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It’s very easy for me to tell a story in which I paint myself as the hero, but it’s a lot harder to actually be a hero. One element of African heroism that is difficult to understand outside of merely fantasizing about its implications is that in Africa, even heroism is a matter of birthright. It isn’t a single act of bravery that classifies someone as a hero. It’s a name given at birth that can never be legally changed. It’s a prophecy that creates hopeful expectancy for those who are convinced they need a born leader. Even before birth, I was considered a hero as the chosen successor of my grandfather in the village. This was a name, a position, a calling, a script from which I was destined to read. Even if I never felt cut out for the part, I did assume responsibility for keeping the village entertained by leading rituals that affirmed the common ties of sensationalist traditionalism.
Tradition is the bread and butter of any society. Whether having grown up with the notion of jolly old saint Nicholas or blood sucking vampires, each is believed by individuals to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the zeal in which their ancestors dressed the part. In American terms, I was still a child. But to my African family, I was Jolly Old Saint Nick. I was the one responsible for leaving the cookies and milk at Christmas time only to quickly turnaround and change into my Santa suit before anyone took real notice. Though at such a young age, it was empowering to realize I was charged with setting the stage for a drama, in which even the adults refused to separate the reality from the truth, at times I just wanted to be the one privileged enough to exercise blind faith. I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning and rush to see what had magically fit down the chimney for me.
But at times, my childhood was a far cry from Christmas morning. Although each day was connected to the next with much anticipation, it was more like a dreadful anticipation that made waiting a cruel mind game in which I was forced to participate. I wanted what I could barely imagine to exist. It was something indescribable but real, something unreachable but within, a freedom, a feeling, finality, a happy ending that would be the beginning of a new life in which I could finally enjoy the moment, not just the fuzzy memories.