Seduced by SA’s beauty

2011-05-14 14:40

I first came to South Africa in 2003.
As a child of African immigrants who were active in South Sudan’s liberation struggle, I was exposed to liberation struggles on the continent so I learnt a lot about South Sudan, South Africa and other countries.

My fascination with SA began in a­ public high school in Fairfax, Virginia.
In 1994, our Grade 9 teachers taught us Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (I thought it was the most beautiful song and still do) and showed us videos of the struggle.

We also watched South Africans ­standing in line to vote, and Madiba’s ­inauguration.

I was born in

Sudan and my parents moved to the US before the war in Sudan so my Dad

could study there. We were never able to go back.
I speak English and a little French , and understand Dinka, which my relatives complain I speak with an accent. I also know basic Arabic, which I took up in college – you know what they say about knowing the language of your enemies.

Home is Fairfax, Virginia , in the US and also South Sudan, but come July it’ll get harder because the city I was born in will now be in a different country.
Public health work brought me to SA.

The company I worked for in Washington had offices in Cape Town, and I came to work with an amazing public-health ­activist from South Africa, Kevin ­Osborne, who was director of HIV and Aids programmes at the time.

He said an Africanist like me could only have a real effect if I came to the field and learnt.

I have so many favourite places here.
In Joburg, I love Lucky Bean (formerly Soulsa).

The food is good and on a gorgeous day I like the different people that go there. I also love the top of Lion’s Head and the Drakensberg. I love the ­exhilaration when you get up there.

I’ve met the most amazing, compassionate people here.
Joburg has a vibe that I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world. There is so much creativity and innovation.

I just feel very alive.

South Africans were so oppressed , ­brutalised and demoralised, and yet have an amazing capacity to forgive and ­co-exist.
 The ability to do this is so ­powerful. It may not be perfect.

I know there are problems, but SA has come a long way and it’s because of her beautiful people.

What I have come to loathe here are the high walls and not being able to walk ­everywhere.

I also don’t enjoy the ­complaining about crime, education, government and the general state of things.

I’d rather hear more about what people are doing to help fix it.

I struggle to get my friends to volunteer and the ones who give back are usually foreigners.

The hardest thing about living here is that you need an ID book for everything.
If you don’t have one and don’t have an employer to back you on everything it’s impossible to open a bank account or even get a cellphone contract.

I wish more South Africans would take an interest in African culture and history, and learn about other places on our beautiful continent.
I was in in Lavumisa in Swaziland once launching an HIV programme and Chief Dlamini came up to me and asked me where I was from.

I told him Sudan.

He asked: From Garang country or elsewhere?

I said Garang country. I wanted to hug him. Here we are in rural Swaziland and he knew more about my country than most South Africans.

The thing that makes me most proud of South Sudan is that we voted for ­independence and we will be a brand new nation.
I’m also very proud of the “lost boys of Sudan” who ended up in the US.

Although they had a really hard life and ended up in a strange country with no money, they’ve all triumphed, gone to school and have given back.

The thing that gives me the greatest hope for SA is the amazing compassion, love and spirit of South Africa’s people.
And also the fact that it would’ve once been illegal for my husband Byron and I to get married.

It brings home how much has changed here.

It is so hard to choose a favourite South African because there are so many ­musicians and authors whom I love, such as Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who my parents played while I was growing up.

Then there’s Archbishop Desmond ­Tutu and, obviously, Madiba.
South Africa also has so many talented writers and I always leave the ­local books section with something new.

It is hard to befriend locals because of the nature of my work. In Joburg, it’s easier because people do come up to me. It happens in other countries too. My friends joke that people who don’t know me are always drawn to me.

The food that I just don’t get is tripe. But my mum says we eat it in Sudan too.

I wouldn’t know if anyone was saying something rude to me because of language, but a few times my fellow black brothers and sisters have complained about the dark shade of my skin. I think it’s their insecurity.

I know I’m beautiful so I just brush it off.

The people who do the most foreigner “profiling” here are the police, the metro officers and customs officials.
I would ­always get stopped when I was leaving Joburg and I’ve had some cracks made about Nigerians not going through ­immigration.

Recently, I was standing with a friend outside our house in Melville.

The police stopped, and two got out with guns and demanded to see our IDs and to enter the property. I stood my ground.

I told them the pass laws were over and they had no grounds to search my house. I also asked them where they were when my car got stolen the day before.

The thing that infuriates me is when people in the service industry treat me like another African, but as soon as they hear me talk, they go off about how they love the US.
I wish there was the same excitement about other Africans.

I guess one day we’ll get there. At least there is now a special line for African states at ­immigration.

I go back to the US all the time , often for work. But living here, I’m closer to South Sudan, and having married a South African, this is now my home.
The piece of advice I’d give to anyone considering moving here is don’t compare it with home. Just be open.

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