your colour!" I complied each time they asked me, thinking they were kids hurrying to school or work, until one evening in an alley; it hit me like a slap. My wrist was naked in short-sleeves. Why had I allowed myself to be fooled by kids?

One night, I came back from the popular "Africana" nightclub to find my key couldn't fit. …

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