They say that home is where the heart is. I don’t know who “they” are but “they” seem to be telling us a lot of things that unfiltered could make life confusing. But I digress.
Home is a city in South Africa. In Gauteng province to be exact. This province is the smallest but is the economic hub of the country and the African continent. It also boasts South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria. What do “they,” say about dynamite coming in small packages? I digress again…in any event, the photo below shows the area in which I live, south of Johannesburg in a beautiful peri-urban environment.
If you look really carefully, to the right of the photo, you can see the cows crossing the road, herded by a dog and cow-herder, to graze on the other side of the road. This may give you the wrong idea of SA – cows don’t cross the roads all the time and we aren’t dodging elephants and lions on a daily basis. It’s a country like all others in some respects. I’m lucky to live in an area that is so close to nature.
South Africa (henceforth SA) wasn’t always my home. I was born in Mozambique which was my home for the first 9 years of my life. Political upheaval uprooted our young family and because my Dad had always wanted to live in SA, SA became our new home.
What with learning a new language and somewhat traumatised with the splitting up of my extended family to whom I was close, the foundations of my 9-year-old world were shaken to the core. It took me over 20 years to feel that SA was my home. Initially, I’d been made to feel an outsider, an immigrant from across the border. It wasn’t nice for a young child to experience that. But it made me stronger and more determined not to allow other people to prescribe to me.
I remember the day, to the moment, that I finally felt that this beautiful rainbow country of all sorts of contrasts was home. My husband, Che, and I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal for my brother-in-law’s wedding in 2001. It was winter there, rainy and cold and I was seriously miserable. I don’t like the cold and the wet at the best of times, but even worse than this was not seeing the sun. Living in Africa I have sunlight about 350 out of 365 days of the year. That’s a lot of sunlight, even in the winter.
During those two weeks the feeling that I was “a tourist that could speak the language” began to take hold. Everywhere I went people remarked on my accent, some not kindly. Portuguese, just like English, is spoken differently in different parts of the world. Those of us in SA have a different accent and colloquialisms than those who live in Brazil or Portugal for example. I realised that cultural communities living outside of the country of origin develop their own identity and sets of values like those of the country they’ve adopted.
In 2001, as the wheels of the Boeing 747 touched down at Johannesburg International Airport I began to cry with the overwhelming feeling of belonging to SA and of having come home.
I still have family and friends in Portugal and I’m lucky to be able to visit them. I feel comfortable there. I can do things there that I can’t do in SA, like walk the streets without looking over my shoulder. I enjoy exploring the most beautiful slice of the Iberian Peninsula and immersing myself in the incredible history of that country which goes back thousands of years. I love navigating the narrow roads of old Lisbon, steeped in history, and enjoy that our family’s apartment is in one of those narrow roads, shown in the photo below.
I feel a patriotic fervour when it comes to the Portuguese soccer team and when they won the Euro 2016 on Sunday I jumped up and down, laughed and cried and felt proud to be able to claim a part of that nationality. South African sports are exceptionally well represented internationally and I feel an equally patriotic fervour when they compete internationally.
I feel emotionally proud to live in a country that Nelson Mandela called home and to have been part of those historical elections in 1994 when previously disenfranchised people stood in queues for many hours waiting for their moment to put a cross on a ballot paper for the very first time.
When I visit Portugal I still get comments about my Portuguese accent. In South Africa, sometimes, people notice a slight undertone of an exotic accent to the way I speak English and ask me about it. I choose to ignore the less kind comments and embrace the diversity that makes me who I am.
I feel Portuguese. I feel South African. I am both.