Culture: What is the What (Le Grand Quoi) by Dave Eggers – An Ode to African Immigrants in the U.S.

During my interesting college years, one professor used to say that we were all immigrants (or should I say emigrants?)  He argued that an emigrant being a person escaping from something or someone, each human being is trying to escape.  Some are fleeing wars, hunger and poverty in their native countries.  Others are running away from responsibility, battered family life, physical abuse, violence or reality.   Some immigrate to another country; others immigrate to a different state of mind.  However, the most distinctive characteristic of any immigrant would be that we never feel at home anywhere.  We remain foreigners deep down, forever nomads in search of complete relief…


I am always biased when it comes to generalization, and would not go as far as to say that every single human being feels the need to escape.  However, the professor’s words never left my mind and when I started reading Dave Eggers’ novel “What is the What”, the words echoed some of my feelings as an African immigrant to the U.S.  Unlike the main character Valentino Acha Deng, I did not run away from war, though many had to escape the country to save their lives.  I was asked to leave to advance my education and make a ‘better’ life for my family and myself.  Like Acha Deng, I have often wondered where in the world I landed, and have asked myself numerous times if I am indeed better off here than where I grew up.

I will confess that I purchased the book three years ago but have never had the heart to finish it because it felt too personal.  You see, when I read a novel or watch a movie, I want to escape from reality completely…oh wait, we all do…was the professor right after all? Of course not! 🙂 🙂  This is one reason why I have not been able to watch Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” since I have been in the U.S.  If I were to be honest, I would admit that I never liked the movie back home because I could not fathom why a prince would come to this country and work for a fast food chain simply to get a woman.  I know, he did it all for love…sure 🙂

Regardless, I feel ready to get back to “What is the What” and complete its reading.  If you get the opportunity to read the book, or if you’ve read it already, please let me know your opinion on the subject!  Maybe I will muster enough courage to rent “Coming to America” and watch it again, for good time’s sake…hmmm maybe not; I have never been a fan of Eddie Murphy anyway.

Let’s end this post with a quote from Roosevelt:

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

* What is the What is entitled Le Grand Quoi in French.

Culture: To My Mom by Camara Laye


Image credits to

My African heritage begins and ends with my mother, the lovely woman who has given her whole for her children and remains a beautiful lady inside and out, despite all the trials and losses she has experienced throughout the years.  A picture of my lovely mother below:


While I was searching for my first topic on African culture, a song that I learned back in primary school* played in my mind.   The song is an excerpt from the book ” L’Enfant Noir” by Camara Laye. This translates to the “Black Kid”.  The book was published in 1953 in Paris.


Camara Laye was born in Haute-Guinée in 1928 and decided to write about his childhood at age 25 while in Paris.  His book is a powerful description of customs and traditions of his people, back when he was a young boy.  The excerpt that is forever inscribed in my memory is his poem to his mom.

The original text in French below, and my attempt to english translation further down.  Laye’s poem rings true to the African mothers I have known…and I hope that the newer generation of mothers stays true to this description.  I can only hope…

*As a background, the Belgium system I was raised in, back in Congo-Kinshasa, segments education into two categories: primary school and secondary school.  Primary school starts from age six (or five) to 11-12 years old, grades are one to six.  Secondary school begins at age 12 to 17/18.


Femme noire, femme africaine,

Ô toi ma mère je pense à toi …

Ô Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui me portas sur le dos, toi qui m’allaitas, toi qui gouvernas mes premiers pas, toi qui la première m’ouvris les yeux aux prodiges de la terre,

Je pense à toi …

Femme des champs, femme des rivières, femme du grand fleuve,  ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi …

Ô toi Dâman, ô ma mère, toi qui essuyais mes larmes, toi qui me réjouissais le cœur, toi qui, patiemment supportais mes caprices,

Comme j’aimerais encore être près de toi, être enfant près de toi !

Femme simple, femme de la résignation,

Ô toi, ma mère, je pense à toi … 

Ô Dâman, Dâman de la grande famille des forgerons, ma pensée toujours se tourne vers toi,

La tienne à chaque pas m’accompagne,

Ô Dâman, ma mère, comme j’aimerais encore être dans ta chaleur, être enfant près de toi …

Femme noire, femme africaine,

ô toi, ma mère, merci;

Merci pour tout ce que tu fis pour moi, ton fils,

Si loin, si près de toi ! 

English Translation by Sissi:

Black Woman, African Woman,

Oh, you my mother, I am thinking of you

Oh, Daman, oh my mother, you who you carried me on your back, you who breastfed me, you who directed my first steps, you who opened my eyes to the marvelous works of the earth,

I am thinking of you…

Woman of the fields, woman of the rivers, woman of the big river, oh you my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh you Daman, oh you my mother,  you who dried my tears, you who rejoiced my heart,  you who patiently endured my whims

How I wish I could be close to you again, be a child close to you again,

Woman of simplicity, woman of resignation,

Oh you, my mother, I am thinking of you,

Oh Daman, Daman of the large family of blacksmiths, my though always revolves around you,

Yours is with me at each step,

Oh Daman, my mother, How I wish I were in your warmth, to be a child close to you…

Black woman, African woman,

Oh you, my mother, thank you

Thank you for all you’ve done for me, your son,

So far, yet so close to you

What is your memory of your mother? Please share!