If The Star-Spangled Banner is running through your mind this
week, well, fine, but I'll tell you what these Olympics have
planted firmly in mine: certain passages from the Dogon-Peulh, a
seduction dance of Burkina Faso that, if writing could do it
justice, might be said to go sort of like this.
She: HEY! Watch my booty move, big boy, beyond your wildest
dreams, kapocketaboonk boonkboonkboonkboonkkapocketapocke taboonkapocketaboonkboonkboonkboonkboonk....
He: Yehhhh-heh-heh-heh boomalammaboomalamma, it is a right
good-moving booty. Heh-heh. Smells good, too. Baloomaloomaloom....
I'm happy the U.S. is winning a lot of medals. But my heart is
with the Burkinabe, which is what you call the people of Burkina
Faso, the West African country adopted by my hometown, Decatur,
Burkina Faso used to be a French colony and was then an
independent republic called Upper Volta. Its capital city is
Ouagadougou. None of its five Olympic athletes is likely to
appear on the victory stand, but thanks to its 35-member Olympic
delegation--in particular its percussion and dance troupe,
Bonog--I finally came to feel at home, this week, in the place
where I come from, where the Burkinabe are honored guests.
Before I explain, let me tell you a quick football story.
Back in the '60s, a professional wide receiver and his
quarterback were passing through the latter's hometown. They
were expected for a family dinner at the quarterback's parents'
house, the house where he had grown up. But these two famous
athletes got stoned (the '60s, remember), so stoned that when
they drove to the quarterback's neighborhood, he couldn't focus
on how to find his house. Here was their solution: They drove to
the quarterback's old high school, and the quarterback got out,
and the wide receiver drove slowly along behind as the
quarterback walked home from school.
Maybe that story isn't morally edifying. (I was told Burkina
Faso means "country of morally integrated people.") Neither,
maybe, is the story of how I found my own way home last week.
Maybe I am imposing a personal story upon the Olympics. But who
knows? Maybe, despite the promotional crassness in and around
Atlanta last week, genuine intercultural exchange was going on,
giving rise to many personal revelations. That's what's supposed
to happen at the Olympics, isn't it? It happened to me.
Decatur is part of metropolitan Atlanta. When I was growing up
there, it was kind of like Leave It to Beaver, only with lots of
black people tucked away in little ghettos with names like
Eskimo Heights. Decatur was desegregating, slowly and awkwardly,
when I moved away in 1968. My sister and only sibling, Susan,
left in 1971. My father died in 1974, my mother in 1981. My
But every so often my travels brought me to Atlanta, and I would
drive out to Decatur square, where the old courthouse stands. I
would stop to look at the bronze plaque that says ROY A. BLOUNT
PLAZA. DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF A GREAT BUILDER OF HOMES AND
SCHOOLS, AND THE RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM WHICH LIES UNDER THIS
PLAZA. My father was chairman of the Decatur board of education
from 1962 to 1965, when the schools were integrating, and
chairman of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority in
1971 and 1972, when the MARTA subway and bus system was in the
making. He was president of Decatur Federal Savings and Loan
from 1960 to 1974, in which capacity he didn't get rich but did
make a name for himself as a community builder. He and I--that
old father-son thing--never communicated very well.
"You hear more stories around town about your dad," John Randall
told me last week. He is a native Decaturite, and his wife,
Linda Harris, is the daughter of my father's late friend Robin
Harris. Linda Harris stayed on in Decatur to become marketing
director of the Downtown Development Authority. Randall is
immediate past president of the Decatur Business Association,
which, along with the city government, has taken the Olympics as
an occasion for a 17-day festival in the courthouse square. The
Irish delegation, which has also been adopted by Decatur, has
installed a bar, made of green wood, in the old county
courtroom. When I was growing up, the whole county was, like my
prominently Methodist father, staunchly dry. And now the
courthouse is an Irish pub!