Distinguishable | Teen Ink


February 16, 2012
By Ahlia_Bethea BRONZE, Roselle, New Jersey
Ahlia_Bethea BRONZE, Roselle, New Jersey
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Girls do not dress for boys. They dress for themselves and, of course, each other. If girls dressed for boys they'd just walk around naked at all times"

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Being a black American travelling to Africa, I'd received many comments of how lucky and privileged I was to be able to take a trip to the place so commonly referred to by African Americans as the motherland. With the rise of the Nation of Islam and the Back to Africa movement of the 19th century being so inspirational, many African Americans hoped to one day venture back to their mother continent. My older relatives in particular, were ecstatic that I was finally able to partake on such a journey that they often wished they could. However, the depth of this privilege didn't really strike me until I'd finally arrived in South Africa. At first glance I was captivated by the overwhelming beauty of the country and then the people. Wherever we travelled I was welcomed with open arms; shopkeepers, street vendors, and people walking down the street would begin every conversation by calling me their "sister." At first I attributed much of this hospitality to the fact that many of these individuals were entrepreneurs trying to make a sale. However, when I entered the homestay community of Kranshoek, I understood that this sense of family was truly a genuine act of kindness.
One day when I was relaxing in a neighbour's living room, another family friend who I’d never met, entered and struck up a conversation with me. She proceeded to speak of how even though I was American, we are all still family and the people of her community are still my brethren. Again, she called me her sister and stated how I was always welcome. Throughout the homestay, folks in the neighbourhood felt it was imperative for me to know that I had a second home there in South Africa. This overwhelming feeling of acceptance by the community made me enjoy and appreciate my time there more because I was always at ease. I befriended most that I came into contact with unhesitatingly and by the end I was filled with tears when it was finally time to leave. The attachment that I'd formed to the neighbourhood and the fondness that I'd developed for all my family and friends was extraordinary. Being able to form such meaningful relationships was inspiring and I long for the day when I can feel that same sense of kinship with some members of my own environs.

As my time in Kranshoek continued, I began to meet more and more people. One day my host father told me that there was a gentleman who lived nearby who wanted to speak to me. Apparently he'd seen me walking through the town with my family and wanted to know who I was. When I agreed to speak with him, my host father basically showed me the house and told me to come home before it got too dark. This again was a testament to the trustworthiness present throughout the community. When I finally made my way to the gentleman's house he introduced me to his beautiful wife and two children. They offered me a cool drink and from there we just talked. He began the conversation by asking me about Barack Obama and how his presidency has affected my life being a young black American. After I'd answered, he proceeded to explain how he could not help but cry whenever he heard something about President Obama. He was so overwhelmed with joy by the fact that an African American was finally able to hold an office as prestigious as president of the United States. He commented on how after so many years of oppression this was such a major accomplishment and stepping stone for the African American community. I was shocked that this man was brought to tears by the fact that a black man was able to reach such a position, especially because he was a man living in South Africa, a nation where colored and black Africans such as Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, and Jacob Zuma have held positions of such power for years.

My conversation with this neighbour continued to get more interesting when he asked me where I was from. Since he knew I was American, I assumed he meant my state. However, when I answered New Jersey he shook his head and clarified. He wanted to know where in Africa, when I said, "I don't know” his facial expression displayed disbelief. He kept prodding, assuming I would have some clue as to where my ancestors were from, but standing there dumbfounded in his kitchen I had nothing more to say. Suddenly a sea of, "You should know" and "You can't forget" was flooding my ears. I felt ashamed that I couldn't trace my lineage past the Carolinas. From the moment I finished that conversation, I knew that I needed to go on a search, and I needed to find out where. I needed to know where the my family's blood line traces back to. I am now determined to know where I am from. I hadn't expected to develop such a connection to Africa during this trip, but for some reason not being able to answer this one question made me feel as if there was some attachment that I needed to explore. I have already begun to speak with family members about my goal and the support has been phenomenal. I hope that I will one day be able to venture back to South Africa with an answer to this question and be proud. When I left that man’s house it appeared that everywhere I went, people had the same question for me. From vendors in the markets, to strangers that were talking to our group, the question kept coming up; "Where are you from my sister?” I was saying, "I don't know" so much that I wish I could've tattooed it to my forehead. It got to a point where people started taking guesses, saying that my features resembled a Kenyan or someone from Senegal. The more people I talked with, the more apparent something became: pride. Everyone that could list where their great great grandfather originated from, was proud of who they were. The bond between individuals that had ancestors and distant relatives from the same countries was astonishing. By interacting with these communities I have truly been inspired to seek out this strong sense of brotherhood within my own community and encourage others to find out more about their roots. I hope that I will one day be able educate generations to come of my ancestral history as I continue to gain more knowledge of my personal family tree.

The author's comments:
Traveling to South Africa this past summer was an experience that I will never forget. I was inspired to write this piece because I wanted to document a moment that made me look at my life in a whole new light.

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