Home away from home: A personal story

I am sitting in my room thinking about my life, as I have done many times before. Tucked away in the warmth of my bed, in my dark room with the glow of my small Apple computer lighting the room, I am half a world away from home. I flash back to that day when my plane touched down in Melbourne on February 28. Though summer was still yet to end, the weather had been chilly and it was drizzling as I passed through customs. I remember the last weekend I had at home before I embarked on the journey that was to change my life. Shopping with mother, lunch with siblings, frustrations at the bank, and a sleepover with the girls. I was homesick already, and as I rolled my trolley that carried what would be my only belongings in this foreign country, for god knows how long, I felt joy even though I was also sad. I smiled with a slight frown and felt a leap in my heart, though there was a tight uncomfortable feeling in my belly. It was a bittersweet feeling. I had left my comfortable nest and I was finally learning to fly solo. However, I had no idea of how much this journey away from home was about to shift my perspective on life. I come “here” (in my inner space) often thoroughly confused, to listen to my own dismayed cry. I come here to reflect about the two lives that I now lead. One without limits and the other interrogating the impudence of the former. As I contemplate on what this means to me after four years of being “away,” I cannot help but wonder why being different must be so difficult.

It was not long before I realised the existing politics of colour in this country, the standards of beauty for women and how much my “difference” would affect how I coped. My resilience would be tested to the core. This is a place where being a minority definitely makes you feel like one. A place where being outside the small narrow box of having blonde hair and blue eyes puts you in a marginal corner. A place where my “blackness” and my body size actually mattered. A place that has given me so much, yet has taken so much more in return. A place where I started to count the calories on my plate and my size 10 was suddenly a little bit too big. A place where I cried myself to sleep because a big man driving a truck decided I was ugly and thought that I should “piss off back to my country.” A place where I was denied a job because the owner of the restaurant thought that his “customers would only appreciate being served by a local, but they could grow an appreciation for my legs.” It makes you stay up late at night, checking yourself out in the mirror, scrutinising all the little “flaws” that are impossible to change, with the biggest one of them all being your skin colour. YOU. These experiences shape you, build you.

Tonight, I am thinking about whether being away from home has made me a rebel or a conformist. I think both are too extreme. I like to think of myself as someone who enjoys getting lost whilst finding their own way. I enjoy not knowing where I am going, trusting the universe will give me a sense of direction and trusting that I will be humble enough to obey. I enjoy the thrill of feeling misplaced sometimes; knowing the path back home will be as adventurous as the feeling of being lost. I have many people tell me how much they admire my boldness (meaning the courage to leave my family, my friends, my country, and my culture to settle in a different country). I thank them and wish they knew that though my days may seem fulfilling, many nights are filled with vulnerable moments and doubts. That in my own quiet reflections I do not feel strong at all. That sometimes I feel shame, I am afraid, I am confused, and uncertain, and exhausted from the cognitive overload and tension of trying to fit in. That it has been a long journey of denial, and I am finally trying to acknowledge how much I have allowed this new world to make of me, such that I have become unconscious of subtle inconsistencies/mysteries about myself. In those nights, I constantly ask myself insignificant questions: if abandoning my religion and all faith-based practices after a thorough research was the best of decisions, if my now virulent stance towards marriage will mean that I will be alone forever, if supporting gay rights will leave me isolated by own society if I return home, if seeking the highest academic degree at such a tender age will mean un-marriageability (as I have often been told – or should I say warned), if being abroad, away from the comfort of my home, mother, and siblings, has taken more than it has given me.

The night has officially ended with him – the man who makes it all feel okay, cupping my face in his hands. He says, “Remember these eyes, take a look at them, they will always long to see you, they will always reflect the thirst in my heart to see you and when they see you, they will always glow…. just like they are glowing now.” Being here has found me love, revolutionised my thinking, my perspective on the world, and my whole person. Many times, I have had to reach for strength from depths I never knew existed inside me. I do feel like a better person, grown in compassion and kindness. However, until I find enough courage to expunge my fears of being different, the nights will still be long and difficult; even for a strong-willed person like me. It is in that silence and that darkness that I am reminded that I am still evolving, that different is not always bad and that when sometimes people laugh at me because I am different, it is okay to laugh back; laugh because we are all the same.

So recently, after a long time of feeling trapped in between two worlds, I dared to look deep into myself. I was afraid I would find hollowness and emptiness, instead I found a good person, a worthy humanist. I decided 10 was a perfect size, that an afro was good enough, and that black was definitely the new black. I turned around and I asked him to take a pair of scissors and rid me of the extensions on my head. My hair could now breathe – kinky and fluffy – as it should have always proudly been. In fact, just as I was filling my car with gas this morning, a woman walked by and said that my hair looked beautiful, different, and stylish. She said she always wished that she could have hair that was as diverse as mine. Then it hit me, I have spent too much time trying fit in, when I was always meant to stand out. In this far away country, my not-so-new home away from home anymore, I have learnt a lesson to cherish forever: “To be yourself in a world that is trying to make you something different is the world’s greatest accomplishment.”

To mum: Thank you for seeing me differently.

Words by Glory Gatwiri