Trading Paris for New York

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As he grapples with a migration project to the United States, a 24-year old African-born Frenchman, Morie, needs to find an exclusive balance between a carefree Parisian lifestyle that might eventually catch up with him, and the commitment of marriage to a New York woman, Kate. It brings you to the tumultuous area of immigration and marriage, with marriage occurring not for love or mutual care, but for a green-card.
Publié le : samedi 2 avril 2016
Lecture(s) : 2
EAN13 : 9782140005411
Nombre de pages : 346
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Trading Paris for New York M. S. Yansané
A Parisian in New York grapples
with an ambivalent green-card marriage
Trading Paris This third-person narrative of relationships based
on trues stories, woven in betrayal, lust, illusion and
hope, and set in New York in the mid-1970s could for New Yorkbe titled “The Parisian Kate Married.” As he grapples
with a migration project to the United States, a
24year old African-born Frenchman, Morie, needs to A Parisian in New York
fnd an elusive balance between a carefree Parisian grapples with an ambivalent
lifestyle that might eventually catch up with him,
green-card marriageand the commitment of marriage to a New York
woman, Kate. It brings you in the tumultuous area of
immigration and marriage, with marriage occurring A novel
not for love or mutual care, but for a green-card.
You will fnd yourself wondering whether Morie is
an actor, a diplomat, or a politician as he takes you
along on his journey—trading Paris for New York.
Guinea-born U.S. citizen M. S. Yansane’s career
spans teaching, journalism and international civil
service. He notably worked for Mano River Union
in Freetown, Sierra Leone; the United Nations in
New York; and the World Bank in Washington DC.
Holder of a Bachelor of Arts from the University
of the District of Columbia (UDC) and a master
of Public Administration from American University
(AU)of Washington, DC. He is married and raising
two teenagers; his management consulting frm is
based in Conakry, Guinea where he resides part
time. His frst Novel, Emigrés de l’intérieur was
published by l’Harmattan in French.
Cover Illustration : J. Allain
Jalka Studio - Thinkstock
ISBN : 978-2-343-07978-3
34 €
HC_YANSANE_25,5_TRADING-PARIS-NY_V6.indd 1 10/03/2016 17:59
Trading Paris for New York
M. S. Yansané
A Parisian in New York grapples
with an ambivalent green-card marriage

Trading Paris for New York

A Parisian in New York grapples
with an ambivalent green-card

M. S. Yansané

Trading Paris for New York

A Parisian in New York grapples
with an ambivalent green-card


© L'Harmattan, 2015
5-7, rue de l'École-Polytechnique ; 75005 Paris

ISBN : 978-2-343-07978-3
EAN : 9782343079783

This story is dedicated not only to all immigrants from
“nontraditional areas” who are still struggling for the right to live in the
United States, but also to all the women who gave this writer the
selfless love that turned out to be the first Bible he read. It is an
attempt to give a human face to the following facts: It wasn’t until
the 1960s, after the civil rights movement took hold, before
America’s immigration policy was largely understood to be unjust,
and President John F. Kennedy blasted it as “nearly intolerable.”
The nation was ready for change by the time Congress passed and
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and
Naturalization Act of 1965. Since then nearly 59 million people
have come to the United States, with three-quarters of them from
Latin America and Asia, and she share of Africans has jumped

In fond memory of Belgian Journalist,
Jacques Danois (1927 – 2008)

“Sigh no more, ladies, sign no more,
Men were deceivers ever, —one
Foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”

William Shakespeare

“The slave has one master; and the ambitious, as
many as he can find people useful to his fortune.”
La Bruyère


*The deafening, infernal blaring was akin to the Tabuley that
announces a death in Morie’s African village. Bang! bang! bang! So
went the banging at the door and their echo came to Morie’s ears by
waves of panic exploding in his heart. Open up, open up, and open the
door immediately! Morie fought to recover consciousness least the
sticky, dreadful anxiety inside his chest would turn to sheer panic. He
painstakingly rose to his feet and crept toward the door, dragging his
feet as if they had become pieces of lead. His eyes were wide open but
Morie couldn’t see clearly! Meanwhile the banging went on unabated
against the door. Bang, bang, bang. Open up now! In his slow
progression toward the door, Morie slumped on the sofa. He became
conscious of the movement of the walls as they swelled in and out in a
hideous motion that exacerbated panic. The living room was shaking
as if there was an earthquake. Soaked with panic, Morie crept toward
the door, his head bubbling with the hysterical voices that went on
commanding him to Open up now! He finally opened the door and, to
his amazement, he was looking at a throng of women waving
aggressive arms and screaming from the top of their voices as they
spilled into the living room. The bodies were that of women but the
hideous faces were that of monsters. Like the walls, the faces of the
strange creatures swelled in and out at the rhythm of breathing; they
actually inflated and deflated like the bellows of a blacksmith. Now
the demonic throng crawled toward Morie on their bellies like snakes;
they crawled in slow motion reminiscent of the scenes of horror
movies as they came for Morie, with outstretched arms, and gigantic
breasts akin to fists of boxing champions. Morie woke up with a start,
looked around the walls of the bedroom and realized he had been
dreaming. He wanted to analyze his dream but the troubling terms of
the arrangement between him and Kate warped his thoughts. Morie

