This is the first of a series of posts around my trip to Congo Brazzaville, which is the country I was born in. I just realised recently that there is always a moment at the dinner table when my mother mentions something happening to someone in the family and my response 7 out of 10 would always be: “who is this” and she would answer something like “your uncle”, or “your Aunt” or “your cousin”. This is because I don’t really know every single member of my family. It’s quite tragic, I know. But I am working on it. I want to actively document my journey while I am working on it. To be fair I have a really big family. Ok it’s probably not a valid excuse.
A couple of years ago my mother told me that my great-great-great-grandfather was a white french soldier assigned in Brazzaville for a short while. And while he was here he happened to have fallen in love with my relative. Out of this love came my great-great-grandmother who was mixed-race. This is a very short summary and a rather trivial version of what happened. It was of course a bit more complicated than that. How much more complicated, well I am on a quest to find out. I’m not an idealist so I’m certain this story did not get a happy ending.
Just like this one there are many mysteries in my family. I would like to investigate the most captivating ones if I can. It’s not going to be an easy task, because it’s very hard to get members of the family to talk about specific moments in time. In my family we don’t really document anything at all. I created our first family tree last year and it is very far from being complete and it only goes as far as my maternal grandfather. Even that took a lot of negotiations and phone calls to my mother’s older brother who I don’t remember when I saw last.
My previous trip to Congo was just over 20 years ago. My next trip is fast approaching and there are so many questions flying through my brain. Will I recognise my grandmother’s house? Do I still know the way from my aunt’s house to my old primary school? What’s the heat going to be like? Will I use sun cream? of course I will use sun cream, it will be silly and reckless not to. Will my niece and nephew make fun of me for applying sun cream though?
A few years ago I was stopped on a street in Paris by a young woman who claimed that we used to go to primary school together. She said that we were good friends and we used to see each other a lot outside school. My short term memory is really good and I don’t remember the last time I lost keys or a phone. But on the other hand my long term memory is the worst. You ask me about a specific event 5 years ago I would have to think really hard for a very long to give you an answer. Basically don’t expect me to remember who I went to school with 27 years ago. I don’t actually remember the name of that school either, nor any teacher’s names. There is only one teacher I remember and she was my philosophy teacher in high school. I loved her so much. I remember thinking when she was teaching us that she actually loved her job and cared about us. She was a genuine nutter and used to make us all laugh out loud no matter what colour you were. I sometimes wonder what she got up to after I graduated from high school.
I am leaving in 2 weeks today and will probably start packing next week. I have had 3 vaccinations done in 2 months and I received my visa a few days ago. Because my congolese passport is too old I cannot travel with it. The congolese embassy in London does not issue new passports either so I had to swallow my pride and pay for a very expensive visa to ensure a stress free journey. I will apply for a new passport while I’m there.
I am talking about my memory and I will keep talking about it, because I don’t want my family history to be lost. So I have decided to start writing more about it. So in a few years I can read back and remember.