The Saving of an Afrikaner


It happened the moment I took the airplane breadroll into my hand, broke it open, feeling both the warmth and the artificial microwave crustiness in my palms.

A friend had warned me that it happens to him after every Africa trip.

The tears came, first gently, but then I felt the swell. The wave of emotion riding up in me, like the breakers at Onrust beach near Hermanus where I’d spent Decembers as a girl. Big and powerful. I surfed the emotion, honoring the experiences of the past days and my body’s need to make sense of it all. I felt it, acknowledged it and reached for the Kleenex. I sat silently while passengers around me ate their breakfast, tears falling into my empty tray.

I don’t quite know what triggered it. Seeing a fellow passenger’s screen, perhaps, with the words: Flight time to Amsterdam: 1 hour. Maybe the finality of the moment; in an hour I will enter Europe and my few days in Kenya will be over.

Perhaps the breakfast itself. Even airplane food plated in stark contrast with the rice, beans and chapati of the past few days.

Or reading KLM’s statement in the breakfast container, explaining that they only use Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee. It reminded me of our conversation at Amahoro on “Christ, Creation and Community.”

Thanks to Amahoro Africa I was introduced to a community of believers. l was embraced and offered a place at the Communion table with my fellow Africans.

Reclaiming my heritage, something that was stolen from me by a thick curtain of shame, was one of the deepest healing moments on the long journey to Freedom out of Apartheid.

“Oh, so you are an African.”

The two and a half days I got to spend in Nairobi sealed my African-ness. Talking to new Kenyan friends, sharing stories and drinking sweet, milky tea, getting red African soil all over the soles of my shoes, facing off mutatos as we crossed the busy streets of Nairobi. And then hearing friend after friend–once they hear I was born and raised on the continent–say: “Oh, so you are an African.” As if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Hearing those words were like being given brand-new clothes.

Even in my last hour, navigating through Nairobi traffic in pouring rain, my taxi driver Patrick and I were talking: about his work, his ministry and where I was from. (I’m making peace with the fact that answering that question stopped being simple the day I set foot in Taipei.) When he heard where I was from, again, he said those words that have become healing balm: “Oh, so you are an African.” And not only his words, but the matter-of-factness, the simplicity of his acknowledgment, was like wrapping a bright blue kikoi around my shoulders.

Those words have settled my soul.

So, when I broke the bread and the tears came, it wasn’t for anything in particular and yet it was for everything I’ve experienced these past few days. It was for every story that grabbed my heart. It was for every story that drew tears from me. It was for the music, the sun, the tropical afternoon showers. And it was for my own story.

It was for being reborn.

  • leerder

    Dankie, ek ween.

  • idelette

    Dankie, Lourens. So huil ons saam en word bietjie meer heel. Jou woorde beteken baie.

  • Steve Hayes

    Thanks very much for that.

    I hoped somebody might be liveblogging from Amahoro, but there wasn’t.

    But even though you said little about the speeches or who was there, I think you’ve shared a great deal about the spirit of it for those of us who weren’t able to be there.

  • Reggie

    I also find this post deeply moving, but also, in a way contributing to our debate on identity, spirituality, etc.

    Its the womanist writers who keep reminding us of different ways of dealing with these questions, different capacities to nurture. If only we are willing to stay for this ‘long conversation’.

  • Rusty

    As God would have it I am drinking that same sweet thick tea and eating some bread and butter as I finish up my last day in Kenya. The spontaneous crying began the moment I arrived, and reading your post made my eyes fill with tears once again.

    Its still raining, the mud is thick, the traffic bad, the matatus misbehaving, the smell of diesel fumes rise from the street below me, the sounds of men and women walking someplace. Conversations, conversation, conversation… It all so Africa, and I love it so much. Although I was borne in US, perhaps I have some African in me as well.

    It was good to meet you, even for just a moment. Hope our paths cross again somewhere down the road. Perhaps in South B. slum where the chipati never tasted better..

  • Cara Meintjes

    Also “snikkend”… crying big tears on the desk right now.