* Drum

felt thankful that his wife was already out of the apartment. The
premises being peaceful enough, he would get himself washed off,
dressed up and ready to go out. Communication with Kate had gone
rather tense ever since her unforgettable line: “You blew it!” She told
Morie. Now he found it hard to open up to his wife and share his
failures, his dreams, and his hopes to secure legal immigration status
in the United States. So, these days, instead of opening up to Kate, the
moment she left the apartment with the baby, Morie seized the
opportunity to sit in front of the typewriter, confide in The Tropical
Notebook and then resume editing the final chapters of Public Office
with a view to its submission to Faith for proofreading. But today,
instead of writing, Morie opted for the alternative to pick up his
journal stuff it in his briefcase and walk out of the apartment. He must
get away from Kate’s suffocating company, he said to himself. But
where could he turn to? It was wishful thinking to find Monique, or to
consider reconnecting with Grace. Only in Faith’s company could he
seek solace, relax and and breathe. Morie’s marital life had
deteriorated beyond repair as his carefree lifestyle and unemployment
chipped away his confidence. Unemployment had caused the greatest
damage to his household, Morie thought to himself as he swiftly
walked out of his apartment, resenting resenting the commitment to
Kate that led to vows of marriage. He hadn’t been ready for it. He
should have waited to become a New Yorker on his own before
embarking on the marriage boat. Now he wallowed in a knee-high
mess that kept rising, and he feared that pretty soon the mess might
become overwhelming. Was he down and out? If not, could he pull
himself back up? When did it all start? Where did he go wrong? Did
he start falling way back from Paris or Toronto? Did the fall start
when he met Kate? When did the thrill of living fade out of his days?
The American Dream stayed alive so long as Morie kept his eyes on
his personal vision of it, he pondered as he stepped inside the elevator,
feeling increasing disgust for his vulnerability. At the lobby he rushed
out of the elevator, stepped out of the building, hurried toward First
Avenue through the circle of the fountain under the shadow of the
trees lined up along the pedestrian stripe. Of the ghost disappearing by
the fountain in the circle of Gilead Landing Apartments, Morie was in
the uncomfortable skin of the aimless person he became every time he


stepped away from his typewriter. He hit the bus stop seconds before
the vehicle. Onboard, he slid several quarters into the fare slot, swayed
to a seat, let himself drop on the hard metallic bench, and opened the
briefcase and took out his notebook.
Morie opened the notebook on the entries recording his first
encounter with New York City. The Journal brought back memories
of how he had opted for the easy way, rushing ahead fast enough all
alone until he found himself in the sort of knee-high mess that
prevents going any farther. He had been as gullible and as arrogant as
could be any opportunist of his kind. The diary also brought back
forgotten pieces of Morie’s dreams, particularly his hopes to meet the
ideal soul mate, an Afro woman. Now he headed to Faith’s place
wondering why he had missed the mark? Why he failed to wait
patiently for Faith, and landed in the nest of the first New York female
that came his way—Kate.
With a sense of reckoning, Morie lifted his eyes from the written
words, and saw in hindsight the fascinating spectacle of a city
suspended in space, punctuated with skyscrapers topped by the World
Trade Center. An awesome outline of Kennedy Airport filled his view
as Pan Am jetliner further descended, flipping upward the left wing in
a maneuver that leveled it for landing. The nose of the airliner further
dropped; and moments later, tires touched the airstrip in that hissing
characteristic of landings.
A number of passengers applauded the smooth landing while the
engines progressively went idle in a continuous whistling. There was a
thunderous whizzing as the aircraft slowed down and taxied on the
tarmac toward the terminal.
Morie unfastened his seatbelt, rose to his feet, and pulled his
briefcase in the confident gesture of a young professional starting a
new assignment at a prestigious law firm. He wondered whether
Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” still stood as a credible
American credo. He knew the words: “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—”
Wasn’t Morie free in Paris? Was the credo speaking to America
or Britain? Was freedom a mean to an end or an end onto itself?
Beyond the promises of Lazarus’ credo, Morie drew his confidence in
the power of the money stashed in his briefcase; he was confident too


