Monday, November 3, 2008

Preparing for the Pilgrimage to Africa

When President Sinkford invited me to join his pilgrimage to Africa, I accepted without hesitation. The goals and itinerary for the journey are exciting and full of possibility. I am eager for the opportunity to help build new bridges in our global community and to support people who are working to strengthen communities in Africa. It will be an honor to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu and to hear him speak of “Truth and Reconciliation.”

In January Rev. Rosemary Bray-McNatt shared a DVD with me about the growth of UU congregations in African countries, as she prepared for her visit to Kenya. What synchronicity! Now as I prepare to leave on our journey I hope to get answers to questions such as these:

· What is universal in Unitarian Universalism?
· How is UU theology expressed in other cultural settings?
· Does having chosen to be part of a UU spiritual community give one a shared identity? How will it feel to recognize each other this way?
· What about my dual cultural identities, African & American? How will these parts of myself meet each other in Africa? How will these dual identities meet African people in their homelands?

I have traveled to Africa three times with my husband and our scuba diving club. On each trip, I found a part of myself that I did not know was missing. In Morocco (1988, 1989), a country with incredible contrasts between the pristine Saharan Desert and lush Mediterranean valleys, the ancient medinas and bustling modern cities, I found a sense of place that I did not know was missing. It came from this: we were often asked what tribe we were from. We’d reply, "the United States." Then the Moroccans would say, "Yes, but what tribe are you from?" They recognized that we shared a connection to people and families on the African continent, but we could not answer the question.

We traveled to Egypt (1992) because the Red Sea is a world class dive destination. I took 22 rolls of film and a hardback journal. Knowing this was a significant journey, I had everyone in our group make an entry in the book and I wrote every day. Even with that, I was not prepared for what would happen. The Egyptian experience freed me psychologically by giving me first hand exposure to pre-colonial history and African countries as leaders on the world stage. I moved from a limited westernized version of history to a global inclusive one. I returned to the states angry and thinking more critically about who is telling the story and how we in the US are educated not to know the history of Africa and the many contributions that Africa and Africans have made to the world.

Sixteen years have passed since then. I have changed a lot. This journey will be very different. There’s a different purpose: a UU invitation. There are different countries: South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. There are different travelers: President Rev. Bill Sinkford and his wife Maria, Rev. Eric Cherry and me as a lay leader. I hope to get to know my fellow travelers and to be a guest as well as a global citizen. This pilgrimage will be a life-changing experience.