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I am From

Ibrahima Kaba. I was born to a Maninka family in the town of Kankan in central Guinea in the year "right after the Great Hunger", as I've been told by many. When I was four years old, my mother gave me to her sister to raise. I guess you can say, adopt. Why? No reason in particular, just something my people do often. And so I moved to a small town in eastern Sierra Leone called Koindu.

Though a Muslim, in Koindu I attended a Roman Catholic primary and secondary school. There, I studied the Bible, geography, world history, and English. So unlike what many Americans think, no, America is not the first place I started speaking English. I stayed in Koindu from 1980 to 1991. If you followed tragic stories of Africa in the last couple of decades, then you know Koindu was the first town attacked in what turned out to be a ten year civil war in Sierra Leone. I guess this mean we were lucky, because it was just another civil war then. The machetes came later, "Operation No Living Thing" came much later, arms and limbs of women and children started falling shortly thereafter....

Before all of that, I moved back to Guinea where I became a refugee in the country of my birth.

As luck would have me again, I got my visa-stamped passport without as much as setting foot in the US embassy with its notorious long lines of young and able Africans dying to follow the footsteps of their long lost cousins. On September 21, 1991--brrr, a cold Saturday evening--I left my seat in Sabena Airline, walked through a tunnel, checked in with a very familiar looking black man in a customs' booth, got my bag sliced with a knife to make sure the sandy material lurking between the linings was not something 15-year-olds traffic into the country, and walked out to New York.

This is it! New York, baby! I couldn't believe it. I'm in The BIG Apple, city of cities, possibly the most popular city in the world. When Africans sit at home and dream of America, forget the rest, this is it! Harlem, Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan...New York! The glass buildings towered above my head, white faces--oh my God, white faces--everywhere I turned. How I felt must be how Dorothy felt. If I knew the story then, I would have turned to my cousin, "Oumar, I don't think we're in Conakry anymore".

Two days later Pittsburg--where I thought a dark microwave in the kitchen was a TV--was behind me. America was what was ahead. It started in Chicago. Evanston to be exact. 45 days later I was one of the young faces matching up and down the halls of Evanston Township High School. At ETHS I met a lot of mentors. Besides wonderful teachers, I also met people like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston, Maya, and more.

I graduated from ETHS three years later in 1994. Then it was off to college at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Those days I've tried to capture in Sonofagod, a novel I completed shortly after college. I graduated from SCSU in December 2000 with a bachelor's degree in Business Computer Information Systems. (That's what you do when you don't know how to disagree with your elders--you major in something you know you can do, but know is not your calling.) After graduation, I worked as a database designer for about a year and half. As fate would have it, the company went under, I lost my job, and realized I didn't want to be doing that for the rest of my life. It goes without saying I didn't bother looking for another job in the field. With the time I had, I got to a keyboard and resume work on the above mentioned novel I first started the summer of my junior year in college. Somewhere in all that, I found out poetry is not only for Shakespeare, it's not only for academicians, it's not only for the paper, it's not only about hiding meaning in words. It can be accessible, it's for you, me, a kid in grade school, those in grad school, absolutely anyone. You can get on a microphone, read it, scream it, sing it, rap it, recite it, say it exactly the way it's on your mind--swear words and all. I was hooked!

My writing, for the most part, is about Africans in America about being Black in America. It is my attempt to teach the world about us, sometime us about us. Like any other group, we have a story that is unique, fresh, and yes, deserves and needs to be told. And this is what I do whenever I have a pen or a mic in my hand.