in the things Lucie had shared with him about port of entry experience
in the United States. Lucie was Morie’s first lost love, the woman he
had been unable to get out of his skin, and the main secret reason why
he planned to put the French experience behind and move to North
America. It had been in an attempt to persuade Lucie to come back to
him that Morie had seen her one last time just as he decided to take his
first trip to America. Needless to say that she was hardly impressed by
his plan to relocate in the New World. As it turned out, Lucie had
served Morie his first warnings concerning his “American Dream.”
According to Lucie, immigrants who were deemed unable to
afford the cost of their stay in the United States were purely and
simply sent back to their country of origin. Morie was positive that
nothing of the sort would happen to him. For proof, he was off a Pan
Am flight in New York and, with satisfaction he felt his passport in
his breast pocket, smiled at the thought of the valid visa stamped in it
and the traveller’s checks stashed in his briefcase. Morie confidently
walked to the admission booths manned by police and customs
officers. Like an actor performing under the lenses of a camera, his
purposeful strides were that of a person who had nothing to hide or
fear. Morie was a winner. He looked like one. Spoke like one and he
walked like one. The last thing he expected to stand in his way at the
gate of the New World was a public administrator—a
Mexicanlooking officer who manned the processing booth he happened to hit.
The officer could not be an American because he was dark!
Americans were either red like Sitting Bull; white like Kennedy, or
black like Martin Luther King, Jr. Victor Hugo expressed it simply:
Voyages actually trained the youth—That an American could be of
the uncanny complexion of the officer who screened him seemed
preposterous to Morie as he eagerly presented his passport, waiting to
be ushered through like a prince.
The officer grabbed the booklet, his dark little eyes suspiciously
darting from the travel document to its bearer. But then, suddenly, the
eyes dropped to the briefcase. “Open it!” He ordered.
Morie placed his briefcase atop the counter, opened and watched
as the officer as he meticulously searched it. Meanwhile the flow of
incomers quickly went through other booths. Morie noticed that
immigrants were white like ethnic Danis or English people; yellow


like the Japanese or Chinese; and brownish like the Pakistanis. As the
huddled masses went through admission processes without delay,
Morie clearly heard some of his ego-serving views of world: You are
being discriminated against. As a racial group, blacks often boarded
the last train as discriminatory practices, infallibly and delightedly,
singled them out with favors.
Morie possessed neither drugs nor firearms nor any contraband.
His briefcase merely contained personal documents, a few letters, and
his pocket money. Like the designer watch at his wrist or the Dupont
lighter inside his pocket, the briefcase was more of a cosmetic item
geared to making him look good. A briefcase was a smart thing to
carry in a world of make-believe. Now Morie wondered whether the
dark-skinned officer singled him out for nitpicking? Was he offended
by his impeccable appearances! He felt so humiliated he wanted to
Neatly clad in dark gray suit, Morie was above suspicion, and
free. It was all right, perhaps, to nitpick the briefcase; why was the
officer reading his mail? Was that, too, part of the search? Would it be
all right if he protested a move that appeared to be an invasion of
“You will not read my mail!” Morie protested defiantly, thinking
of Yul Brynner in the spectacular Magnificent Seven, incarnating
justice, as he boldly stood facing a bad buy surrounded by his army of
thieves on horseback. After all Morie was in the country where one
could fearlessly tell M. L. King, Jr.’s “unarmed truth.” But then he
watered his defiance as he remembered another warning from Lucie
who had told him that, in the context of non-citizens seeking intial
entry into the United States, due process protections don’t apply. He
decided to go by Lucie’s line to him: “Better be safe than sorry!”
“How did you come by this money?” The officer asked, ignoring
Morie’s protest, while his short little fingers fidgeted with every item
in the briefcase, relishing the awesome conceit written all over his
face—the face of one who belittled anything alien. He then grabbed
and scornfully exhibited a pittance of dollars in traveler’s checks.
“I earned it!” Morie blurted, thinking that the look of the officer
strangely evoked the dark hole of a gun barrel pointed at him. But it
took more than a mask of terror to intimidate the Parisian in him. Only


the skin of the Parisian in him was black. Baine—as was called the
Parisian in Morie—was a conqueror; that is, a man who shared in the
superiority of the colonizers who subjugated half of the world during
the past two Centuries.
“What’s your profession?”
“Like you can read! My passport clearly indicates my profession,
no? I’m a student!”
“Students are well paid in France!” The officer suspiciously
exhibited Thomas Bazin’s last letter. “I think the money comes from
the author of this mail—”
No, Morie thought, there was no point explaining that he had
saved from months of clerking for Temp agencies throughout Paris.
“Go ahead and jump to your favorite conclusions,” Morie would not
let himself be bullied into submission.
“I am the authority here! And I have the right to think what I
please, understand?” The officer asserted flatly. “Do you understand?”
He repeated.
I am the authority here! What craving for power! The officer did
not represent, but he was authority, and both the reiteration of do you
understand and deliberate slow motion of his processing emphasized
the scope of his power. His behavior, as Morie saw it, illustrated
selfimportance, and denial of any view different from his own.
Preposterously enough, this was a trait of character Morie had
ingested from watching tons of American movie stars he admired. A
trait of character he had integrated in his own personality so
thoroughly that the only thing that set him apart from an American
was the fact that he did not have the actual power to enforce his views
here at port of entry. A border had turned him from a free man to “the
Morie vehemently protested, withdrew his briefcase: “You can’t
read my mail!” He closed the briefcase. Tyranny! This is tyranny, ego
“You’re going back home!” The officer warned sternly.
“Fine! Have it your way.” Morie stopped. There was no joy living
under a dictatorship He didn’t mind going back to France. As he had
fled Köroh Bombah, a dictator who inherited the state of Syli in the
Union of West African Countries (UWAC) following departure of


