Two years ago
If one were to ask me where I was from I'd swiftly reply, "Amsterdam," in a tone that suggested that digging deeper was not appreciated. Amsterdam southeast was where I was born. The suburban should-have-been utopia that turned out to become a Valhalla for immigrants and criminals.
I grew up between graffitied blocks of concrete, desolate city parks and playgrounds reeking of grass and piss. As kids we'd run over the filthy platforms to try and catch the metro going to one of the many shopping centres that were part of the suburban experience. Of course, we did not buy a ticket. And when we grew a bit older we'd take the metro a couple of stops further, venturing into the real Amsterdam, the place where tourists went to smoke weed and watch prostitutes.
My identity was Amsterdams. Amsterdam was where I hailed from, where I dreamt to live in a worn-out, charming building overlooking one of the multi-coloured streets in the East. The Turkish bakery on one corner, the Surinamese 'toko' on the other corner. Where I'd spend my hours reading and writing in cafe's pregnant with the smell of fresh coffee. Where one day I'd meet a fellow Amsterdammer who loved the arts like I did, I could ride the cobbled streets with on our oldschool Koga Miyata's, beating the trams with our Powerranger speed, our 80's jacket blurring in the wind.
Two years later, if one were to ask me where I was from I'd pause, thinking carefully before answering the question. "I grew up in Amsterdam, but I live in Freetown now. Permanently," a frown revealing that even I still had to get used to the idea.
Now, for those who do not know me things might get very confusing, so let me clarify. My father is a Sierra Leonean who went to the Netherlands somewhere in the 80s. He met a very blonde Dutch lady, used his African charms and wham, Esther Kamara was born.
We visited Sierra Leone only once when I was a kid. It was 2001, the country was still at war but I at the time did not fully grasp that. We went to the beach every day and drank orange Fanta from a bottle. My uncle and aunty spoiled me and my brother and yeah, there was no power but there were dogs and goats on the compound so who cares about Tekken or Crash Bandicoot anymore?
When we left I cried. I remember listening to 'If I were a rich girl,' whilst waiting for the helicopter to bring us to the airport.
These highly romanticised childhood memories of Sierra Leone backlashed on me when I was 18.
The ignorant, snobistic and adventerous version of myself decided to 'explore my roots'.
What can I say, the fall was hard and dirty.
Where were the roads? Why did they call me white girl? Why was there a traffic jam of +4 hours every time we went to town? Why has there been no running water for two weeks?
Whine whine whine and identity crisis in a six-week visit to my father's land.
Me? A Freetonian?
Nope, I was an Amsterdammer. I listened to techno and house, not to afrobeat. I wore Nike's, Dr. Martens and leggings under oversized sweaters, not tight dresses or t-shirts saying, 'sexy, so what?'
Most of all, my fro was real, not sewn on my scalp.
Bear with me, I was 18.
To cut a long story short I visited Sierra Leone again when I was 22 and it changed my life. Some weirdo I met asked me whether I felt like organising the Freetown Music Festival. I refused, thinking that nothing ever gets done in this country. When I left Sierra Leone I again had tears in my eyes (no helicopter though, that wasn't too safe apparently). How I felt my heart turn heavy as I left the place that smelt of charcoal, burned plastic and mango.
Back in Amsterdam I sent the nutter a message, "What did you say about that festival again?"
The rest is history.