Where are you from?
This here doesn't make me angry, just sortave sad at the world. A friend of mine who has been here since she was really little gets the same question asked of her all the time, and I keep thinking, being Australia isn't being white. It never was. It's an interesting article:
Finding a place to call home
It's difficult as a new arrival to feel that you belong when everyone questions where you are from.
My mother said you can have as many homes as you want, but your real home will always be the place where your umbilical cord is buried. But I must remind my mother that children here are not born on the floors of a smoky little hut the way I was born. In civilised societies, children are born in hospitals; their umbilical cords go to the incinerator.
I used to think that when I got settled in Melbourne and was fully civilised, I would forget all about poverty, disease and my village past. This has not happened. I know where my umbilical cord is buried. I have memories of the mountains, the rivers, stars and moonlight so bright you could learn to read from it. Sounds of the faraway drum, the songs by the river when we danced naked on rocks and discovered our puberty.
Recently I was in San Diego explaining to my American friends why Africa is poor. Then I took a walk along the San Diego River to unwind. Rivers remember the good and the evil and are connected to the ancestral spirits of a place. That is what my mother used to say. ''Every time you see a river,'' she said, ''Think of home. Look at the reflection of yourself in the water, then go down and wash your face. That way, you connect with the land and the ancestors of that land.''
Along the river, I meet a man sitting on the bench with a full trolley. He says, ''Sit down for a while, it's too hot to keep walking.'' I sit next to him. ''I am Jerry, by the way.'' He has a warm handsome face and cannot be more than 50. He looks tired and has red blotches on his skin. His legs are swollen around the knees and his tummy is really big. In his trolley there is a rolled up sleeping bag, cream bucket with a yellow lid, thermos flask and a radio. At the bottom of the trolley is a small suitcase and what looks like saucepans and cutlery.
Unlike the other men with disturbed looks walking around, Jerry is nice, friendly and surprisingly articulate. He asks me where my home is. I say, Australia. And Jerry says, ''I love Australia. I have always wanted to go there.'' Most Americans I meet say that. Jerry does not ask me where I am originally from. Jerry tells me that he has always lived in San Diego. ''This is my home,'' he says.
Then he tells me about the Kumeyaay Native Americans who were here 9000 years ago. ''They were good hunters and fishermen, basket weavers, pottery makers and traders. Their lives were full of dance, songs, music and many social and religious events. We Europeans have not been here for long but look at how much damage we have done to the river.'' He worries about the survival of the rattlesnakes, sea birds, racoons and turtles inhabiting the water. ''Indigenous people treated the Earth with respect,'' he says. I tell Jerry that there were some similarities between the Kumeyaay Indians' way of life and my tribe in Africa and maybe with the Aboriginal people in Australia as well.
Jerry then asks me about the Aboriginal people; how they lived in the past, their religion and current economic conditions. I tell him that I know little about the Aboriginal people of Australia - except that they have bad living conditions. I also know that at some meetings, Australians acknowledge the Aboriginal owners of the land or they invite an Aboriginal person to welcome people to country. That is all I know.
Jerry says every afternoon he comes to sit on this bench. ''Once I had a job, a nice family and a home. Then I lost it all when I got ill. Depression.'' He joined several other homeless river dwellers on the banks of the San Diego River two years ago. He sleeps wherever he parks his trolley. When his health gets better, he says, he will find a job and maybe one day, if President Barack Obama does ''what's right for the homeless'', he will find a home.
A man walks past shaking his head from side to side. His T-shirt proclaims: ''I have been to the battlefront.'' Jerry tells me this is Dwayne. ''Nice fellow,'' he says. He never fought any war. ''Not in Iraq or Afghanistan.'' Another man with a bruise on his head comes along, laughing to himself, and sits next to us. I think it is time to leave and go to the bookshop across the river. Jerry says it was such a pleasure to meet me and that he is thinking of going to the bookshop himself later. ''If you are still there, we might catch up again,'' he says. Jerry will have to ask one of his tribesmen to care for the trolley while he is away.
I walk back and cross the San Diego River bridge. The next day I will be at Los Angeles International Airport boarding the plane back to Australia, the country that has given me most of my Western civilisation. And a home.
I should go down a river sometime soon, see a reflection of myself in the water and wash my face. And apologise for staying for so long without knowing and acknowledging the original owners of this land. Perhaps, their spirits will allow me to call Australia home.
Dr Sekai Nzenza is an author and international development consultant. Her last novel Songs to an African Sunset was published by Lonely Planet.
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