French colonial power, so Morie was ready to denounce dictatorship
here in the United States of America if need be. He would resist; and
he would protest.
“Here,” the officer ordered. “You sign this!” He placed a consent
form for repatriation atop the counter for Morie to sign.
“Objection!” Morie had the right to be treated with fairness, not to
say due process. “I will sign nothing before I speak with your
superior. I presume you have a higher up?”
“Then you wait here—” The officer ordered, visibly irritated, and
walked away.
On the bench adjacent to the admission boot, for a whole hour
and half, frustrated Morie sat looking forward to meet the officer’s
higher up; and thinking back about Lucie warning with regard to the
lack of due process in the case of non-citizens seeking initial entry into
the United States. However, as the saying goes, fortune seeks the
daring. The processing officer returned from the commanding post
flanked by a tall, lanky white man in gray suit whose new public
administrator demeanor immediately put Morie at ease.
“Mister Bainaka?”
“My name is Smart,” the newcomer said. “Mark Smart, senior
immigration officer at this Airport. Would you please come along to
my office?”
“Why? Vous avez peur d'y aller tout seul?” Morie deliberately
muttered in French.
“Say what?”
“I’m trailing right behind you, sir.”
In his office, Smart looked at Morie, invited him to sit.
Both men sat down across the metallic desk.
“Is this your passport?” Smart exhibited the French travel
“It’s not obvious?”
“Your English is excellent. You must be highly educated.
Congratulation on your birthday!”
“Thank you for the compliment.” The greeting further relaxed
Morie. Today was actually his date of birth and it matched the day of
his first entry into the United States. It was not a mere coincidence but


a pattern that good things usually happened to Morie during the month
of his birth.
“What do you plan on doing in the United States?”
“I’d like to evaluate my Manhood Project in Manhattan.”
“How do you mean that?”
“I mean to check out the American Dream.”
“You’re seeking to migrate, mister Bainaka?”
“Not this time,” Morie said, shaking his head.
“How long do you plan on staying?”
“One month, maybe less.”
“You don’t intend to take a job, do you?”
“Appraisal of my project won’t take more than, say, six weeks.”
“For your information the job market is strictly reserved to
citizens and permanent residents.” Smart paused briefly. “Now is it
clear that under no circumstance will you seek or accept employment
during your stay?”
“I give you two months to tire of New York Deal?”
“Deal. And thank you.”
Smart filled out and stapled and stamped an I-94 admission slip
into the travel document and then tendered it to the Moriba Laye
“Good luck!” He said.
“The word is merde,” Morie quipped back with a bright smile.
“But thank you, sir.”

UP TO HIS NECK Morie dived into action. In the process he felt as if
he had suddenly plunged into the center of an ocean so vast and so
deep he could hardly keep his head afloat. Later, he said to himself, he
will think later as he stepped to the custom area. Morie’s mesmerized
eyes embraced the dense throng of immigrants spilled by successive
waves of aircrafts on the shores of the New World. He snaked his way
into the crowd up to the conveyor belt, seized a small suitcase and a
bag and immediately noticed that the bag had sustained unacceptable
damage. He proceeded to the counter of the airline company, and filed
a claim for which he received twenty dollars on the spot in the most


amicable manner. The airline agent also produced a masking tape to
repair the hole in his leather bag.
Genial! Morie signed a receipt and pocketed the cash with a sense
of relief. How many more contrasts lay ahead in this fascinating
country? Morie forgave and forgot the frustrations caused by the
nitpicking admissions officer. There had to be more to America than
assassins, nosy trigger-happy police officers, and more unorthodox
characters, Morie said to himself, feeling vindicated. The airline
agent’s conciliatory gesture of and good will had lifted him to the rank
of a prince.
Morie placed his baggage on a carriage and proceeded to exit the
terminal. Outside, the cold winter air whipped his face as he
proceeded carefully, threading light snow covering the ground, up to
the plateform designated for cabs. Average temperature, low twenty,
was much colder than Paris, Morie thought feeling grateful to the
approaching huge yellow taxi cab that pulled on the curve near him.
“Welcome to the Big Apple,” the cab driver said, stepping out
toward his new fare.
“Big Apple?” Morie had no idea of the slang name for New
“New York is the Big Apple,” the cab driver revealed. He was
clad in a pair of jeans, red sweater with rolled collar and brown leather
jacket. Carefree laughter trailed his words as he opened the back
booth, briskly loaded the bag and suitcase, and then slammed down
the lid. “You ready brother?”
Morie opened the passenger door, sat down, placed his briefcase
next to him and closed the door. He said: “Brooklyn. That’s where I
need to go.”
“It’s a waste borough, brother. Where exactly in Brooklyn you
wanna go?”
“Jackson Heights, 80th street.”
The yellow vehicle maneuvered its way through exit lanes while
Morie gaped as much at the cab driver’s expertise as he was fascinated
by the dizzying counts of bridges and automobiles, and interchanges
and neon lights, and tunnels and thruways, all of which appeared more
complex than those he had seen elsewhere around the world.


