X is for Xanadu

Where is your Xanadu?
Where is your Xanadu?

“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.” ~ George R. R. Martin


I used to have a dream where I was a young woman running bare-breasted through an African village. I don’t know where I was going but I know that I was on purpose and that life was good. Something about the serenity I felt led me to understand that this was a pre-colonial time, a time before interlopers trounced and imaginary boundary lines were drawn. It was a time of the empires of Ghana, and Songhai, and Timbuktu. Intelligent times. Cultures rich with knowledge and know-how and wealth. There was an overwhelming sense of joy and peace for me there. Then morning, and I would awaken to the third-dimensional reality of my day.

From my earliest memories, I felt a strong pull towards Africa. I wondered how it might be to have lived in a time and place where I was not despised. Africa was my Xanadu. As a teenager I dreamed of getting to know more about Africa and what life was like on the continent. My aunt piqued my curiosity as she introduced the Ethiopian exchange students she housed. She also played Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata” on the record player while showing me African-styled dances. Then, the dawning of the Black Arts movement and Afro hairstyles arose, and big, jangly earrings and African dashikis were the order of the day. James Brown couldn’t sing, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” loud or long enough.  I longed to see the Motherland more than ever, to match the experience of this new feeling of pride with the contentment of the dream. Africa was still mysterious but I was drawn by her siren call.This dream recurred until I got the opportunity to travel to Kenya.


“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”  ~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Traveling, finally, to Africa was traveling home to me.  I was on the continent, if not in the land of my personal ancestors.  It was a perspective that overwhelmed my senses. Black people were everywhere — flying planes, managing bank transactions, running prominent businesses. A sprinkling of whites could be seen here and there I wondered if they could now understand what it was like to be a minority and feel alien and out-of-place. Surrounded by throngs of Africans everywhere I went was a wonderful feeling. I could rejoice at being somehow among my ancestral beginnings, an inheritor of Africa’s ancient past instead of its forward march into the slavery of my forbears. I wanted to embrace the village dream for as long as I could. I enjoyed my time there. I was genuinely happy. The people were wonderfully welcoming and good to me. But it was a mixed bag to be thrust out of that dream and into the 20th century reality of modern Kenya. A clash with the modern world brought post-colonial Africa into sharp focus and a disappointing reality. I didn’t find the peace I found in the dream but the stark reality of a modern bustling metropolis, like anywhere else. I sought nirvana there, but found just another contemporary society which was taking on the trappings of western affluence and its attendant problems.

Reaching outside myself for those lost bits of myself was not the answer. Nothing could satisfy the feeling of missing pieces scattered elsewhere. While Africa could connect some of the missing puzzle pieces as to who I was in this body, it could not give me what I ultimately was seeking. The “stately pleasure dome where the sacred river Alph ran through endless caverns to the sea” of Coleridge’s poem,* was not to be found out there. Disappointed that there was little difference between societies who were all after the same bottom line, and clues to the why of me, I would finally begin to understand that Xanadu lay elsewhere. A place of utter beauty and peace, this golden-domed temple was at the seat of my deep being. Beginning my journey there would be a real adventure, but the treasure to be discovered would be of inestimable value. It was this journey that would bring me all the missing pieces, and begin to answer all the questions living had conjured. There in the sacred temple of myself, I would find begin to find true peace and contentment.

* Refers to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan”.


© 2014 Egyirba High All Rights Reserved

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