I was rich. They were good days for Zaireans who were in the good books of our President – and I was married to one of his distant cousins.
I met the bearded stranger at university on the East Coast. Going for a degree in the USA was the right thing for me to do, though I was loath to leave my beloved Africa. I took him for a drive in my BMW in my first month there, and I remember telling him my hope was to persuade African-Americans to go and help Africa thrive, and to restore solidarity between our people of colour. We drove to the suburbs where African-Americans lived: meeting them was what I planned to do.
“So tell me about your first meeting with an African-American” he asked me later, one day when I invited him to lunch. I’d had the food flown in from home and I was very calm; so I didn’t tense up as I usually did when thinking of this.
I told him how we had arrived in New York and booked into a hotel. Then I bought a nice Mercedes, smart, new and big enough for me, the wife and the five kids.
I had noticed him looking at the kids, clearly trying to work out what was going on: four of them the same age and height, and very different shades of black. I told him about the unofficial system of patronage and adoption which exists back home: if you are rich then you will give opportunity to the children of poorer relations or of families who work for you. I had brought three with me to the US.
I carried on with my story. So, yes, my first African-American? Well, I don’t know who you would say was my first contact. It may have been the New York cop who called me down to the hotel reception, or it may have been the two youths he told me had stolen my Mercedes from outside the hotel.