Focused as he was on the indescribable fragrances of New York,
the promising sounds and the dizzying sights that sped before his eyes,
Morie hardly noticed the furtive glances the cab driver threw at his
uncanny features through the rearview mirror. His eyes were green,
and his complexion akin to that of an interracial person who could
easily pass as white. Only his copper-colored kinky hair betrayed his
racial category. Yes, the cab driver decided, his passenger definitely
was a black man.
“Where are you from?”
“You not French are you?”
“Technically, I am. But authentically, I am a native of a young
West African nation, an ex French colony, the People State of Syli is
part of the UWAC. Where are you from Brother?”
“The Caribbean, Jamaica.”
“Is that right? Jamaica sounds like Jimmy Cliff, bauxite, vacation
“The place is poverty stricken too,” the cab driver pointed out.
“The average Jamaican lives on less than a dollar a day. Is this your
first time in the States?”
“Uhum. First time.”
“You lookin’ so hard at the city, man! Are you a tourist or do you
plan on stayin’?”
“I am visiting friends and family. How could a foreigner stay
“You get married, Brother that’s what I did, and I’ve been here
ever since Kennedy relaxed immigration policies previously skewed
against immigrants from non-traditional areas.” The cab driver
glanced back at Morie, and went on: “Marriage is the classical way for
most people to settle down in the States. Get it?”
“Get it?” The words went above Morie’s head.
“Understand?” The cab driver said.
“No,” Morie persisted genuinely. The cab driver was speaking a
little too fast for him. “What do you mean by ‘immigrant from
nontraditional areas’?”
“It refers to people like you and me, folks who ain’t come from,
say, England, France or Portugal,” the cab driver explained.


“I said I’m French,” Morie recalled.
“But you’re black, man! Aren’t you?” The cab driver pointed out,
laughing. “Anyway, make sure you take a big bite of the Big Apple
before it shrinks out on you. Look at the price of gas. Yeah man, the
apple is shrinkin’.”
Morie did not laugh, nor did he understand the cab driver’s riddle
about gasoline shortages and New York City’s looming financial
difficulties. His attention was intently drawn to the lyrics of a song on
the radio. A nostalgic singer was singing: Life goes on long after the
thrill of living is gon.”
“What’s the name of the radio station?” Morie asked the cab
“It’s called WBLS.” You like that song, right? It’s a populist
brand of heartland rock by John Mellencamp, the Jack & Diane
The lyrics mingled with the imposing message of the myriads of
surrounding lights. Musing about his pioneering trip, Morie wondered
if his attempt to discover America was akin to Zarathustra’s ten-year
stay in the mountain to acquire the wisdom he wanted to share with
the rest of humanity? Would he, too, come to the conclusion that God
is dead? Or would Morie, unlike Zarathustra, come to believe in God?
What principle underlies the existence of the many bridges, tunnels,
skyscrapers and neon lights Morie was looking at? Was this the
hidden translation of the Enlightenment, the message behind
Machiavelli’s Prince, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and John Locke’s
continuity of consciousness? What was the worldview of the early
Puritans and the Founding Fathers of this impressive nation? Would
Morie find here instances corroborating Tocqueville’s assertion that
men are corrupted by the exercise of power, which they believe to be
illegitimate, and obedience to a rule, which they consider to be
usurped and oppressive?
Again, the cab driver’s words snatched Morie’s inquisitive mind
from the principle behind America’s impressive sophistication in
steel, concrete and glass. The cab driver was saying that they were on
80th Street in Brooklyn, and Morie gave him Tom’s house number.



IT’S SEPTEMBER OF THE YEAR 1969, and Karen Brooks, the
American woman who had been instrumental in getting Morie out of
Africa, has left him Paris, and moved to Geneva. Now on his own,
Morie must fend for himself, so he takes the first job available by
joining the unskilled labor force at Svenska Kullagerfabriken. Swedish
Ball bearing factory, SKF, is located in the so-called 93 Paris
Banlieue—Ivry. On his first week on the job, Morie struggles with a
loud rectification machine, the rhythm of which he could barely
sustain. He hardly takes his eyes from the machine to look around, and
pays little attention to Tom who passes by at the wheel of a forklift.
“Keeping the eyes on the prize,” Tom hollers in English. “Comment?”
Morie answers. “Stay focused, red-haired friend.” Tom says in
French. “Then why are you talking to me?” Morie quips back. Tom
smiles and that seals their burgeoning friendship.
Other than Tom, Morie has no memory of another black man at
SKF. Both men naturally sit together to eat lunch, and Morie learns
that Tom has fled Duvalier’s regime in Haiti to go to the Bahamas
where he lives a number of years before moving on briefly to Miami,
Florida and then Paris.
In Paris, Tom joins a group of refugees who benefit from the
support of the ecumenical service of churches, called Cimade. In his
early thirties, Tom is tall and thin; his Castro-style beard gives him the
distinguished air of a priest without the long Roman Catholic cassock.
Tom expresses himself with greater ease in Haitian Creole and
English than he does in French; he claims that the State of Syli is the
original land of Haitian people, and deplores the fact that Morie has to
sacrifice his schooling in order to earn his living in Paris. Tom feels
that Morie is so young, and it would be such a waste to spend the next
twenty years “In here,” he reflects convincingly, waving to the red
faces of Frenchmen clothed in blue jumpsuits, “among these shell of
human beings used and abused by factory work.” Tom has a clear-cut
project; he envisions that within three years in France he would have

saved enough cash to return to the United States. He strongly believes
that Morie, too, should consider seeking his opportunities in America
rather than staying in France.
As days collapse into weeks, the debilitating noise of the plant
defeats Morie’s resilience. But even though he ends up quitting SKF
to work for employment agencies on clerical positions, Morie
continues to benefit from Tom’s mentorship.
Tom speaks so often and so favorably of America that Morie
finally embraces the idea of migrating.

