I always freeze and mentally calculate what information the person is trying to gather. Do they want to know:
- Where my people are from?
- Where I was born?
- Where I went to undergrad?
- Where I received my MA from?
- Where I moved here from?
- Where I spend Christmas?
- Where I graduated from high school?
- Where I live now?
I’ve generally felt pretty comfortable with this nomad status because I was still, somewhat, tethered to my parents. However, my mother passed in 2008 and my father in 2014. Now, I no longer have the parental fail-safe. Even though I hadn’t actually lived with my mother since before I graduated from high school and never lived with my father. I still had a mental touchstone. I could say, “My mother/father lives ____.”
I’ve had to write a “Where are you from” paper for two classes in the past six months, which prompted me to reflect on home. I tried to count all of the different addresses I’ve had and landed somewhere around 50. I didn’t count all of the different places my mom and I floated for six months after my step-dad threatened her life.
But when I was in South Africa things got easier. I could just say, “I’m from the States.” And that answer was enough for 90% of the people I met in passing. My last week in Port Elizabeth I had a moment of acceptance. It was simple, sweet, and pure. It was the Tuesday before I left and I took a cruise out to see penguins, dolphins, and hoping to see some whales. The majority of the passengers on this cruise were veterinary students from Texas A&M. They were loud! Like stereotypical American, loud with a extra helping of Texas on the side. Abraham, their Xhosa guide was quiet and off to the side. He was enjoying the boat ride and experience. It was his first time out on the ocean and we saw a lot of animals (penguins, dolphins, and a couple of different types of whales). The group kept wanting him to be super expressive, like they were. After a bit, I started talking to Abraham. He asked me, “Where are you from?” I told him that I was from the States but that I’d lived in PE since January. He told me, “You’re from Port Elizabeth now.” It may sound funny but that little conversation helped me become more comfortable with my outsider status. After that moment I realized that I was comfortable, actually comfortable, in so many places and with so many people.
While there’s a part of me that wishes I’d had the experience of a solid, stable upbringing, I now see the real benefits of my earlier chaos.