It used to conflict me that you never asked about my life in Africa. You never mentioned it and you never seemed shocked or excited when I told you about the scorpion in my bed or the snake that tried to eat my monkey. Didn’t it interest you? Didn’t I interest you? Everyone one else had millions of questions for me but you never had one.
I didn’t realize it then but you were giving me exactly what I had always longed for.
I hid behind Africa for so long. I wasn’t interesting without it. When people found out where I grew up, I became exciting to talk to. I was like a foreign relic they could show off and brag about. Who was I without Africa?
But you were different. You gave me a place to rest where Africa didn’t define me. I defined me. Where Africa is not what made me interesting. A place where you were only interested in me. You weren’t talking to me because you wanted to safari my past. You weren’t interested in me because of the lions and elephants and snakes. You showed me you only cared about me. You didn’t boast about your souvenir from Africa. To you I was more than an airplane ticket to an adventure. I was the adventure.
I struggled with my past. I used it to feel interesting. Africa is where I got my worth. Other times I hid it because I wanted to see if anyone was interested in only me. That was a scary option though. And it was hard to tell a story without bringing Africa up. So most of the time I would just stay silent. But you are helping me to see that my past is not a story I need to tell to find worth. And it’s not something I need to hide either.
But it’s still hard. Sometimes I hide my past because I don’t want others to think I’m bragging about my history. When someone tells a story about when they were little, how do I tell a story about when I was little when all my stories involve Africa? I get afraid people will think I am trying to one up them. How do I relate to a normal childhood when mine was anything but normal?
How do I relate? I guess that’s the real question. One I’ve been asking since I became a third culture kid. I thought maybe the question would go away once I became an adult. But I’m still asking… why don’t I fit in? Why don’t I know how to hold a conversation? Or even start one? Why do I still feel awkwardly foreign? Why don’t I have friends? What am I doing wrong? What are the unspoken rules? I thought I had them figured out. But I don’t. How will I ever feel at home?
But that’s when your voice comes back to calm my fears. I’m your home now. You never have to wander again. I love you for you. Your past doesn’t define you. You’re worth more than the pink and purple sunsets and the dirt roads and the starry filled sky. It is beautiful but that’s not why you’re beautiful. Don’t be afraid to talk about Africa. It’s not just a story, it is your life. Your life is where stories come from.
Even though I tried to hide behind my stories or behind my silence, you still saw me. You still see me. You don’t see the awkward foreign girl who doesn’t know social rules. You don’t see the bilingual translator who can’t understand jokes. You don’t see African. You don’t see un American. You only see me. And you’re helping me to see me too.