TOM BEAMED HAPPILY as he came down the stairs of a brownstone
house, his arms generously extending a warm welcome. There was a
bear, brotherly hug between both men. Tom paid the cab driver and
helped Morie carry his luggage inside the house. In Jackson Heights,
he looked the same; the last three years had altered neither his
aristocratic features nor his loyalty to friendship. He stayed thin and
fit, and loyal to his Castro-style beard, the only feature that betrayed
his age. A lively French conversation ensued:
“I expected you at Kennedy yesterday,” Tom said. “I waited there
for hours. You never showed. What happened?”
“I missed my flight, but I immediately sent a telegram to let you
know about the mishap. I can see you never received it?”
“Your telegram never came! Happy birthday! You look sharp as
usual, somewhat official I might add. Have you put on a little weight
or what?”
“Don’t tell me I’ve put on weight.” Morie quipped, playful.
“And you still don’t look older than seventeen!” Tom’s artlessly
“Thanks Tom. I’m twenty-four today, and you wouldn’t look
thirty-four without that beard of yours either. I would shave it!”
“You think so?” Tom ran his right hand protectively through
Morie’s naturally red hair, a feature that used to intrigue him in the old
days in Paris. He lifted the suitcase and the damaged bag. “I am
sharing this place with my sister and her husband. Come on in,
redhaired brother.”
In the living room, the sister and her husband briefly looked away
from the excitement of the shoot out on the TV screen, a typical


thriller scene featuring good and bad guys. As the couple threw in
polite greetings to the visitor from Paris, Morie could not help noticing
that the good guy on TV turned out to be the black police officer, who
had just shot a bad white man. The scene was impressive because
Morie had never seen on the French TV a black man portrayed in such
a heroic light. The images on screen as Morie perceived them, seemed
to vindicate Nineteenth Century cartoonist Thomas Nast, who
sketched so many drawings to portray black people as normal people.
“It feels like it’s been an eternity since I left Paris” Tom said,
inviting Morie to his room. “Tell me about our friends back in Paris.”
“The Good Samaritan community at Ivry has been eroded
recently by the death of a number of elders,” Morie said “But your
Polish girlfriend is still there.”
“You naughty boy, you remember Guitmy?” Tom broke into
laughter. “Tell me how is she doing?”
“Guitmy’s still going strong,” Morie had a special fondness for
the fifty-year old Frenchwoman, a registered nurse who surprised
everyone at Ivry when she fell head over heels in love with Tom and
openly carried on with him a passionate affair. “I used to think she
was a nun of sorts until she started dating you.”
“She was a nun alright. Does she still care for the sick and
downtrodden benevolently?” Tom asked.
“You bet, and Guitmy continues to advocate for migrants who
struggle to survive in France.”
“I miss Guitmy. She’s a true disciple of Christ and she loves
“You know what? When she learned of my plan to migrate to
North America Guitmy was the one who connected me with this
French-Canadian clergy, pastor Henry Du Halgouet. And guess what?
I am going to visit Henry in Toronto this winter so he can introduce
me to a community called Agape House.”
“I thought you’re coming to the United States instead,” Tom
sounded somewhat disappointed. Before he met Guitmy his gay
tendencies had urged him to make a pass at Morie. The experience
had nearly damaged their friendship because Morie clearly was more
interested in girls than boys, strongly rejected Tom’s persistent
fondling urges.


“When I spoke with him,” Morie recalled, “Henry depicted
Canada as a safe heaven for immigrants, he would help if and when I
decide to migrate to Toronto, Ontario.”
“You won’t like it in Canada, my friend.” Tom warned.
Morie was hardly listening. “Anyway, I’m just exploring the New
World this time,” he said adde, “I’m doing something akin to a
reconnaissance voyage.” He stopped, unzipped the damaged bag and
took out a package he tendered to Tom.
Tom opened the box and his face lit up with a smile at the sight of
the light-blue shirt. “C’est du Cardin!” He marveled. “I love it.” He
stepped forward and gave Morie a bear hug. In the process, he groped
Morie’s buttock in an attempt to arouse him sexually the way he used
to in the old days.
“No hanky-panky, friend,” Morie stepped back, his expression
sobering with narrowed eyes as if an elephant had suddenly appeared
in the room. “I can’t do that anymore. What happened in Ivry stays in
Ivry, okay?” He added, “I haven’t come to New York to explore my
female side either. Now go ahead, try on the shirt, I still remember
your size because you’re barely bigger than I am. You wear a 16,
A shadow passed over his face as Tom tried to conceal an
underlying melancholy borne out of the rejected intimacy he had
sought by fondling Morie’s buttock. He attributed the word “luxury”
to the shirt and seized the moment to reach out for a package from the
nightstand by the bed. “Here’s your birthday present. I know you’ll
love it.”
While Tom removed the pins from his new shirt, Morie opened
his present, titled The Stolen Legacy—a book claiming the Egyptian
origin of philosophy, by George G. M. James.
“Thanks Tom,” Morie said. “You definitely are part of the people
I consider to be the first Bible I read.”
“I like that,” Tom said, and then he went ton sharing that his sister
who studied humanities at Hunter College considered James’ book as
her Bible. “Since you love philosophy,” he added, “this should change
you from Althusser.” Tom went on saying that Morie was in the
States at last, the “free world.” He hoped Morie would stay so he can


