2 countries, 5 cities, 8 houses, 9 schools.
I feel like at this is the point I should start strumming away at my guitar, play ‘Story of My Life’ by One Direction in the background. 😂
I’ve been wrestling with this post for ages. Publish it? Don’t? Delete it? Share it? Ignore it? Forget about it? Does this make me come off as pretentious/a drama queen/looking for attention or sympathy/a little cynical/am I delusional etc etc but here we are.
Today marks exactly one year since I got off that plane, since I returned home to South Africa.
Home. A four letter word that has plagued my thoughts my entire life, a word I place way too much thought and meaning into.
What does that word even mean? Those four walls and a roof over your head you sleep under? The place where your family lives? Familiar streets, buildings and faces?
Where do you come from? When I joined Facebook, one of the first questions it asked me was where my “hometown” was. I chose Port Elizabeth, because that’s where I’ve lived the longest, that’s where I feel at peace, where everything makes sense. Where I know best. Where I feel like I belong. For the most part anyway. With the arrival of it’s many updates, Facebook changed “hometown” to where you’re “from”. So does that make those two words one and the same thing?? Huh??
Home: The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
From: Indicating the point in space at which a journey, motion or action starts.
Third culture kid: A term used to refer to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ (or the culture of the country given on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years.
2 countries, 5 cities, 8 houses, 9 schools. I feel like the narrative of my life has always been change, movement. As life is for everyone really, as life should be. I was born in East London, a city in the Eastern Cape province of S.A. while we lived in Fort Beaufort, then a town called Alice, then a city called Polokwane before moving to Port Elizabeth when I was 6, till we started living in Nairobi when I was 12.
I had a lot of cool experiences while in Nairobi. Too many to count (one day I have to write a book about it all or my life on this earth would’ve been for nothing). But they were overshadowed by the misery of homesickness and feeling so out of place. Which is so so ironic considering my parents are Kenyan, I am Kenyan therefore I should have had an inherent ability to get used to everything. I should have, but I didn’t.
It sucked having to trade in my solid group of friends for next to none, the beach for busy streets, peace and quiet to non-stop hustle and bustle, the security of familiarity to getting lost on my way home over a week into living in Kenya ‘cause I still hadn’t figured out the street names leading to the house.
6 years, of living in Kenya, later and I never felt any different to the day I’d first arrived. I had the hardest time trying to adjust, and my being so quiet came off as being rude or stuck up, when in reality I was just scared out of my mind. Not to mention shy to begin with. #introvertprobs
I guess I don’t do well with change. Yet, at the same time, I’ve become addicted to it??? Expectant of it? When I stay in a certain place or school too long an inner restlessness stirs within me.
Whenever the “Where are you from” question was came my way, it was always met with a long winded answer. Laughable coming from me, someone who’s never even lived, let alone been overseas. Where was this confusion coming from? The panic that that question induced would only be subdued 2 or 3 days later before my mind would revisit the topic again and turn it over and over and over again and again like a tumble drier. They probably think I’m crazy. Why can’t I let it go? Why won’t you shut up about it? Don’t say anything. Don’t give anything away. How long before this person figures out my Kiswahili isn’t as fluent as it should be?
Make no mistake that I’d lived my entire life completely removed from Kenya and all things Kenyan because we were always surrounded by a group of Kenyan friends just like us who were living in South Africa (immigrants unite), Chapati was always a thing (of course 😂) and we made trips, mostly to Western Kenya every 4 years or so to visit extended family.
- insert cringe-y picture ft my little sister and a family friend 😂🙈 bear with me, all the photographs that paint the colourful picture of my childhood are back in Nairobi with my dad 📷*
What made my little identity crisis in Kenya even more laughable and lacking in sense was being in a city full of people who’d lived in 6 different countries with parents who weren’t native to either of them in addition, but thought nothing of it (whaddup Nairobi and your international community! 👋 home to third culture kids).
I had an entire hour-long conversation over the phone with a good friend of mine about this entire dilemma the day after I’d landed in P.E. It was the biggest comfort ever to talk to someone who felt the same way I did (she’s half Zambian, half Mozambican but born and raised here in S.A.). I’m not a crazy person! I almost cried with relief.
