I spent a few years In South Africa trying to perfect the accent, the tone, colloquial phases and language. I did the same in Nigeria, Kenya and now here in the United States of America. This wasn’t to add glitter to my holiday and neither was it a holiday this constant move was my life. The difference between going on holiday somewhere is the lighthearted/fun tone everything carries with it.
Being a 10-year-old girl not looking to stand out in class as a “Kwere kwere”(the term African foreigners were called in South Africa) was difficult. I did my best to experience the culture around me. From the clicks, food, language & heritage, I learnt it all.
I guess if I was on holiday that would have been an amazing experience.
But no, it was a long 9-year-journey.
One full of stares, laughter following my failed attempts at reading a paragraph in Zulu class. I was always asked “How can a black person not know how to speak Zulu? Hawu, kanti where are you from?”
The assumption of that every one of color should be expected to speak the indigenous language was a little hilarious.
But I bought into it. Threw myself into the culture & blended as best as I could.
Here I am, merely a visitor, trying to find emancipation in my neighbor’s house. I respectfully wanted to live- exist. But I don’t think the life of refugees or foreigners is understood. Why was I under your roof? I know of families that walked from Congo to South Africa. Ran, from everything they knew or had, with children on their backs and deaths on their hearts. Trying to survive is the reason many of us came. Not to takeover but to overcome.
I picked up Zulu pretty nicely, mastered certain traits to a point where you’d finally believe we were both black. I had it all down. I began to consider myself Congolese by birth, a touch of Kenya, a glass of Nigeria & a plate of South Africa.
Early Wednesday morning in 2015 I went to school as per usual. Halfway through the day an announcement went throughout the school alerting everyone to take out their phones & arrange to be picked up. All foreigners were called and told not to go to town or pass through town.
Xenophobia had begun again.
My first thought was who? which foreigners? Oh us?
I didn’t consider my self any different. Born & raised in Africa, what do you mean Foreign? A marriage of panic and thrill filled the faces of many. Some excited for a short day at school, others relieved because tests were cancelled. Yet we did not realize what this predicament was based on.
As a member of my-parents-dont-own-a-car club, I stayed at school afraid that perhaps my foreign skin would stink in public.
Afternoon came and I was surrounded by maths. It was final year and I couldn’t afford to mess up. But I remember being boiled with questions & worry. All it took, was what seemed like a harmless joke “It’s not like you’re caught in town during this mess.”
“MOM!” (tears streaming down my eyes.)
She was safe at home. But simply because you aren’t directly affected doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. Our humanity is based on care, love and respect for others.
Have you ever had to leave your home? Your country?
Work day & night because you have nothing to call your own? Not even the land you currently walk on.
Pray that a bag of sweets, chips & peanuts can pay your rent?
There’s so much to being a foreigner…
It is surviving.
Like trying to grow without your roots being firmly planted on the ground.
I will never consider myself foreign in Africa.
My sweat and determination should never be seen as theft of your own.
My heart goes out to all those lives lost &
Leaving in fear.