For many years I have kept a drawer in my heart filled with the want and hope that one day I could move back to South-Africa. I have wrapped myself in the comfort of a blanket with stars and stripes on one side, and the rainbow flag of the new South-Africa that I left behind on the other. I have proudly affirmed myself an “American African” to anyone inquiring about my origins, and although I raise my hand across my heart during the Star Spangled Banner, I must confess that except for the first and last lines, I don’t really know the words. I also don’t know the words to “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (God Bless Africa) except for the few lines in Afrikaans found in the middle. I guess that makes me a pretty pathetic American and African patriot.
Identity plays such a role in our formation of self. Who am I? What defines me? What expresses my uniqueness, my character, and that part of me that makes me the one of a kind that each of us is? I left South-Africa at such a young age, full of rage for the unfair hand of cards I drew growing up in a world that required me to battle when I should have been allowed to just play. My fury raged against the forces that took away my childhood innocence at a tender age when I should have been just loved unconditionally. I was angry at the unjust years of struggle to redefine my destiny using just my own unwavering faith and strength that I would never allow myself to just become another statistic of circumstances. When I left the country of my birth, I left with the intention of never returning. I left with the burning desire to find a safe harbor, a port where I could drop my anchor and reinvent the identity of a very battle worn soldier. I was coming to America, the land of great opportunity and a new beginning, the land where dreams as big as a Texas sky come true.
Thirteen years later, in 2006, the tragic and untimely death of a very close and special person led me back. Like a very premature salmon run, I returned to the place of my birth. And I discovered that under my new found American heartbeat, my African blood was running strong. I recognized that my blanket was always double sided and I wished that I could one day come back to live in the country I was from and reclaim some of the missing years. I fell in love all over with the beautiful African light, the incredible vibrancy of an African life, and the way my soul is quiet and at peace when I’m surrounded by the African bush.
But . . . the years I spend in Texas and Dallas have been mounting, and the drawer filled with longing for my African dream has become much smaller. Like so much else, life happens when we make other plans. Slowly over the course of the past 23 years I have developed a deep love, not just for this wonderful country, but also for the great state of Texas and for Dallas. Last night I watched the sunset over White Rock Lake and the downtown skyline. This is my city, my ‘hood and my comfort. I’m proud to call Dallas home.
The inspiration to this blog started because I contemplated my own very recent Texas roots against a 7th generation Texan. How can it ever compare? Does it make me so much less of a true one from the Lone Star state? No, it doesn’t. Instead, what matters is the desire and commitment from both of us to want to make Texas the best place through our efforts and energy, both for the newbies like me, and the many generations before and after.
(Side note: I intended to write this blog about my love for all the special places in Texas like Big Bend, East Texas, Austin and the Hill Country, BBQ and Caddo Lake. Be patient. It’s imminent! )
I spent three weeks in South-Africa last year and during the trip I finally accepted that I’m American with just enough African spice to be different. It makes no sense to carry a dream of relocating “one day” to a country where I have no family and I really don’t belong. Instead, I shall visit often to satisfy my hunger and feed my African soul. In the meantime I’ll learn all the words to the Star Spangled Banner and show my deep gratitude for every opportunity presented to me by this great country.