I’ve been wanting to write for months but my thoughts have been trapped at a self-made road block, too painful to move past in my mind. At times what feels like an unhealthy love affair with a place of my past prevents me from experiencing life here in the present. As I try to navigate through life in Cleveland, I feel like a foreigner. It’s strange to be a foreigner in a place which was home for 18 years. I only knew the safety of the suburbs as a child. My friends and I could run around outside past dark with our biggest threat being our own stupidity (which seems to come naturally with childhood curiosity). My windows never had burglar bars, our house door was always open, and our bikes were usually left unlocked on the front lawn, only to still be there in the morning. I had access to a good education, a family full of love, more cousins and siblings to play with then I could count, and every evening, without fail, there was dinner in my home.
I suppose after a while the chaos of life in Cape Town became so normalized to the point of being comfortable. You make sure to hang the bars on your windows and if you’re smart to invest in several forms of a front door. Your car may or may not be there in the morning, so invest in several gear locks and decent insurance if you can afford it. Never walk with an ipod or anywhere too quiet, and even if its busy around you make sure to always be aware of your surroundings. Nature isn’t necessarily a place of peace, it’s also one of violence. Some days you just get robbed and sometimes, especially if you are a woman, it’s worse but you have to move on because life will keep moving anyway without you. Get used to strikes on the University campus, it’s the inevitable result of structural inequality. When you work with the children in the schools, know that their hyper and at times violent behavior is a result of chronic stress. They’ve most likely lost several loved ones and experienced several more traumatic events. Which also explains the children on the street who many may treat more like animals than people, know that it’s not their fault. They are simply acting accordingly with our failure as adults to protect them.
Also know that in Cape Town people are connected to something more real than most Americans can imagine. Your community, your neighbors, your neighbors’ children, they are your family. Staring up at the mountains and out at the ocean will bring you peace and laughter can be experienced in the little things every day. You’ll stop chasing materialism and chase things that really matter. A roof and a meal is something to be grateful for, no matter how big or small it may be. In spite of the challenges with poverty and violence, every day is full of hope and beauty. Although diversity in certain areas is feared, in others it is valued, transcending a history of systemic divisions.
Now 40 weeks pregnant waiting for the inevitable birth of my first child, I couldn’t be more proud to know that as much as he is American, he is also South African. Together our lives will always be somewhat in the middle of the two worlds, or perhaps they are where the two worlds meet.