My last day in Nairobi before returning to P.E. wasn’t what I’d expected it to be. There was no big goodbye, there was no trace of closure, there was no silent longing to stay. Although many tears were shed, I was glad to go. I was just so tired, so bogged down by 6 years of frustration and confusion. There was also a bitterness, over what could/should have been. Goodbye to the life I had had while simultaneously mourning over the one I hadn’t achieved while in Kenya (bruh, I’ve never been to the Mara, and my kiswahili still sucks) and the one I’d lost from being away from S.A. for so long. The finality of the situation only started to settle like dust at the end of a sandstorm while at the airport when I got my last glance of my dad over my shoulder, stood behind the check-in counter as I ascended that escalator, alone. I felt like I was leaving a piece of myself behind, a piece of myself that I’d never get back again. But staying would’ve meant losing the rest of me – then there’d be nothing left of me and what good would that do?
My return wasn’t how I’d imagined it to be either. The buildings were the same. The people were the same. Yet at the same time, everything had changed. There was no welcoming party, there was no remote to click resume, because life hadn’t been on pause since I’d left. It had continued on without me and I didn’t know how to follow the plot of the movie anymore, I had to figure out how to follow the story again on my own. Re-write my own story. It was as if I was starting over all over again. Living a whole other life, like some alternate timeline (is this The Flash? Am I secretly Barry Allen/Harrison Wells 😂)
Funny thing is though? Regardless, I felt at peace. That same peace and familiarity I’d grown up with. I was happy. And I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself to anyone anymore, I could just be.
My first week back was just me being over excited by every single miniscule thing I hadn’t realised I’d missed so much (homemade fudge, Black Cat peanut butter, Rooibos tea, mostly quiet empty streets, grocery shopping in Woolworths). It also involved endless dejavu and drowning in nostalgia – we live in the same street I did when I was 6, the lady at the library I’d always gone to remembered me, some of the people who worked around the neighbourhood still do. Then there was the weird-ness. For a week I couldn’t leave the house without at least one person asking me where I was from, we’re talking random strangers coming up to me. Not that I blame anyone considering there aren’t too many people around this side of town anyway who look like me, exactly #teamdarkskin
I haven’t been back to Kenya since I left, and 2, 3, 4 even 5 years could pass before I ever do. A lot of things are out of my control. I miss my friends, but most are scattered across the globe now anyway. I miss the little things too (Java, Art Caffe, matoke crisps – I swear food’s not the only thing I miss 😂). And my dad (best of the best of the best for last of course). Distance sucks. And I feel like as soon as you’re physically absent from a place, the memory of you starts to fade away along with it.
To all the people who now call our former houses home:
8th Avenue: I hope you take your kids to the park across the street and walk them to the library the way my parents did.
Hannah Rd: I hope you run around the garden pushing your little sister around in a wheelbarrow the way I did.
Gitanga rd: I hope to God you don’t fall down the stairs as many times as I did! 😂 I hope the neighbours don’t complain too much when you scream too loud going down the hill in your rollerskates while holding on to your sister’s shoulders as she rides her bike the way I did.
Kingara Rd: I hope you abuse your privilege of living next to the mall the way I did. Got money? Go to the mall. Broke as hell? Go to the mall! Meeting a friend? The mall. Dad wants to treat everyone to Sunday lunch? Mall.
As much as I envy and wish I was that person who could always go back to sleep in their childhood room, the person who can say they were “born and bred in ______ “ without having to go into a long winded story and explanation, I believe that all things happen for a reason. I just don’t know what that reason is, yet. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for all the up, downs and around-s we’ve been doing.
Sometimes I lie in bed at night trying to imagine what I, what life would have turned out like had I lived in South Africa my entire life, or lived in Kenya my whole life. I wouldn’t be Thandi. I wouldn’t be Christina Thandeka Makochieng. Plus, I have met the most amazing people and made the most amazing friends through all this, ones who have changed my life, who I will forever be grateful for (if you’re reading this I love you more than I can put into words).
Kenya. I may come back to stay as if I’d never even left. I may never return. I may visit and pass through without a word then disappear again without a trace.
I’ve always dreamed of travelling overseas, but sometimes I’m not so sure I have it in me. Massive props to everyone who studies abroad!✊ I don’t know how my friends manage to do it. If you have stories about what that experience was like, about relocating I’d love to hear about it 🙌
There really isn’t a moral to this story. Only the realisation that life’s kinda weird, kinda crazy, kinda confusing.
Plus, if you’re taking longer than usual to adjust to a place, I promise you’re not crazy.
If you’ve read this far, then you’re my New best friend 😂 thanks for reading.❤ It means a lot to me.