I left the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire, Africa just before my eighteenth birthday. I wasn't the oldest, but the first of five children to leave home and our place of birth. The memory is so clear—standing in Entebbe airport, Uganda with my family all around me—a peculiarly vivid, once-in-a-lifetime moment. I hugged everyone good bye. Life as we had known it was now ending…


My plane lifted away from African soil heading for New York City via Zurich, while a hurricane of emotions whirled inside me. I wasn't leaving just my family, but the continent I knew as home and the Black people who I considered my people as well.


At the same time, to stay in Africa would have violated some of my deepest feelings. I had been born into what I call one of the Religions of Certainty, Fundamentalist Christianity. My parents were well intended…or were they? I was confused—simultaneously presented with both their belief of my inborn sinfulness and the fact that I must, by my free will, receive Jesus into my heart. But my most genuine feeling about my upbringing was that something about it was fundamentally wrong.


Over and over again growing up, I was denied the freedom of spiritual choice. It had taken many years of beatings, separation from my parents at age seven to go to Christian boarding school, endless sermons and strange denials to shape me into the exemplary, pent up, guilt-ridden, migraine-prone doer of good deeds I had now become. I was determined to change that and regain my shattered self esteem. Of course, no one but me knew that because to voice it would have been pointless.


Paradoxically, with my feeling of belonging to Africa, I also was aware that my family's missionary community and the Western business community were uninvited foreigners leaving a trail of corruption and destruction in their wake. We had no decently earned rights to the hearts, lives and wealth of Africa.


Would I—could I ever come back again?


I felt decidedly weird. In my parents I was leaving the slim and very compromised roots to my own ancestral upbringing. In leaving Africa, I was leaving the only culture that, however secondhand, I most identified with to face a relatively unknown continent and culture—alone. And I was very frightened.


Twenty-one years later I did return, a much altered human being—but that's another story…


What I really want to tell you about here is one of the people who's life and work has been the most meaningful to me in establishing a bridge of understanding within myself between Africa and the West.


I first met Malidoma and his wife Sobonfu in California in 1994 at a day-long ritual for healing loss that they were teaching to Westerners in a Roman Catholic church in the Berkeley Hills.


Malidoma Somé is an initiated elder of the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso and a graduate of the Western system of education with three masters and two doctorate degrees to his name. Like anyone who has traveled this pathway between the cultures for any length of time, he's experienced extreme suffering and made many sacrifices to earn this understanding.


In his book, Of Water and the Spirit, Somé tells his life story. He was born into a tribal village within what was politically designated at the time as Upper Volta. He was nurtured, taught and helped to establish his course in life by his Grandfather, a great medicine man of his tribe; but at the age of five he was abducted by a Jesuit Priest. Christianity and the French language (English also later on) were literally beaten into him and he bears the scars to this day. When he finally escaped the seminary at age twenty and returned to his family, he was incapable of communication with them except through an interpreter. (Sad to say, he was not an isolated case of this type of abuse which was brought to an end when Burkina Faso was granted political freedom from France.)


But amazingly, Malidoma wasn't destroyed by this. His tribe received him and using their time honored healing ways, they nurtured him back to sanity and health. Then at an age much older than what was customary in his tribe, they granted him initiation.


He describes his initiation experience in quite some depth acknowledging that much of it is actually impossible to convey in writing; but you do get the idea. I have to say from my own experience, this story is very powerful. It shook me to my roots, quite literally.


Malidoma now divides his time between North America and traveling the world, and his home in Burkina Faso. Here is the link to Malidoma's website:

I'd like to introduce him to you as a true Elder with a great store of ancient as well as modern wisdom well worth learning from.


And in closing, I would say that it certainly seems he has has truly earned the name given to him at birth by Elders of his tribe. Malidoma, roughly translated, means “makes friends with the enemy.”


How did his Elders know this at that time what his destiny would be…


My name, Lark, (legal but not given to me by my parents) means “Spiritual Freedom.”


What does your name mean?

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