Sometimes love is coming home. As I headed to Cape Town International Airport, I tried my best to fight the tears; a battle against myself which ultimately they won. My boyfriend wondered why I was crying, and I couldn’t explain myself. I was terrified to leave South Africa. Not because the United States scared me, but because I was afraid it would remind me that I missed it. Being a ‘foreign national’ isn’t always easy. The excitement of a new adventure quickly blends in with the struggle of existence in a foreign place. I will always be somewhat of an outsider here. I will always have to defend my competency and my intentions in the communities where I work. I will always have to answer the question to others and to myself “what are you doing here?” And respond to the sentiments that “you don’t belong here.” I will have to hide my Americanisms as much as possible so that I don’t get placed in the box of ‘ignorance, ‘arrogance,’ and ‘greed.’ Ignorant and greedy people exist everywhere, and so do those with altruism and understanding. I’m not sure why the comments get to me, why I try to hide from the person who I am, why I’m so ashamed to be American and even more ashamed to be white or why I cannot come to terms with my existence here.
After a 34 hour journey I landed in Los Angeles. It was as if someone had cut a hole in my chest so I could breathe. I hadn’t realized how suffocating South Africa could be on my being. As I walked through the airport on American soil (well concrete), I felt safe. I felt like I could be myself. I quickly came in contact with the faces of the friends and family who I had left behind. They were full of love and kindness. They were doing the best they could like most people in the world just to get by. They missed me and cared about my safety. As I walked pass the local school, two children who I used to work with at a local youth center came sprinting up to me and greeted me with a hug. One of the girls broke down crying in my arms, I hadn’t realized what our time together had meant to her and the other kids. To them it made a difference. I met up with my sister in Los Angeles and we took a drive along the California coast to our favorite surf spot, laughing with the windows down and soaking up the California sun. I stayed for hours in the ocean, appreciating the peaceful feeling which had overcome me. I was experiencing the very thing which I had feared; I was realizing that I missed it.
The week carried on in a similar way. My brother’s wedding brought the entire family together where we were able to be present and share the couples’ love and joy. The after-party continued with drinks and dancing, with even my 87 year-old grandmother joining in on the dance floor until late into the night. People traveled from all over the country to be home for the wedding. I’m not sure if there could be a greater experience of love.
The time has come to return to South Africa. It feels uncertain what that means for me. I will finish my PhD and the initiatives which I have started. I will live my passion which brought me there in the first place. I will advocate for children, I will work towards empowerment and healing. I will spend time with the people I love. Maybe this time I will do this as myself. I’ll own the fact that I am American and that my skin is white. After all it is what I was born into, simply circumstances and qualities which cannot be changed. What can be changed is what it represents, especially to myself. It could mean that I am a human being capable and worthy of love. Capable of flaws and mistakes, of ignorance, consciousness and of growth. I’ll live this love the best I can and maybe one day that love will bring me home.