Sister! Momma! Africa! This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   My first night in Bahia I heard drums. They were a faint distant rhythm that carried me to my window and out onto the veranda. I stood there holding my night-gown in the slight breeze that blew from a far-off beach. The smells of the garden below where my host mother planted guavas, mangoes and oranges mixed with the cool scent of moist earth and surrounded me like a cloud. The drums, still distant echoes of rhythm, were now joined by voices. As I stood there alone in Salvador, I was filled with a silent mission: I must go where the drums are.

The next night I found myself slipping along the stony, gray streets of the Praca da Se in the area of Salvador known as the "upper city." Everywhere smelled of cooking spicy things. I was reminded of my grandmother's kitchen in Jamaica where ripe bananas boiling and curried meats were always on the stove. The food smell and the scent of ashes from the coal she used to fuel the stove were like that of the streets of Salvador. Walking along in my flip flops, cut-off jeans and my hair in a short afro, I appeared to be a Baiana. But there was a familiarity in every voice I heard and every face I saw that told me my connection to these people went beyond my appearance. I passed my very first Afro-Brazilian beauty parlor and I could have sworn I smelled Ultra Sheen. I was no longer home sick, I was home.

The Baianas, vendors of acaraje and sugary sweet coconut cakes, wore snow-white dresses and head wraps. They were very dark and elaborate women who flung their heads back in laughter and threw black and white and gold rainbows at everyone. The first time I saw one, it was her laughter that held me. I turned and saw very dark, very pretty barefoot black woman high-stepping down the street. I waited a moment before following her. She was easy to spot even in the crowds because her dress was an explosion of snowflakes, delicate and lacy. She reminded me of the delicious rum cakes my grandmother would make - pearly white frosting and tar black cake inside. Her hair wasn't wrapped but loose in wild braids. Behind her liberated hair were giant gold hoop earrings that glowed like halos in her earlobes.

As I followed the laughing Baiana through the streets I thought to myself, "Sister! Momma! Africa!"

I felt renewed in the presence of my people. I had come to Bahia with a hunger, a hunger for myself. Somewhere during my stay in Brazil I had lost touch with who I was and who my mother raised me to be. Coming there was my way of reclaiming the proud sense of self I had lost during my useless attempts to conform as an exchange student.

Standing in a crowd of my people who were holding me up without even knowing it, I felt blessed by something larger than myself. The only truth I could ever count on to keep me whole was reawakened in me and I held onto her with everything I was. I could finally shout, hold my head up high and dance like the drums inside me insisted. "Sister! Momma! Africa!" I screamed above the beating of the drums. We were different only in our tongue but our roots were one. We were sons and daughters of the Diaspora dropped off on different shores. But our ancestry ran through our common Mother and her voice was a drum.

For the first time in a long time I recognized myself among the people around me. My feelings for them went deeper than the darkness of our skin; it was in the history we acknowledged by the way we moved the earth with the power of our dancing. As the sound of the biniboa plucked away my pain, I knew who my mother was and could no longer deny her without denying myself. She was in New York worrying herself sick about me as well as dancing and kicking up stars to samba in the streets of Bahia. There are drums in me that will never cease to pound. They are real. And so are my tears. -

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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