Africa, I understand why they call you “Mama.”

You opened your arms and you embraced me, enveloping me in your love despite my most volatile and juvenile of hatreds. Just like a child I spat on you, not appreciating the gifts you held in your outstretched, overworked, underpaid brown arms. Instead, disgusted by your rough, calloused feet, I looked the other way, searching for an escape in the burnt orange horizon.

But now, Mama—now I understand. And just like a good Mama, you never retracted your embrace, never recoiled your watchful, guarded eye. Instead, you let me return. Without a word of chastise or a hint of condemnation, you let me run back into your arms, burying my golden face into your bosom, tears streaming down my cheeks. You let me repent for past misgivings, for prayers unheard, for my misunderstanding. Forgive me, Mama. I was scared. I didn’t know that you were about to offer me that which I had never received; that which I will never experience again.

But I understand now because I listened, Mama.

I heard you whispering to me from the townships, where the barefooted bounce of a Sowetan boy welcomed me into his community. I saw you in the smiling eyes of children in Snathing, where orphaned boys and girls walked to schools buried in the hills. I heard you from behind a chainlink fence, where 8-year-old school boys, backpacks raised high, asked me how I was doing in what would soon become the voices of proud African men. I saw your reflection in the water, balanced atop the high heads of regal, African queens.

That’s where I found you, Mama. Not in the gated communities of Umhlanga, but in the orange dirt roads of the townships. I found you in the hopeful faces of African students, determined to find a better future for themselves inside dusty classrooms, contained only by the shattered glass of abused, broken windows. I found you during the drive to Johannesburg, watching the sun set over still, rocky mountains. But why were you hiding from me, Mama? Or was it me who was hiding from you?

Had I known what you were going to teach me, I would have run to you sooner. I didn’t know that you were about to introduce me to myself, Mama, granting me hours behind the buzzing glow of my laptop—writing, asking questions I had never before dared to ask. I didn’t know that you would force me to reckon with the ugliest and most beautiful parts of myself in one night. I didn’t know that here, you would introduce me to Humanity; where I would witness the simplest forms of ubuntu and the simplest forms of human atrocity.

Forgive me, Mama. I did not know.

But I do now. And, like all of your children, I have returned home. From this moment forth, I promise that, in spirit, I will never again forsake you. I cry for all of the things you have given me; all of the lessons you have taught. I cry tears of gratitude, thanking you for your unconditional support on my journey back to finding you—or rather, you finding me.

Thank you . . . Mama.

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