It was another weekday at work. I was going through the list of clients to be seen that day, and immediately called the next person. I recognized the name as someone I had seen at the desk before, and wondered what I was going to help him with today. But before I could even greet him, the client started talking to me in Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa.
I was so bewildered. He was speaking so fast that I didn’t even know how to react. One of my coworkers eventually helped me out and said, “She doesn’t speak Xhosa – you can’t talk to her in Xhosa,” to which my client replied something like, “I’m sorry, she looks like a Xhosa.”
This interaction, among others, had made me stop and think about my place in this country and on this continent. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t to be accepted by so many of the locals here. I think I believed that although I would probably blend in more than my other Duke Engage group members because I was black, my Americanness would shine brighter once I opened my mouth and separate me from Africans.
I have been pleasantly surprised that this didn’t occur. The number of times I have been called “sister” by South Africans has warmed my heart, and made me feel whole. It feels so great, and yet so weird to be in a country where I feel like I belong. The feeling is honestly not something I can even put into adequate words – all I can say is that it feels like home.
This realization makes me sad to go back to America – I am almost certain to lose this feeling once I get back. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I wish the African-American vs. African debate (which is, truly, just too much to unpack in this blogpost) would end, so everyone can feel this feeling. If only the world was different.