Thursday, May 10, 2007

The deep south and the Afro-Americans

Needs revising
So, there I was with a bag full of interests in my closet waiting to be opened, to seek adventures and to see what the world out there is hiding. I felt like I was in a pimple on God's ass - totally removed from everything wild, crazy, and fun.

In 2003, I decided to go to Arkansas. It wasn't me who came up with the choice of that state. Arkansas sounded like Kansas at the time and I was prepared for the worst, but I didn't really care. To be honest, I didn't know anything about the state but that it was in the deep south and that is where I wanted to go.

You see, when I was kid, it wasn't only the 'Indians' I was obsessed with. It was also Afro-Americans and blues and jazz. This admiration also has roots in the stories my mother told me. I can't remember the title of the story, but it was about an African boy who one day sat on a whale and traveled the world on its back. Then, my dad told me about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Then there was Jim who escaped from the plantation and sailed on the raft with Huckleberry Finn.

Then, my father introduced Miles and Coltrane and old blues men records that he brought from his sea adventures.

There was something about these stories....I felt it when I was little although I couldn't name was more a subconscious thing. But there was something powerful that I felt. It was this strength in the characters, in the blues men sang, in the jazz musicians playing so deeply immersed in their feelings and thoughts...there was something that is not SAD, hopeless or miserable, but strong, wise, and mysterious.

The romantic naivety of the story atmosphere soon broke apart when I dived into the history books about the Afro-Americans and found what the white race did to Africans, who even after building "America" in horrible conditions as slaves and degraded people never became Americans but a hyphenated minority, just like all other minorities there. So much for your melting pot! As far as I see it, nothing in America melts. Maybe on the surface, but the inside is still a salad of particles oiled by the white race, and will never melt.
Those books really made me want to puke on the human existence....

Anyway, I was not allowed to watch much TV as a kid- especially not in the evening, when it was bed time. But I remember once, years and years ago, we had this channel in Slovenia. Just for a few months and then it got canceled. It was Sky One - an American or a British channel, I can't remember which. But I remember as freshly as if it was yesterday...One Sunday evening, a series of films began, and it was called Roots. The films were inspired by a novel of the same name, Roots, written by Alex Haley. It started out with a black man running into the dark jungle somewhere in Africa, trying to escape from people who were after him with ropes and chains. He could not escape and was transported to America on a slave ship. That man's name was Kunta Kinte. I will never forget it. Memories come back vividly now. I had goose bumps then and I have goose bumps now. Anyway, he was enslaved on a cotton plantation in Virginia. Soon, he tried to escape, but was caught. His punishment disabled him from ever escaping again - his master cut off his foot.
The series of films were about Kunta Kinte's descendants trying to survive in the cruel world ruled by white Americans. They tried to abolish slavery, they fought for their rights after the abolition, fought the Jim Crow laws and the ugly claws of segregation...all this while trying to keep their dignity and pride. Haley, through a history of one family, captured the history of an entire race of people whose names and identities were stolen from them.

I watched the movies as a kid, and tried to read the book when I got a little older. I quit,though. Over 600 pages takes some of your motivation away...It takes a hell of an exciting story for me to finish if it has over 600 pages....

But to come back to my story...I needed to see the old south. And these stories from my childhood strongly enhanced my travels.

Coming to the deep south, I was first shocked by the humidity and the heat. I thought I would die at first. Just imagine slaves and workers working through the day on the fields for hours on by day...IN THIS UNBEARABLE HEAT!!!! .... Nowadays, people stay in more than they are outdoors. I learned to like the heat of the South. Somehow, my body liked the heat and the humidity, so I wandered around constantly, having the streets all to myself, cars honking at me, people yelling out of their windows how crazy I was to walk...There were no sidewalks...but that didn't stop me from exploring....Soon, I found those supposedly extinct juke joints where Afro-Americans play their music and just sing sing pompous lights or stage or nothing. Just pure music and soul. And fun, of course.

The Mississippi Delta was just as I expected it would be. Mississippi and Alabama are the poorest states in America...but certainly my favorite - next to Louisiana and California. ....

But more about that in the next post.

See ya there.

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