Where are you from? This is one of few questions that make me pause and conduct a quick assessment of the person asking to ascertain the best answer. While it shouldn’t matter where a person is from its evokes so many emotions in me it’s hard to describe, yet I constantly find myself asking the same question to try and figure a person out. Double standards are real and I would argue almost impossible to avoid, in certain situations.
I was born in Zambia but from a few months old I have moved countries, towns, schools, and jobs. Along the way, I have picked up different habits, personalities, accents, prejudices, and experiences. Apart from the one distinctive thing I cannot (and have never wanted to) change, my skin colour, I got so good at blending in people believed I was “one of them,” sadly when some found out I wasn’t I was treated differently. My blending in was something I did because I did not want to be different, thinking that my differences may make me somehow inferior or irrelevant, later in life I realised how wonderful it is to be different. Being different though does not mean that I don’t adapt according to the situation, my mum always tells me how amused she is that when I talk to her I am not quite as British-sounding as when I am talking to my siblings and some friends, she should hear me in a work situation or an interview! Variety and fluidity of identity and proud ownership of our differences give us the permission to just be. The minute you stop fighting the cards that you have been dealt in life and play with them amazing things happen.
I don’t speak my mother tongue fluently, not being brought up around extended family or other speakers made it difficult to learn. I could take the easy route and blame my parents for my inability to pick up the language but at this stage of my life I know better, it has been up to me for a long time to learn. Thankfully, my kids went to school in Zambia for a year where it has now become compulsory to study Chinyanja, their homework even used to challenge grandpa and grandma, but they enjoyed sharing with them and they can at least now exchange pleasantries in the language. Due to my chameleon ways, I do understand a few languages which is a bonus and I love sitting in a room with people who assume I don’t understand what they are talking about. The fact that I can’t pass my language on to my kids makes me sad and I encourage my husband to teach them his, Yoruba, and even tried to learn myself but have you ever tried to learn Yoruba from a book?? It’s not easy o. But knowing the discomfort it has caused me in my life I know I must try my best to help them learn the language. Learning a language gives you a better appreciation of the culture and yourself if you happen to come from that culture, everyone has something to gain from learning about different cultures. One thing missing in the world today is an understanding of differences, our differences unite us so it would do us good to expand our knowledge and stamp out hateful ignorance. There are some things that you can’t understand the true meaning of unless you speak the language such as the Yoruba proverbs my husband uses to encourage, reprimand or caution that leave me and the kids looking at each other like “Is he Ok?”
A chameleon, whilst being unique in its ability to adapt will always be a chameleon, it may change its outward appearance but inside remains the same. As you grow you stop caring so much about why you are the way you are and just allow it to be if it’s not hurting anyone if it is trust that you have the power and wisdom to change it.
Be bold, be beautiful, be you.