jeudi 14 juin 2007

Malaika Africa

(A Girl and Her Ball, Park Belleville. Copyright © 2007 by MA Shumin.)

I think one of the things I’ll forever be grateful for while living in Paris is in learning more about the people and the continent of Africa. Today I know more about the geography of the Africa continent than I do about the fifty states in the United States of America. It’s no joke that I had to look at a map to find where the state of Rhode Island is (it’s not far from New York City).

Growing up in the big metropolis of New York I was exposed to African Americans very early in life. Though their origin can be traced back to West Africa, their ancestors have been on American soil as early as the first European settlers. They most likely took the same the same Mayflower boat across the Atlantic. Dark in skin, these Americans are as American as what being an American can be. They speak American English just like me, and share the same American culture.

In United States, there is the history of slavery; and in France, there is the history of colonialism. Because of France’s colonial history in Africa, here in Paris you will find various African enclave neighborhoods particularly located in northeast part of the city. The neighborhoods of Barbès, Porte de Clignanourt and Belleville are just a few of these neighborhoods. Here you will find many foyers (residence halls) where the men and women live. They come mostly from the sub-Saharan countries of Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and the list is endless.

They are the ones who came to France to rebuild the country after the war. They are the construction workers who built the famous Stade de France (stadium). They are the cleaning ladies in law offices. They are the garbage truck workers who pass by my window and every other residents’ every single day exactly at 8pm. They are the nannies pushing the baby carriages in the streets and in parks. They are such a big part of Paris that I can’t imagine how the middle class French Parisians can function without them.

I had an especially in-depth study of Africa in 2006 when I attended the European Social Documentary workshop in Italy and Hungary. This EU Media Plus funded training initiative brought together 22 filmmakers/NGOs from over 17 old and new EU countries, from West and East Europe. The 6 month experience was quite an eye and mind opening experience for me, both intellectually as a filmmaker and emotionally as a person.

We saw a documentary film, “AFRICA LIVE: The Roll Back Malaria Concert” by Mick Csáky. It was both a raising awareness and fundraising effort to improve the health situation in Africa. In the opening of the film was an old Swahili song from Tanzania sung in a powerful voice without any instruments. The name of the song is called “Malaika” (Angel), this version is by the popular Benin singer, Angelique Kidjo.

A continent dominated by famine, disease, exploitation of natural resources, poverty, tribal conflicts, and manmade or natural misfortunes, I always find hope in music from Africa. It is uplifting to hear music, and I am especially touched by the power of the human voice as an instrument. It is not something that money and resources can buy. It’s a talent, a gift that is in the person. And that is precious.

Coming to live in Paris, meeting Africans and learning about their culture gave me a glimpse to what life can be like in Africa. It is an introduction to a very diverse continent that I would like to see for myself one day.

Listen to: Malaika

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