I’m from Botswana and I grew up in two cities. Pretoria, which defined most of my childhood; and New York, which defined most of my adolescence. I have little to no recollection of my life before South Africa…it is what it is.
Living so close to Botswana resulted in frequent trips home or having relatives come over at least once every year. Living across the ocean was something different altogether. There’s nothing in this world that could prepare you for the random intense waves of homesickness that hits you deeply at the oddest of times. From missing the food to even attending weddings. I remember multiple occasions where my aunt would blast wedding songs on Saturday mornings.
If you’re like me, you miss your mom and siblings, and every time you see them they’ve grown and are taller than you. You also tend to come incredibly patriotic, even if coming home is a slap in the face- just to be frank. The culture shock and ideals to dismantle in your head are way too much, especially for a fifteen-year-old.
In his novel, No Longer at Ease, Chinua Achebe addresses how one creates a version of their country that doesn’t exist just as Obi Okonkwo did when he was in England. I did the same exact thing whilst I was in New York. Yes, folks, I hurt my own feelings by creating a version of Botswana that simply did not exist.
Since being back, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, man I wanna go back. Yes, America isn’t a place where Black people thrive; the riots and protests are proof of that. But, New York slowly became home to me. The longer I dwelled on coming back, the more I dealt with intense inner turmoil. Y’all, I did not want to come back home.
Almost every summer was spent in Botswana and despite being happy to meet baby cousins and other relatives… I just didn’t want to come back permanently. Not after getting used to taking the subway every day, greeting the Indian lady running the newsstand, and even the homeless man outside Duane Reade who initially scared me. Or getting McDonald’s with my best friend before the start of spring and winter break. The city became a fundamental part of my identity, it’s different different, no one wants to part with a home or life they created and slowly grew to love.
The cons of being home are irksome more than anything. For starters, I don’t think any Black person or anyone of colour likes or ever gets used to being told that they “act white”. It leaves you with a kind of rage.
I remember the episode of Game of Thrones (if you haven’t watched it, that’s cool too) when Tyrion tells Jon Snow, who hates being referred to as a bastard,
“Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”
I have heeded this advice many times- it’s great advice and whoever wrote this went off – but just not about this. If you align with being called a coconut, that’s great for you, however, it gets annoying when people believe there are certain traits that define the extent of your blackness.
My ‘Blackness’ is defined by being myself – a Black young woman. It’s not linear as people so desperately want it to be, we’re all different.
Moreover, having developed an accent apparently makes you incapable of doing things because you speak English more than any other language.
I’m well aware of how this statement may sound like someone reaching but it happens quite a lot. As well as being told not to speak your mother tongue because it sounds wrong and that I should ‘just stick to English’.
Growing up in America did not make me incapable of knowing how to cook and clean. Our household was every bit the African household you’d expect to find, and being in America did not change that. I’m from a village just outside of Gaborone with a somewhat traditionalist family, so no matter what great city I end up in, the inner villager within me never strays really away.
Furthermore, family tends to have the version of a younger you in their minds. I’m not the outgoing child I used to be, I became an introvert and only a few selected members know of my crackhead energy – and to put it lightly, it’s really awkward getting reacquainted with family you barely remember, like no I do not remember you carrying or babysitting me but it’s nice to meet you.
Most importantly, there’s nothing like being torn between two cultures and becoming two halves of a whole – especially if said cultures are on their respective ends of the spectrum. To be constantly wishing to be elsewhere, nothing about it is like having the best of both worlds. All one ends up with is feeling like a stranger in their own country, wondering where exactly you fit in.
That’s my truth, my experience. I love my country; from my family, and the relationships I’ve found to the places accessible to me. It’s great coming from a land with a rich history and different cultures…but sometimes, you just don’t like being home, not when you’ve had a taste of being away from all you’ve ever known.