Wednesday, June 29, 2011


The stories about how Soul of Somanya came into being--and how it somehow keeps bumping along despite my manifold areas of inexperience and the worst recession since the 1930s--are tales I'm often asked to tell. I use the word “tales,” rather than “accounts” or “reports,” knowing that it’s only one small step from “tales” to “tall tales.” But sometimes the experiences that these stories are based on felt, even while they were happening, like chapters in some latter-day Joseph Conrad novel in which I had  been hopelessly miscast as the main character. (I spent a lot of time pinching myself during my first trip to Africa.)

Dignitaries Arriving at the Durbar (Festival Gathering)

Then, too, there’s the inescapable fact that, as an American, I am permanently unqualified to explain the complex mystery that is Africa, or even Somanya. I only know—I can only know—the Africa that my stubbornly Western mindset refracts back to me in distorted, elusive, and often romanticized guises. I only know the Africa that seems, with each visit, more ordinary, sometimes downright mundane, often maddening, yet at the same time more profoundly exotic and mysterious and magical than it was for me even the first time I walked through the ramshackle little town of Somanya and knew that I was home. 

Main Street Somanya

I am equally unqualified to advise anyone about how to start and run a non-profit. I’m an artist—at least, I was an artist. Now I’m an accountant, shipping clerk, warehouse(wo)man, volunteer coordinator, fundraiser, online marketer, off-line marketer, graphic artist, public speaker…well you get the drift. And I can’t say I excel at any of least, not yet. But I’m learning, and I'm always happiest when I'm learning something new. I just need to find ways to go careening around that long, tight learning curve a little faster, but without my tires going off the road. 

The Soul of Somanya Crew

So anyway, this blog is going to be the more personal version of Soul of Somanya's story. It's going to be less about the organization  than it is about my experiences in trying to co-found and run that organization. (I do feel qualified to write about that.) And it's going to be less about Africa than it is about my admittedly skewed perceptions of Africa, which are, and perhaps always will be, an entirely different thing. 

That said, I hope I can communicate some part of the unique mix of incredible joys and (occasionally) hair-tearing frustrations that comprise the running of this tiny, drop-in-the-bucket, bailing-out-the-ocean-with-a-teaspoon organization that is nevertheless so very important to a few seemingly unimportant people. And I hope that I can impart some small portion of the distinctive mix of scents and sensations and prospects that are my personal experience of Somanya. 

Mel and Arkuh Bernard Tettey Walking Down a Side-Street

So this is my song about Somanya, that little piece of Africa that I so quickly and irreversibly came to love: impoverished but somehow, miraculously, not stricken; run-down but never down-trodden; its every hand outstretched, empty, wanting, yet offering up a sweet, irresistible bounty of willingness and charm and good cheer. Those friendly hands have taken hold of my heart, and that’s just fine with me. This heart is theirs to break and to fill. I’m theirs for the duration.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful blog, and I'll be reading every entry you write!