Lisette Ma Neza: 'My companion says: 'This is the closest we can get to time travel''

© Ivan Put
| Lisette Ma Neza.

For three weeks, a Brussels creative shares their view of the world. LISETTE MA NEZA studied film at LUCA School of Arts, is a poet, a writer of song lyrics and columns, and is Belgian Poetry Slam champion and second in the world.
Instagram: @diemeisjevanbrussel

I rarely agree. When you suddenly run into your best buddy from kindergarten in the middle of nowhere, or when in Abu Dhabi you meet a group of people from Brussels who studied at the same university and are friends with all your friends. “It's a small world!” they shout. My argument is that it's a very big world, an immense, impossible world full of people and green, full of earth and ecosystems, animals and water – but that we manoeuvre through this big world in bubbles of groups. They laugh and shake their heads and I enjoy new encounters in far away places that could have taken place on my doorstep in Brussels.

At this time of the year, I leave Brussels, as I often do, only now I leave Brussels more than I am used to. I'll trade her for arrogant Paris, for the secrets of Barcelona (for the empanadas stuffed with spinach...), for rough but hedonistic Berlin and for my East African friends in Poznan. Hopefully soon also for Stockholm, or Geneva, or maybe even for Budapest or a city in Russia perhaps – although there is that nagging thought that it is not safe there for people with my skin colour. I leave my beloved Brussels not only because I love proving myself right (that's not so bad, actually, I know that the truth is made up of many things) and not only because I want to swim in the vastness of what the world can be, but also because I'm looking for the bigger story. Sometimes I get lost in the questions like “where are you from?” I haven't answered those in a long time. For those who don't get it, this continent is as much mine as it is the Dutch King Willem Alexander's, although my bloodline tells a second story. I travel starting from a search for the two stories, to the thousands of multilingual, multihistory, multicultural stories. The experiences of Afro-Europeans, people who look like me, or not at all, with bloodlines leaving the European continent. Experiences in plural.

I use the book Afropean by Johny Pitts as my travel guide and get to where I've never been. In France, I'm not looking for the Eiffel Tower, but for the breeding grounds of Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin. My companion puts it very nicely: “Lisette, this is the closest we can get to time travel.” In Berlin I'm not just going to the Berlin Wall, but looking for Germaica, for Ras Tafari's legacy. I speak to singers and fashion designers about how we must not forget who came before us, because that is the only way we can understand who we are.

So I'm looking for who came before us, looking back from who we are today. I write poems and think up melodies that I record before I lose them – in February there will be a performance of them, which I will play in the KVS, a letter or a conversation with image and music, to my little sister, about my little journey around the world. In every place I suddenly come across the same people or street names Johny Pitts describes in his book, sometimes because I'm looking for them, and sometimes I call it serendipity. Someone else might explain this by saying it's a small world... I'm still chewing on everything I've felt and seen, I'm still brooding on these journeys – but I already know, that if I really want to understand what it means to be Afro-European, I'd have to go much further out into the world.

Thinking that we are the world
is very European
that is why I want to get out of here

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