Sunday, 15 April 2012

South Africa

As the plane approached the runway in Johannesburg, I felt an excitement I hadn’t felt in months... “I’m home!” was the expression that came to mind.

The last time I visited South Africa was in 1992. I was only seven years old, and I was there to witness/support the mayoral inauguration of my Grandfather (hero, icon, spirit guide). I had just lost very close friend, and was missing her funeral to be there.  An overwhelmed seven year old, there are only pieces of South Africa that I remember.
My parents emigrated from South Africa when I was just a baby. In fact, they had to delay their move because (surprise!) my Mom fell pregnant. So I was raised in America… By a very South African family who had a different set of values, and a different culture entirely than that of my American friends to whom I grew up with. I always felt confused. My South African upbringing made me feel somehow South African, though not being raised there, I didn’t feel as though I had the right to claim so. But I never felt American either… Always different. Somewhere in between.
So when I saw the landing strip 19 years later, I felt like this was my chance as a now adult to connect with the cultural identity I have always felt lost in.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Johannesburg was nothing like my young eyes had remembered it. My American accent was all too recognized, and my reunions with family members who said in some form or another “you were just a baby!” “We’ve never met!” “I don’t remember you!” made me feel even more disconnected.
I had the pleasure of spending this “homecoming” with my Dad and oldest brother, Paul. I loved seeing my brother’s face light up as we visited the old stomping grounds of his schools, but couldn’t help but feel a tinge of jealousy, as I myself, had no history in this land where I was born.

The first three days we spent in Johannesburg, visiting/meeting cousins and relatives from my Dad’s side of the family. This was great because I was able to see where my Dad came from, and put faces to the names I have always heard. The Wes’s were very funny people, and the conversations often went to our family history. I was delighted to learn that it is in the Wes blood to be a “Communist (or Anarchist) Revolutionary, and outspoken Jew.” Hmmm, maybe I DO belong in this family…
We also visited the house where my mom grew up, and the house to which I was born. There’s the dance studio attached to the house that mom taught in! Over the fence is the pool Paul almost drowned in. The puzzle pieces finally began to fit together, and I felt as though I was finally getting a sense of something I had always craved to know.
We stayed with my Auntie Hilary, another badass revolutionary activist, and her husband Tony. Boy was it nice to have running water… and cheese. I really enjoyed connecting to my Dad’s older sister who I’m in incredible awe of. She is now a psychologist, who started a nursery/psychotherapy organization on the outskirts of the Alexandre township. At Ubebele, she gives underprivileged children an unorthodox, and holistic education, providing them with the facilities of on-site psychologists who are involved in every step of the process.
After a jam-packed 3 days in Johannesburg, we spent the second half of our trip in the gorgeous city of Cape Town, in Hilary and Tony’s beach house. How in the world am I ever going to go back to Uganda? Having been sick, and still not feeling so great, this majestic place was the exact kind of rejuvenation I needed. Paul was the partier of our trio, so I really felt that if anything, my trip to South Africa was meant to give me and my Dad the time to hang out with each other and chill.
Mission accomplished.
It was harder to say goodbye than I thought, and I found myself continuing to gaze backwards seeing if my Dad was still lingering as I entered through security.
Maybe I’m not really South African. And maybe I’m not really American. Sometimes I think my desire to travel is in attempt to find myself and where I belong… and it’s certainly not in Uganda. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere, or maybe I belong everywhere. Maybe I was destined to be a nomad, constantly searching… but for what? As a believer in human oneness, there is a large part of me that believes my spirit chose this lifestyle, so that I could be a representative of the very message I am trying to ensue: that we are all just really citizens of the world.


  1. ...and cheese. haha i love you! Sorry i havent been keeping up, as it seems life had a big twist for our family, but we are finally settled down again. I have been following your progress in the distance, and now ready to be fully updated! Glad you are thriving, safe and doing what you love...

  2. Jenna, I wish I started reading your blog earlier! You are such an interesting writer, I was truly captivated by this post! I really admire how you don't just do service but you have become service- its who you are. Thank you for your inspiring example. I pray you are always safe and able to touch man more lives. So much love to you and those you serve. I know there have been parties for you when you're back in town and I'm sorry I haven't been able to go to any. Know that I am very motivated by what you do and hope to live my life in service to others also. I hope your family is all well, too! Love, Minta :)