For Heritage Day: What Traveling Teaches Me About Being African

When you’re an African abroad, you learn quickly to spot fellow Africans. You learn that it is an instinct rather than recognition of attributes, because you have certainly never been tempted to greet a group of African-Americans in Swahili.

You will notice each other: no matter the hue of your skin or the lilt of your accent. Perhaps it is a longing in our eyes, or the curve of our spines where they take root in our soil. Africans traveling gravitate toward Africans. Our souls call out to one another, despite our warring ancestors.

Together, we will defend our continent from demeaning remarks of Westerners. We will fight tooth and nail to impress the fact that our land is made of so much more than they could ever understand by watching some Al Jazeera or reading National Geographic.

Even when the commentary is informed, we will stand together to defend the imperfect lands of our birth. But together we will commiserate too: about the despots and dictators and despair; of how desperate we are to find healing and how impossible we fear – in our darkest moments – that it may be.

Together we speak of mieliepap and Creme Soda (the real Sparletta kind, not that awful creamy stuff) and Milo and Jelly Tots. And a real proper braai, even though we agree that a braai is hardly tantamount to heritage.

Together we ground each other while we float in the Otherworld of the abroad. And when we return home, we are invigorated; because we have found other souls who know the dichotomies of our African existence, but who, like us, simply cannot let go of the continent of our Shades.


  1. markellmd says:

    I too am an African 🙂

  2. This is quite interesting! And naturally, well written. 🙂

  3. francoisc says:

    ‘I am an African’ is certainly one of the most beautiful poems out there describing our country. I recently met Thabo Mbeki, and we talked for almost an hour about the future of South Africa, and without either of us using propaganda I am really excited for the future of South Africa and Africa as a whole.
    It will still take a lot of time to eradicate social problems like racism and corruption but we will truly conquer our problems and differences and be an even better nation!

    1. barefootmegz says:

      You met Mbeki?? That’s incredible!!! I listened to him speak once, but have not been lucky enough to meet him personally.

  4. Nancy Ackelson says:

    This is beautiful Mariechen. Home Sweet Home is a trite way to put it, but so true.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s