PASSAGES Series Pt. 3: Returning

Part three of Imani Ballard’s and Kayshon Paris’ PASSAGES, a video series focused on connecting and amplifying a global community of color by reclaiming their own narrative of experiences and redetermining what it means to be young Black Americans from the “inner city”.  This installment takes Imani and Kayshon to Marrakech, Morocco.

The PASSAGES web series by Imani Ballard and Kayshon Paris
Part three of he PASSAGES web series by Imani Ballard and Kayshon Paris

I felt as if I were on a long journey home. Marrakech felt like a layover, a quick tease — not quite home, not quite foreign. My body silently shook as the pilot readied my 7 a.m. flight for landing. As I surveyed the heads of the stark green palm trees dotting the rust-tinted terrain, I felt the melodious furling and unfurling knots in the pit of my stomach as I seeped deeper into anxiety. I again thought to myself that this would be my first time being anywhere in Africa. On one hand, I longed to celebrate the passages of my lineage finally coming full circle; they had left over a hundred years before, and I, born in a completely different age, shared not only their DNA but also their wishes to return home. On the other hand, I suffocated with this history and wanted to rush to the nearest wastebin to vomit. I knew this trip was not my own.

While we descended closer to the tarmac, I wondered if my feelings of attachment contributed to the whitewashing of Africa. Albeit, my ancestors were likely abducted closer to the “Gold Coast”, a region thousands of miles from where I would soon be landing, nevertheless, I still felt my brain scatter for familiarity. I knew Morocco had its own unique culture and realm of experience, wholly different from Ghana or Benin or Cote D’Ivoire. I reminded myself to cast away the idea of one, generalized “Africa” that had grown up alongside me.

The thud of the wheels striking onto the pavement jolted me out of my thoughts. I began to seek comfort in the proximity I now was to the land of my forefathers. Before, I could only rely on abstract text and videos while being a few thousand miles away, which added to the mysticality of the continent. Now, I was within mere hours from my origins. I imagined if I breathed deep enough, I would be able to catch whiffs of smells that would spark flashbacks of yesteryear.

As the door behind the cockpit crept open, I grabbed the hand of my partner, Kayshon, and whispered, “Isn’t this weird? We’re one of the first in our families to make it back.”

His reassuring smile in response placated my racing thoughts for a few moments. The wait to descend the stairs and walk onto the hot Moroccan soil felt unimaginably long. This delay was intensified as I filled the silence with a barrage of my own thoughts. I thought about the emotions my ancestors would have endured as their clothing, their identity, and their agency was stripped from them. Deep anguish and fear likely consumed every waking moment of their arduous journey. Did they say to themselves,

Where are they taking us?

What made these foreigners so inhumanely cruel?

I considered how many times they languished over the thought,

Why me?

As I finally took a step out of the airplane and hit a wall of scorching, unmoving heat, I suddenly noticed the cooling stream of tears now providing a temporary respite from my otherwise burning face. I took a deep breath and threw my head back to relish in the unforgiving sunlight. Realizing I was causing traffic for the other passengers behind me, I let out a deep laugh and made my way into the intensely air conditioned terminal and on to customs.

On our first day, Kayshon and I trekked from our Riad, located deep in the medina, and headed to the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square. On our way there, we would pass groups of young men who would shout “Somalia” or “Somali” after we passed. Based on my passing observations, Moroccans varied in skin tones from rich mahogany and deep mocha to cool beige and pale white. To me, we looked like the other dark skinned Moroccans I had seen.

I had badly desired to be able to blend harmoniously with Marrakech. Yet, I could never grasp the right way to haggle at the souks or how to wander confidently through the winding streets of the medina. After about a week into our stay in Marrakech, I was eager to pack my bags and move on. I was thoroughly frustrated with my inability to adapt to the Moroccan lifestyle and attitudes. I quickly began to notice the game of cat and mouse the foreigners and locals seem to play with each other. After a barrage of appeals to visit this restaurant or partake in another one of a kind experience, I noticed how I, along with many foreigners, grew almost cold to any encounter with Moroccans. After speaking with a Moroccan friend about this issue, I also began to understand the hesitation some Moroccans experience in approaching foreigners as they would automatically be assumed to be merchants. This endless game seemed to create an underlying foundation of tension and mistrust.

As we briefly discussed in the PASSAGES video on Marrakech, Kayshon and I had an eye-opening yet enjoyable overall experience in Marrakech. As a Black American, I wholly realize the nationality and class privilege I possess. Unlike others who share my identity, I am able to travel internationally and engage with people of different backgrounds. Yet it is my obligation to not only share my experience but to create opportunities for others in my community to connect with a larger diasporic community. For me, this trip highlighted both a past of stolen agency and a present of reclaiming my voice and identity. This trip was not my own. Generations before me worked for the opportunities I now benefit from, and I envision our community must continue this work for generations to come.

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