At the school bus stop this morning, some boys were discussing origins. One, a first grader and a child of a recent East African immigrant, pointed out to another boy, also the child of a recent East African immigrant, that they’d both come from Africa. The second boy, H, sort of rolled his eyes, “I know I came from Africa.” The first boy, whose name I don’t know, so I’ll call him M, then turned to a third grader who is African-American and dark skinned and attempted a similar claim, which the third grader, T, denied.
Before things got out of hand, T’s mom stepped in. “Yes, you all came from Africa, but at different times.” I’m not sure what T made of this, but it seemed to baffle M a bit.
“I came from Africa not long ago,” M said. “I still speak my other language.”
“That’s great!” I told him. “I wish I could speak more than one language.” To which H told me he could speak two languages and M announced that his mother speaks seven.
“Wow. I only know English and some muddled Spanish. Oh, and I can probably sort of read a menu in German.”
“You didn’t come from Africa,” M told me, clearly not ready to move on from sussing out where everyone is from.
Well, no. I’m far too pale-skinned to be recently from Africa. But I pointed out that if you go back far enough in time, everyone (probably) came from Africa, it’s just that some of us took long detours through cold places to get here.
This seemed to confuse M. But before I could explain the time scale I was referring to (and wishing it wasn’t so early, so I would have half of chance of being somewhat right in my arbitrary selection of “hundreds of thousands” or “millions”), H came swooping back into the conversation.
“You mean,” H said, eyes alight, “a long time ago when the animals could talk?”