It is not surprising that my biggest word for 2016 was Home. I wrote about Home and Identity many times on these pages this year. With all the travelling I have done, coming back home was awesome. I enjoy travelling and seeing new places and I do it because I know I have my home to come back to, to ground, recharge and reconnect with myself.
Originally published on HarsH ReaLiTy’s Project H on September 29, 2016.
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 make me who I am.
I feel Portuguese. I feel South African. I am both.
I live among superheroes!
Think back to your day, your week, your month or year. Think of someone who did something brave. Think of someone who did something great.
Brave and great things are done daily by people the world over.
It could be you. Well how about that?
Perhaps you are like Superman, with a strong moral compass, helping people who need help. Making a difference in people’s lives.
Or perhaps you are like Batman, able to convey hope and a vision for a better future to those around you? Batman gave Gotham City hope and vision for a better future.
Are you like Ironman? Well…Tony Stark cannot hide who he really is. During the press conference in the first Ironman movie he tells the world that he is Ironman. He values transparency, and an honest and open approach.
Maybe you are like Spiderman? Trying to figure how to navigate the obstacles and opportunities life presents him with and which he courageously turns to his advantage?
People need superheroes. The modern mythology of comic book superheroes tell us stories about humanity, they “reflect and examine mankind’s struggles, its hopes its fears and its dreams.” (Hubpages)
I live among superheroes. Don’t you?
My parents told me that they found me under a rock in the mountains of Namaacha in southern Mozambique. True story. Not the under the rock bit. The bit that they TOLD me I was born under one.
For many years I believed this mythology because I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes like my brother and sister. I guess that’s what parents tell their kids when asked where babies come from. I don’t mind that at all, it’s rather original, although being dropped off at my parents’ doorstep in a basket lined with pink softness by a stork does sound appealing.
But what does “origin story” mean? I mean there’s the chronological bit, that’s easy. I know I wasn’t shipped to earth, bitten by a spider or caught in the blast of gamma radiation. So let’s get that out of the way, shall we?
I’m second generation Mozambican although I can’t lay claim to that nationality anymore. My parents relinquished it when we immigrated to South Africa. Both sets of grandparents were also immigrants, having left Madeira and Portugal for a better life in Africa many decades before this.
Now that that is out of the way let’s get to the exciting stuff.
Family rumour has it, that on my Mom’s side of the family we’re descended from the illegitimate branch of a Portuguese noble family. It’s rather convenient that it is the ‘illegitimate’ branch because usually there’s no record of those, especially 200 or so years ago.
I haven’t been tempted to do a genealogical search but I may (maybe…perhaps…)…have searched my Grandmother’s apartment in Lisbon for a crown, maybe some jewels, maybe…at least…just a tiara…but alas, nothing. So this narrative that never was shall remain the stuff of family rumour as we regale ourselves on Sunday afternoons with ‘what if’ scenarios.
My Dad’s family hails from Ireland and it’s said that during the Great Famine our family branch fled to an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – beautiful Madeira. This one sounds a bit more plausible and there’s a whole lot of this family still around that tells the same story.
All of these narratives have remained oral at best. There’s a part of me that is curious to verify these stories and there is a part that is happy to just let it be.
But there’s more to origin stories than just where one comes from. I did some research on origin stories and came up with some interesting concepts.
Ben, in the Daily Post says that “Spiderman has one. So does Wonder Woman. What about you?” and how one of his favourite aspects of the genre of comic books “is how characters, superheroes and supervillains alike, get to have a compelling, poignant origin story: a pivotal moment that made them who they are, and set them on their respective paths of altruism and destruction.”
Robin Rosenberg in his article “The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories” in the February 2013 issue of The Smithsonian Mag says that “origin stories show us not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power.”
He found that superheroes go through 3 types of experiences that change their lives.
Trauma - Bruce Wayne witnessed his parent's murder and vowed to dedicate his life to fighting crime as Batman. "In real life, many people experience “stress-induced growth” after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists."
So I haven’t become a social activist although it’s not too late for that. I won’t lie…leaving Mozambique and the enforced separation from important people in my family did have an impact in my life. The bright side of this was the shaping of the Family narrative as a top value in my life.
Destiny - "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” — endowed with supernatural powers to fight demons. Buffy is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she throws herself into her new job. Many of us identify with Buffy’s challenge (minus the vampires) of assuming a great responsibility that compels her to grow up sooner than she wants to."
As a teenager I had visions of being a special person, chosen to do something great in the world. The details of what that ‘something great’ was is not clear and I confess to it never being clear. It was a cool notion though, a bit of normal whimsy in a normal teen’s life. My life has progressed in a normal way, thankfully. Great responsibility has come with trying to live a good life, being a good person, and being true to my values, beliefs and dreams, knowing that these are likely to change in my journey of becoming a better person today than I was yesterday.
Sheer chance - which transformed a young Spider-Man, who was using his power for selfish purposes until his beloved uncle was murdered by a street thug. Spider-Man’s heroism is an example of how random adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path."
Random adverse events have happened. How my life has changed and what learnings I’ve got from that have come to me most often long after the event. I haven’t always reflected in this way, and as I have dealt with trauma and other stuff that’s happened I have changed and become a different person. I’m hoping a better person, better able to serve herself and the world around her.
I’m happy that I wasn’t shipped to earth, bitten by a spider or caught in the blast of gamma radiation. I’m happy being the kid found under a rock on a mountain somewhere in Africa. I’m happy with the rumours of nobility. I’m happy with the Irish connection.
We all have origin stories. We are all original. This is a part of mine because my origin story is still alive, evolving as I reflect, learn and adapt to the unfolding flow before me.
I’m happy that I know who I am.