further his schooling in some great university, and read more
“Like I said, we’ll see after my trip to Toronto.” Morie had not
forgotten the restrictions officer Smart pointed out with regard to the
local labor market in the United States. He wondered how would he
go about supporting his needs in terms of housing, employment and
healthcare in New York? How much social justice could he count on
as a black man in America?
“You know what? Despite the hardship we went through I still
miss Paris.” Tom looked wistful. “I’m still an undocumented migrant
here, driving a cab to support myself.”
“We’ve learned something, haven’t we, about the grouchiness of
Parisians, their heavily administered daily life, the high employment
rates for black migrants, the difficulties to find a place to live.” Morie
stopped, and then added: “However, Paris is also a school, a museum,
and an incredible cultural center. Every single day I had the feeling of
re-discovering Paris, and that made the city profoundly endearing.”
“Yes, Paris!” Tom said, nostalgic. “One loves it for the same
reasons one dislikes it. I might go back there on my honeymoon,
“You’re getting married?” Morie felt so relieved at the thought
that Tom’s gay pride might not be getting the best of him after all. He
was getting married!
“Yes Sir!” Tom beamed as he buttoned his new shirt. “Her name
is Virginie. You’ll meet her when I take you to visit Ellicott City, next.
She’s going to be my way to the green-card!”
“Where is Ellicott City?”
“It’s a small town in Maryland, part of Washington DC’s
“If Ellicott City isn’t too far from Silver Spring we could seize the
opportunity to visit my cousins who live there.”
“That sounds like a plan. I’ll take you to your cousins in Silver
“How far is Staten Island from where we are?”
“It’s about an hour away.”
“On Staten Island I’d like to see a relative, Amara Baren, a
brother-in-law of sorts.”


“We’ll take you on a tour of the Big Apple. I drive an old Buick
round the neighborhood as a cab.” Tom winked at his guest in
complicity with a light laughter. “Go ahead and take a shower. And
then I’ll take you to a Caribbean restaurant around the corner.”
Over diner the couple of friends discussed ways and means to
settle down in the United States. First thing first tomorrow morning,
Tom said, Morie should be prepared to take a trip to the closest Social
Security office and apply for a number. Tom said that for now all
Morie needed was a Social Security number to be used for ID so he
could do basic things like opening a bank account, or trading his
French driver license for a local one. Tom assured Morie that the good
thing about being in the United States, was that once in he was free to
stay and nobody would ask him to produce an identification card.
“You really are in the free world now,” Tom had concluded as he
turned out the light that night in Brooklyn. That night Morie had a
dream. He is swimming in a vast ocean, all is water around him, deep
waters too; and then he becomes aware of a snake, a long green and
yellow snake with dark spots. Is it threatening Morie? Not exactly, but
the snake is talking about Tassin, a village in the UWAC. How
strange! A snake! A talking snake and Morie struggles to fend it off in
deep waters. Why? He is scared out of his wits. Scared of drowning
and scared of the snake. What is there to do? How could he push away
this scary thing that stands around him in the ocean? Is he dreaming?
Wake up! Wake me up now! Please do wake me up!
Morie’s hollering awakened Tom who shook him to
consciousness. He spent the rest of the night wide awake, conscious
that the dream portended the temptations and subsequent hurdles he
might have to negotiate in his attempt to conquer the American

AS RECORDED IN The Tropical Notebooks, Morie’s highlights of the
winter 1973 tour to North America started in Ellicott City where he
met Virginie, a middle-aged single parent of two teenagers between
thirteen and nineteen. Tom dropped Morie at his cousin’s home in
Silver Spring where he was re-united with half a dozen young adults
including Temba Sesay. In the huge living room the four-bedroom
Summit Hill apartment, for a whole week, there was much


