Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Words from a Self-Confessed Nostalgist

Living in a country that is so fiercely patriotic about every aspect of their way of life, it does do much to remind outsiders of how far we still have to fit in. When I’m watching dazzlingly firework displays in New York City for July 4th celebrations, I’m not reminded of the day Americans finally declared themselves an independent country a couple centuries ago, rather I’m reminded of vibrant times in my own history of gaining independence and overcoming obstacles to stand as the country we are today. When I taste the first earth shattering bites of apple pie, I long back to the times when melktert was readily available because the kerk Tannies had decided to hold a bake sale at the local Spar for no other reason then to remind the people of this world that there is heaven on earth. And add pannekoek to that mix and I’d be a regular in church on a Sunday thanking God for this wonderful miracle.

Yet I’ve always found myself wondering if I were to go home one day would I jump right back into the swing of things, or would I sit back pondering of a time that use to be? Will I lock my door at night in fear and remember all the millions of times in another land I’d walked out the house leaving it completely open to friends and thieves alike and coming back a few days later to a fully furnished house and neighbours kind enough to water the plants? When watching our land’s heroes on the rugby field bringing us victories by the boatload, will I be reminded of the times people have tried but failed to teach me of the intricacies that are American football only to give up, hand me a beer and let me live my life in oblivion regarding this matter? When sitting amongst the people of my home, hesitant to speak for fear of how my words will be interpreted, will I long back to the days I sat in a classroom studying African American literature with a group of people so culturally diverse they heralded from almost every nook and cranny of this earth and debate with them about issues of racism and equality and know that it is my voice that matters and not my skin colour?

When we choose the life of the homeless we choose to give up roots that ground us and decide instead to find comforts and commonalities amidst the unknown. Being a South African in America is what sets me apart from the crowd. My difference is not only glaringly obvious the moment I open my mouth and speak with an accent that sounds (according to almost every American) light-years away from many people here, but for me it’s most obvious when we sit around the table at dinner time and I’m the only one who uses a knife whilst everyone makes do with just a fork. It’s obvious when I’m eating huge turkeys and roasts during Christmas time when what I’m use to is lighting up the braai on Christmas day and spending the time doing what we South Africans do best; cooking meat to perfection on an open fire. Yet despite the open differences there are many things that unite us, and in a country as diverse as America these similarities are not hard to come by. I may not find South Africans on every street, but I do find people who have travelled from countries I’m just coming to learn of, who have left families and friends behind to start life alone in the wilderness. The girl from Georgia (the country) who sat with me in a sauna describing life in her wonderful country and what things she hoped to achieve in her lifetime, didn’t make us strangers because of a language and cultural barrier but kindred spirits in this foreign land. Meeting a girl in a parking lot who happened to share the same language and continent but not the same country fastened us rather as sisters and not just casual acquaintances. Being away from all you know gives you the wonderful ability to wax nostalgic of days gone by and at the very same time to appreciate the beauty of where you’ve ended up. You become one of the elite on this planet that is truly able to experience both sides of the coin, to know what it means to live and work to create your own dreams in the land of opportunities that is America, and to understand a country in distress at the same time. Your life becomes a shining example for what people are capable of achieving and not just showcasing some Hollywood movie of insurmountable impossibilities because to someone out there you’re living, breathing proof and not a mythological creature.

I’ve lived in this country for just over 3 years now and instead of embracing the place I’m in, I’ve longed for all I’ve left behind. Yet it took meeting fellow South Africans at a braai in a foreign land to make me realize how lucky I am, and to snap me out of living in an era of wistfulness. By longing for what was I forget to appreciate what is. I got so caught up in existing just for that moment when I could finally put my feet back on to African soil that I ceased to embrace the joy of living in the land fortune had granted me the wondrous chance of beholding. When meeting those South Africans I came to see that home isn’t just the physical aspects that make up the rainbow nation of South Africa. Home is the people that share the same traditions as me, it’s talking in a voice that has people asking instead, “Do you come from the same part of the world as me?” and not, “Is that British (you could replace that with Australian if you so chose as well)?” Home is knowing that there’s always a place to go back to but in the end having the freedom to embark on exploring new frontiers and creating grand adventures in foreign places. And at the end of the day when all is said and done, home will be a place of magnificent people and glorious moments unconfined by the boundaries of land.

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