The Girl With Eye

Last night I met a teenage girl with big eyes, bittersweet chocolate skin and pursed lips. She greeted us and answered our questions sparingly. Then, as soon as we talked about Senegal and Africa, her eyes lit up and her mouth, as if ignited, started running a mile a minute. 

She spoke more in visuals than words, painting images of a devil chasing her through the streets of Freetown and a Malian medicine man throwing cowrie shells onto a flat woven platter to predict the outcome of her visa interview. 

Our neighbors had witches in their house. Things disappeared, business was bad, lots of negative energy. When the people came to chase the witches out of my neighbors' house, they asked that anyone with eye leave.She paused to take a quick breadth and noticed our confusion. Having eye is like, oh how do I explain it, you know, a connection...a connection with the other worlds. When they asked all who had eye to leave a few people left but they still felt that someone with eye was in the house. They walked around and people moved out of their way until they stopped right in front of me. You, they said, you have eye. They actually felt my energy and I had to leave before they chased the witches out.  

Others around the dinner table were wide-eyed, eyebrows askew - is she for real

I sat next to her listening intently, trying to see all that she invoked. I don't know her whole story, but it was clear that she was worlds away from the reality in which she had grown up. 

Fortune telling with cowrie shells ~ Senegal.
Source: InImage
She is very superstitious, said our host, I keep trying to tell her that just because lots of people are superstitious in Africa, doesn't make it all real. The host looked and gestured over at us for support. 

Actually, there are many phenomena around the world that can't be explained. I don't believe everything is real, but I certainly don't dismiss it all as pure superstition, I responded as the host's eyes widened. 

The girl, encouraged by our openness to her tales, continued. She wants to put on an African cultural performance at her school because her fellow African friends and classmates are embarrassed to speak their native languages. She glowed under our praises and continued to chatter about her plans for a fashion show showcasing traditional African styles. 

I know I talk a lot, but I've had this in my heart ever since I arrived here, she explained. 

As we parted ways, with plans to reconnect soon, I felt almost giddy, like I do each time I meet Alice Walker. It is so rare to meet someone in the U.S. who lives comfortably with magic and the otherworldly. Not vampires and wear wolves (which may exist, who knows), but centuries-old beliefs about energy and spirits that still play a part in daily life. Imagine all the ways this child must be pressured and ridiculed by both peers and adults to assimilate to our one-dimensional norm. If only her rich, magical stories were treasured globally the way European legends and even Eastern mysticism are valued. 

I only hope that her sense of self survives this place. 

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