Why I am backpacking to Africa?

Hi Blacki,

I heard someone shouting from a car going with a high speed on the road in Gothenburg, Sweden. I had not infact yet entered Gottenberg. I was coming from Oslo after reaching Nordkapp, northern most point of the world crossing Arctic circle in 1975. I looked at myself and thought “who is blacki”. In the meanwhile, the car stopped with a screech and reversed towards me where I was walking. Two young Africans were in the car, one driving and other sitting by his side. One of them got down and quickly, grabbed my rucksack and gently pushed me in the back seat. The car drove on with the same speed. Was I kidnapped? I thought to myself. I was not afraid even if I was kidnapped. I am a traveler and anyone may take me anywhere. There was no conversation with these two fellows throughout the journey.

After one hour drive or so, the car stopped and they politely asked me to get down without the rucksack. “We will sell sand paintings in this market. You also take some paintings and sell. The minimum price is 30 Kroner and your share will be 10 kroner for the sale of each painting. If you sell it more than 30 kroner that will be your gain”. “Ah, it is a business deal” I thought. Not knowing what types of paintings were these or whether somebody would buy them or not. I was still thinking when one of them bought some sandwiches and gave it to me. I welcomed as I was hungry and thirsty. They gave me a bundle of sand paintings kept in the car boot. These were made on small card board, slightly more than A4 size paper. Camel and Ziraff were common drawing and sand pasted with glue or some other material on these drawings. Some ineligible signatures were there on each painting. There was a brown paper on the back side of the card board and there was a small thread to hang it. They kept a bundle of such paintings on the bonnet of the car and both asked the passerby to buy it. I took a packet and went inside the market. It was not a bad sale. Many Swedish people thought that this painting was by a black painter. They bought it for charity and also gave some more kroners as a tip.

After couple of hours, I heard, “hi guy, come back”. I came back. Till evening it went on in 2-3 markets. We also went to residential area where we had to go from flat to flat. I think we reached Uppsala next day. I was looked after well by these my two black friends. They were giving me sandwiches to eat and some cold drink to drink and I was comfortably sitting in the car on the back seat.

When we reached Uppsala University, my friends asked me to take out the backpack. They parked the car and asked me to follow them. We went in a University Hostel. I did not see any white person there. It must be for black students. When we reached first corridor and were walking through it, a black woman in early thirties was coming from the other side. My friends talked to her something. She said to me “Welcome brother” and showed me a bed in a room for my sleep in the night. In the corridors, I could see some posters, one of which very prominent in the rooms and corridors was “a beautiful photograph of a black girl and below this, a big post was written “Black is beautiful”. I thanked that woman who showed me my room. She also told that my friends were in the adjoining room. In the afternoon, I went down where I met my friends again. One of them brought sandwiches and asked me to meet in the evening. I was tired but still I ventured out to see the campus. There were a large number of black students in this side of campus. In the evening, my friend asked me to join dinner in the house of an African Professor. I went with them. There I came to know that they were all from Gambia. I have never heard before about this country’s name and also did not visualize its location till many many years afterwards.

I was with Gambian friends now. We had very good chat on the world of Black Africans and there were many intellectual persons. I was asked many questions and they appreciated my answers. Then it was the dinner time when a huge tray with rice and fish was brought. Floor was the table. I was told that this fish had come from Gambia. Someone has come from there. They were celebrating this dinner with fish from their home land. Everybody was eating from the same tray with hands which I also did. I got myself assimilated with whole group of young men and women and they were happy. We kept on chatting. After dinner the University teacher asked me to stay back in the University where I could either get a job and could join studies getting some fellowship. He offered to help me. I thanked him and said that I wanted to go back to my country after my travels. Suddenly, there was clapping from the audience sitting there.

After 10 O’ clock, one of my friends asked me “Let us go to the club”. We went to the club where again it was, I think, black persons club. Loud music was there and everybody was dancing and singing on the wooden floor. There was no rhythm of the dance. You had to keep on tapping hard your foot on the floor one after the other. I waited for a minute on the side when someone asked me to come and joined them. I was wearing Swedish sandals, possibly cheapest I could buy with wooden heel. While dancing, it was giving good rhythm of “tuck tuck tuck”. It came to the rhythm after sometime with the music. It was 3 O’clock in the morning when people started to move out of the club. So were my friends. I had a very sound sleep.

Next day morning, after some rudimentary breakfast, my friends asked me to pack up. I brought my packsack in the car and we drove till the late evening when we reached Gottenberg, stopping couple of places in between and selling the same paintings. It was a good saving for me as I was running short of money. It would keep me going on for couple of weeks more. I remember it was almost 11 O’clock in the night when we reached Gottenberg town. The car stopped suddenly and they asked me to leave the car where on my left, there was a small hotel. As I banged the door, they drove the car with the same speed. I could not say bye to them. Interestingly, in all these days they never asked my name nor I asked their name or what they were doing or what they were studying.

We remained anonymous to each other but this deep impression of hospitality to unknown ‘black remained with me throughout my life. So I am going now to Africa, a continent of hope and friendship and to the continent whose people helped me anonymously and for that unknown black woman who showed me “Black is beautiful”.

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