Living In the African Diaspora and Coming Back Home to SA

Living In the African Diaspora and Coming Back Home to SA

I never grew up in South Africa, but I made amazing childhood memories in Pimville, Soweto. I used to spend the US summer vacation with my maternal grandparents. In 2010, I decided to pack up my life in the US and move to SA.

For every person living in the African diaspora, coming back to “the motherland” is irritating, funny, and heartwarming.

“Can you bring me…”

Living in the US returning to the place of your people means gifts, gifts, and more gifts. There is nothing new here, but the level at which people living overseas have to bring them is extra! We don’t just bring gifts for our immediate families…but for everybody.

The gift list usually has trivial things like clothing and accessories. But other times it includes the latest iPad or iPhone! Now think about it, after I factor in the cost of the exchange rate, paying for the gadget, and finally transporting it family members may as well have bought the good locally.

When I used to visit for the summers, my bags were never only mine to pack. I remember hours spent hopping from store to store, buying goodies for everyone, before my bags were packed and ready.

SA & USA have seriously different cultures

Both of my parents grew up in South Africa, so dealing with the cultural norms was never as awkward. 

In SA everyone can instruct you like your mom would. Growing up, I was used to only my mom having that privilege. One awkward encounter was when an aunt of mine had asked that I go play outside…to which I replied “Is this your house?”

I really wasn’t trying to be rude, but I was a toddler. I just had questions about why I had to go outside when I was minding my business indoors.

My faux pas was clear by me responding to her order with anything but ‘okay’. But I found out years later about the relationship dynamics in the family. Let’s just say I was quickly ushered outside of the house without an answer.

Who’s funeral is it anyways

Maybe it’s because Americans don’t usually invite just anyone to their funerals…but in SA everyone goes to the funeral.  

For me, coming back home after living so far away means the occasional funeral run.

I don’t remember ever going to funerals in the US, but when I got here I can distinctly recall not only going to the church for the ceremony, then to the cemetery where men in attendance went as far as aiding in burying the deceased, but later going back to the bereaved family’s home which sometimes turned into a party in and of itself.

Playing with other kids…without a play date

One thing Americans don’t play with are their young. Any interaction outside of school is scheduled and planned. There has to be a call between the parents to discuss rendez-points and what allergies each child has well before play time.

I loved coming to SA because I could play with anyone at any time. At my grandparents’ house in Soweto, you just woke up, bathed and walked out of the front door…the only rule was that you had to come back by the time Days of Our Lives started playing.

Impromptu gatherings

The best part of coming to South Africa was being so close to so much of my family. In the US, we made friends that felt more like family. Even though there were some estranged family members nearby, nothing beats being surrounded by everyone in your family homestead.

Not only were gatherings heartwarming, they were unexpected too. Family members could stop by for lunch, and before you know it there is a full on braai.

As much as living in the diaspora has its challenges, very frustrating ones at that, and returning home can be a hack, after all of the wish lists and cultural disconnects, home is home. Even though it is cliche to say it, Africa is and always will be the motherland…and y’all know just how much we need our mommas.

A great representation of what it’s like to come back to your home country after being overseas for so long is the series “An African City”. Watch the first episode of the series 🙂