Finding Your Navel String

Every year before Christmas – in one of many attempts to get economic activity underway – parents are told what the hottest toys are. As a result, “Tickle Me Elmo”, numerous Elsa’s, beyblades, hoverboards and drones have flown off the shelves. If one didn’t have kids, a person could always Google what the top ten presents to buy were that year – or they could just look at what Gwyneth or Oprah said were their favourite things that week/year.

This year apparently, the hottest thing you can give is the gift of finding out who your people are. The notion of knowing who someone’s “people” were was first introduced to me as a teenager, when bringing someone home to meet your parents meant that they would inevitably ask the question – “Who are your people”? If the name of the prospect’s parents or grandparents elicited a lightbulb moment – in other words, they were known to your parents – then said prospect was in the clear.

Since then, knowing who your people are has taken on a deeper meaning. I’m aware that there has always been a push – at least on the part of people of African descent to know where exactly we came from. Since the publication of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1976 and the subsequent movie made from the book a year later – there have been numerous trips, journeys and pilgrimages back to the Motherland. Knowledge about our heritage has manifested in any number of ways – including renewed interest in African food, dance, names, fashion and birthing practices.

Ancestry.com and 23and Me.com are two popular companies that have taken advantage of this interest many have in finding out where, as the old people used to say – our “navel string is buried”. There are many more providing these services, but these two have elevated it to stocking stuffer status this year. The commercial for one company shows a family gathering that begins at the door with primarily Caucasian members and ends at the dinner table, with some other races mixed in.

Naturally, since some of our ancestors are not from the areas where we now live, finding our DNA make-up is a gift that any of us could use – as long as we have approximately $99US dollars ($69US if you take advantage of the special Christmas offer) and some extra spit.

“Who Do You Think You Are” and “Finding Your Roots” are two TV series where celebrities discovered who their family members were and where they came from. The programme was so popular, that when one participant discovered that he had a slave-owning descendant – he wanted to cut that part out. I guess he thought it made him look bad.

Birther controversies and Meghan Markle’s family tree aside, I’m a little fascinated by this push by some companies to mainstream DNA testing and make it seem as simple as 123. Are we hoping for proof that we all come from the rib of that first man or that we really all belong to the same family tree? Is it secretly a genetic world-mapping exercise? Or is it (as some have suggested) a clever way to divulge information that you wouldn’t otherwise have or dream of giving to people you don’t actually know?

I’ve been encouraged to find out who my people are. A free starting point involves talking to the oldest family members and listening to what stories they have to tell. Bibles, title deeds, marriage certificates and other documents can provide names that can help in the search. For us in Antigua, one of the first things we may find out is which plantation our great grandparents “worked” on. The National Archives may be able to provide further information if given a name or two. From there, it may be a few hops, skips and jumps to find out where in Africa they – and by extension I – come from.

I’m not sure how far the information that I have will take me, so I may just have to hawk one up for science.

I know… Sorry.

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Swindler’s List

I’ve never understood how some people fall for scams that cause them to lose their hard earned money.

Long before it made local news, I would open business mail that came from a high-placed government official in Africa – most times from Nigeria – who needed to use my bank account to transfer excess money from the sale of equipment, jewelry, oil, or some other precious resource – and my reward would be a cut of the funds.

The more “honest” letter writers, or the ones who couldn’t be bothered to make up a story about where the funds came from, would just ask for the use of my bank account in which to place an obscene amount of money – and my reward would be a cut of the funds.

The only thing more annoying than the letter writer’s assumption about my stupidity and willingness to ignore the padded contracts, was the awful grammar, syntax and punctuation that was weaved throughout the correspondence. I’m no English teacher but I did consider making the corrections and sending the letter back.

I was reminded of this scam when I viewed a parody of these types of letters that a person was receiving via email. The person showed us (hilariously) how to get the letters to stop, and that’s when I realized that the scammers, not surprisingly, had moved on from paper letters to electronic mail. Unfortunately, the spelling’s still bad.

And that’s another thing I didn’t understand. Didn’t all those grammatical errors give the readers some pause? I mean, for that alone I wouldn’t give them any information. Suppose they didn’t transcribe it correctly? Then where would my promised money go?

A few weeks ago I received a call to my cell phone from a woman who told me that the package I ordered had arrived and that she needed to get my address which she should have had (emphasis mine) – to facilitate delivery. The grammar was good, but the accent was a dead giveaway.

What she didn’t know is that despite all the online shopping that’s taking place here, she picked the one person who hasn’t ordered anything in years. Nonetheless, I played along and asked her for the name on her delivery slip. She asked me to hold on, and I waited while she rustled a few papers, called out to someone who may or may not have been nearby, and murmured to herself. She attempted to invent some legitimacy by repeating my phone number, as if that was just what I needed to hear to give her more information.

She was unable to find a name and assured me that she would call me back.

I know. I should have put her out of her misery sooner.

 

Wrong Number

Image credit: prairieecothrifter.com
Image credit: prairieecothrifter.com

Recently I wrote about Google’s unfounded suspicion that I was a robot up to some harmful shenanigans. I didn’t take it personally because every other day we hear of businesses – large and small that have been hit by hackers. And every other day somebody on Facebook sends out an alert, warning their friends against accepting any new friend requests. 

A few years back I had to send out one of those “Sorry, it wasn’t me” notices to everyone in my address book when it came to my attention that somebody had been using my email account to send some pictures – or at least that’s what they said. I was mortified! Anybody who knew me would have known that I wouldn’t be the one sending any pictures via that medium and certainly not by prefacing it with the caption “Look at my pics”. 

Anyway, after sufficient time had passed I decided against changing my address since the damage had already been done, and although I had informed my contacts of this, some of them clearly didn’t want to take the chance and have not opened a single thing that I’ve sent since then.

I’ve grown quite fond of my smart phone, but now I’m inundated with messages from people I don’t know – although they act as If they know me. They start the “conversation” off with a “Hello dear”, which is probably designed to catch me off-guard, or to get me to respond with an “Excuse me, but how do I know you again?”

I once got a message from someone who introduced himself as the person who I met on the bus – except that I haven’t used that mode of transportation in years. I quickly put a block on that number because it was clear that the person who had been travelling on the bus didn’t want to talk to him. Unfortunately I was stuck with delivering the message she seemed unwilling (at the time) to send. 

Given these experiences, and with the thought of infiltration in the forefront of my mind I’m always wary of communication I receive from any number that I don’t recognize. Not long after the bus rider attempted to hook up with me, I got a series of texts from another unfamiliar number. Certain that it was an attempt to hijack my phone along with the racy photos that I’ve got stored up in the cloud, I was about to shut it down completely when the fourth and final message came in with a single word. “Sorry”. 

Maybe Google isn’t the only one who’s paranoid.