commenting on the effects of the oil crisis, evoking family members
left behind in Africa, most of whom dreamed of coming to America,
and exploring downtown Silver Spring. Morie was impressed by the
$50 weekly grocery bill the Summit Hill household footed easily since
each and every one of five housemates was gainfully employed.
Husein and Sheika worked in construction, Kareem worked at night as
a security guard, and the only female of the household, Kadija worked
on calls for an employment agency as a nurse’s assistant. Kadija was
Temba’s girlfriend. Temba’s night-shift parking attendant job allowed
him attend classes at Howard University during the day.
The narratives of the Silver Spring household confronted,
evaluated, and synthesized those elements of comparisons acquired in
Europe and America. Somewhat Temba held an unconspicuous
leadership position in the household, and he received frequent letters
from Africa demanding remittances he couldn’t afford to send. Temba
toured Morie around the District of Columbia, starting with such
landmarks as Union Station, the White House, the Washington
Monument, FDR and Lincoln Memorials, the Mall and a number of
Smithsonian National Museums.
Overall, the provincial character of the District was unappealing
to Moriba Laye Bainaka. The city was built like rows of boxes, with
rusty, paint-peeling bridges. Aside from the K Street corridor, the
Mall, and a southwest perimeter lined with impressive government
buildings, a great deal of the District was left to be desired, especially
the rows of dilapidated homes and buildings in the predominantly
black neighborhoods along the 14th Street and Georgia Avenue
corridors. The District’s scarcity of interracial couples pointed to a
division along racial lines, and Morie found suspicious its seeming
lack of cultural identification of the black population as a whole.
Where were the statues of black heroes such as Frederick Douglass,
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.? Morie didn’t see any
thoroughfare named for black historic figures. Moreover, he learned
that even though the District’s status as capital provided steady
employment to a fast growing diverse population, nearly eighty
percent of which were people of color, it also stripped them of basic
rights of citizenship taken for granted by the residents of other states
of the Union since they had no voting representation in Congress.


At a Café in Georgetown Temba treated Morie to a real,
Parisianlike espresso; took him to see The Godfather at a U Street movie
theater, and bought the KC and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down lyrics
on a black disk from a street vendor while they visited the
Smithsonian Space Museum. During the stop at Howard University
Morie’s eyes lingered from one female face to another, especially
those gorgeous Afro women. His comment, “Black women are so
foxy!” prompted Temba to put some sense in his head with a warning:
“Those foxy ladies wouldn’t even look at you until you start riding a
Lincoln.” Temba reflected.
Now Temba was behind the wheel of his raggedy 1965
Plymouth, wisely driving northbound below speed limit along famous
16th Street corridor toward Silver Spring. Morie noted how 16th
Street was bordered on both sides with magnificent mansions,
churches and a variety of other temples of worship.
“So, what is it that resonates with you about America?” Temba
asked sounding serious.
“I love conveniences such as the telephone,” Morie asserted
“By the way cousin,” Temba interrupted. “Speaking of telephone,
you owe us over two hundred dollars worth of long distance phone
calls to Paris. How do you plan on refunding me?”
“I’ve spent most of my cash, cousin.”
“In that case I’ll take one of your Parisian boots, if not that blue
blazer of yours. That would even us out. Deal?”
“You Americans like to deal!” Morie remembered hearing the
word for the first time out of officer Smart’s mouth at Kennedy
Airport.” He went on: “We’ll see what I can do about your deal.
Perhaps I’ll let you take the jacket.”
“Good,” Temba said. “Please go on. Where were we?”
“The quasi absence of traffic jams is remarkable.” Morie said
resuming the conversation about the things that resonated with him in
America. “There is no comparision between our pigeon holes in Paris
and the huge apartment you guys have in Silver Spring. Last but not
least unemployment is low in the immigrant communities. All of you
folks hold a job. If I decide to migrate, I’d plan on settling in New


“Why New York?”
“Because the thrill of living is there, cousin.”
“New York’s tough city, jobs are scarce, housing is out of reach,
and crimes are rampant,” Temba warned.
“For a start I’m assured of Amara’s help.”
“What does he do for a living, Amara?”
“Like you, he’s parking lot attendant. That’s how he pays rent and
school fees.”
“What is he majoring in?”
“Again, like you, business administration.”
“I have nothing to teach a big boy like you, Morie.” Temba
paused briefly at a stop sign. “You’ve rolled your ball all over Europe
already. “However,” he went on, “it may be a good idea to remind you
that the progress of mankind started when people put an end to
nomadic lifestyle and settled into sedentary activities.”
“Like agriculture, right?” Morie looked into his cousin’s shiny
black eyes as if they and not his ears were the recipient of his words.
“Temba,” he argued, “do you ever think how man lived before
agriculture and its hierarchical order changed pre-historic lifestyle?”
“What are you getting at, Morie?”
“Think of stateless, pre-agency societies; imagine the type of
freedom women had in matriarchal societies.”
“America’s patriarchy even though polygamy is anathema.
What’s your point?”
“Temba, can you imagine a society where women would be
allowed to wed several husbands?”
“American GOP wouldn’t allow it,” Temba asserted.
“What does that acronym stands for?”
“God Old Party—it’s the Republicans. Again, what’s your
“Here is my point. Would a matriarchal system be more or less
violent than our capitalist system based on the exploitation of
“Women’s rights have evolved tremendously, Morie.” Temba
argued. “They have as much rights if not more than men nowadays.
I’m quite sure you’ve heard of feminists like Firestone and—”


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