Today, I am Indian. I hide my body in a modestly flattering kurta and wear long, beaded earrings and a soft, feminine scarf that covers my collarbones and dances behind me as I walk. Grace and beauty and a hint of spices and something deep, something mysterious, something far away and yet in reach, something beyond words.
I am 19 years old, South African according to my passport, of average intelligence and appearance, and of above average height. But really, none of this matters. If I speak with my soul, I’m sometimes young and sometimes old, sometimes of wine lands and sometimes of harsh, overworked earth or of high, mist covered mountains, and I’m grey, or blue-green, or a happy, sunflower yellow. Rarely, I’m red or black, and when I am I feel at odds with myself. Sometimes I’m an earthy color, or the color of an autumn leaf. But again, none of this really matters.
I am 19 years old and I’ve been to 27 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, and, the place where most of my heart has been planted in various places, Africa. My favorite countries are not necessarily those I expected, or those I chose to adore. They are places that demanded my love, either by force or in passionate, seductive ways, either in broad daylight or bathed in the silver light of the moon when the world is transformed into cold, ethereal beauty. They are places that stay in my dreams, that influence my actions and thoughts, that I both long for because they are familiar and never want to see again for fear that they will become too familiar, that demand my attention and affection even when I’m not in them.
South Africa for her gold and green and almost feverish obsession with living and freedom and creation and diversity. She grasps at this, at that, at everything that is life, at poverty and riches, at deepest anguish and deepest joy; a mixed blood flows in her veins, of corruption and justice, of purity and pollution, of ardor and tragic complacency, of too-clear sight and blindness. Young and inexperienced, but strong, so strong; determined. She is too young to be beautiful, and yet her insatiable hunger, her unquenchable thirst for life gives breath to her growing soul, gives sparkling magic to her youth.
Ethiopia for her ruthless beauty, for her demand of your heart and your soul, for her demand of your thoughts and loyalties and your surrender to her mossy cliffs. A queen mistaken for a prostitute; a royal queen who lives among her people, who knows their pains, their fears, their desires, their every thought. She protects her people from those who would not understand their beauty, the breathtaking immaculateness etched into their souls. Her pain makes her beauty more pronounced, her anguish deepens her lovely gaze.
Egypt for her ancient resoluteness. Like Ethiopia, she is a queen; now forgotten and abandoned, she roams her bloody golden sands, no less steadfast. A wise beauty, an ancient beauty, a warrior queen, unbridled, unafraid, unashamed. The chains around her ankles do not affect her spirit; she has been free, she has ruled the world, and she will be free again. Her wisdom comes from experience, her long past, her forgotten glory.
Zambia for her warmth, her contentment, her careless abandon. She is a wild summer, encroached upon by winter, but unable to be overtaken. Her swaying reeds, her smile which comes from her very depths, her soft, strong voice. She is uncharted wilderness, welcoming but dangerous to those who mean her harm. Her soft red dust and warm pink moon, trusting but wise, open but conditional. Once innocent, once broken, her lesson learned, but no less graceful.
India for her objection to being boxed in with words, for her elusive soul, her hidden treasures, her out of reach heart. She is the veiled lady, her veil garish with color and shimmering jewels, herself hidden. You are distracted by her veil, her covering; you look no further, or you would see her natural grace, her harmony disguised by noise and discord, her fire and fierce love, and her eyes, sweet and welcoming as a flower, clean and bright as a fountain at dawn, splashed with the sun’s golden rays.
These are the places in my heart, the pieces of my mind. Their people are inscribed into my memories, their sounds and smells and sights emblazoned in my senses. I can recall the scent of Zambian bread, baked fresh in the fire, like anise and something sweet and something only Zambian, something like security and tea and comfort and warmth. And the whirls of dust in Egypt, like glittering gold flakes against the sun at dawn, a teasing reminder of long gone treasures of a long gone empire.
I love these places, and many others, too many and too few. They are the clearest chapters of my past, more real than time in between, spent in the place I called home, spent in suburbs and clean-swept streets and trees with too little desire to grow. But even that I love, even that is part of me; I love the shallow safety, I love the sturdy fences, the cardboard houses, the contrast of tradition and frivolousness. I love them all; I love everywhere.