Self-Portrait of a Third Culture Kid


It’s so formidable to answer the question, “Where are you from?”
I hesitate, fumbling over whether you want the sandspur entangled rut or whether smooth, clacking sidewalks is more your current. You don’t know it’s happening, but I can sift the answer from your eyes. So I stifle my answer down to one, two, three, and say, “I’m from Springfield.” And you smile plugging together some sort of connection about how you used to visit your uncle every Christmas in Springfield. You extend, “He was a lonely man.” But you can’t appreciate how lonely. Or how your attempt at a connection is as unconnected as continents divided by an ocean. I picture your tender toes faltering through the bleeding, overgrown answer. I would have interpreted that I was born in Springfield but moved to Africa when I was seven because my family are missionaries. You would have skipped over the reason and wildly exclaimed your astonishment that I actually had lions and elephants in my backyard. Reluctantly, I would translate that it isn’t true. And I’d steal a cable of light from your eyes. I always dread this part of the story. Another spark blackouts again because you’re on 110 v. and I’m on 220 v. and we don’t have a transformer. You see, I know there’s a lambent of awkwardness about me.

So sometimes I think it’d be more convenient to jolt you to convert the haywire of why I look American, sound American, and am American but am not American. But you weren’t ready for that voltage. And maybe neither was I. Because sometimes I just want to gauge who will electrify my eyes with theirs without using me as a conduit to safari my past. But I can’t disconnect the bush from me. Its red clay still sweats under my fingernails and digs into the cracks of my heels staining my steps. My lungs still breathe the toxic smoke from evening cooking fires igniting my taste buds under a hot sun burning milky stars in my eyes so that no sunset, moon, stars or darkness can measure up to its pure sky. And still, I hear foreign words echoing from my passport countries tongue. I am a culture no anthropology can cure. So when you ask, “Where are you from?” Let me ask, “What would you have me answer?” Even if I culture shock you, I fear you still wouldn’t see, taste, hear, or feel the continent trapped inside me. And that is what I long to be connected through. Maybe someday my continents will meet and my copper chorded culture will illuminate yours.


6 thoughts on “Self-Portrait of a Third Culture Kid

  1. I absolutely love this… especially this line: “Because sometimes I just want to gauge who will electrify my eyes with theirs without using me as a conduit to safari my past.” The imagery is superb.


      1. I don’t know if you’ve read much African poetry or not, but the line in this about having a continent trapped inside you… it reminded me of some of those poems because there seems to always be an undercurrent of Africa living within a person in those poems.


  2. I have not read a lot of African poetry. I did live there for 13 years so that could be why. Lol I truly appreciate you seeing the little details and letting me know that you saw them. It’s encouraging to know you “listened” to the words.


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