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Delaney: Thinking Of Africa

Soon after graduate school I accepted a post in an Islamic university in the deepest heart of Muslim Africa. Kano, Nigeria is a city in the southern reaches of the Sahara desert, a city that’s more than 1000 years old.

Sometimes it seems like a dream to think that I actually lived and thrived in such an awesome place. I knew an Islam that was steadfastly pious but also one that was welcoming to my wife and myself, even though we were Westerners, and therefore outsiders.

But there was much more to that continent and the people that I grew to love and respect. In my young adulthood, when I wasn’t at work, I roamed the continent – from the Sahara through the immensity of Nigeria, so torn by war back then. Once I hitched a ride on a lorry hauling peanut oil to the distant port of Lagos, and at night slept on the road beneath the lorry. Years later I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro – the roof of Africa - with my son.

The Africa I remember so well was one where the smiles were the warmest I’ve ever known and friendships transcended race and religion. Once, I spent the night in a tiny hostel in a town called Onitsa where I watched a woman ironing. She was wrapped in brightly colored cloth and she was dancing - swaying and bobbing unselfconsciously around the ironing board. African music known as Hi-Life throbbed away in the background, and she was clearly happy. So was I. Some say that life is a river, and this was mid-stream.

If I had died 15 or 20 years ago I would never have known what a fundamentalist jihadi was. I would never have heard of the group, Al Shabaab – The Movement of Striving Youth - and I would not have to contemplate the destruction they so recently brought to the city of Nairobi, Kenya, where scores of people were killed or wounded by gunfire and grenades – simply because they were Westerners, or Africans who weren’t Muslims. Many had reportedly been tortured.

But Africa has always had its share of suffering - and not just at the hands of Arabs sailing down the Indian ocean centuries ago, or Europeans hunting slaves for the plantations of the new world. There is also the Africa of the leper without face or hands, the Africa of the man walking on his hands because he is crippled, the Africa of hungry and malnourished children. And when I ask why this should be, especially on a continent so rich in resources, there is never an answer.

But once, high on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, struggling for oxygen, I took a break. It was night and the sky was strewn with the brightest of stars. My guide climbed onto a large rock where he softly sang a beautiful song in Swahili.

And that too is Africa.

Dennis Delaney is a former Republican State Senator.
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