When my younger self walked through the dusty streets of Chilenje South, I longed for the abroad tarred roads. When the tarred streets of Perth became my home, I longed for those dusty gravel streets.
It was the stares on that Perth bus that made me realise something was wrong. The clutching of the handbag close to the chest as I walked past that surprised me. It was my angry response to “you speak good English” that frightened me. I loathed the looks of pity people gave me. They had obviously consumed too many World Vision ads. If only they knew that Chilenje South didn’t have lions, thatched huts and savannah grasslands. It is in fact like parts of Alice Springs’ dusty roads with red earth.
Some were glad their country pulled me out of my hardship. But my hardships were fighting with bus conductors for change that they didn’t want to return, among other things. Others were fearful that I was bringing war to their quiet neighbourhoods. I fear war just as much as them. Needless to say, we had the same fears but mine were neither seen nor heard.
I decided I’d had enough of feeling othered and returned to Zambia. Walking through Chilenje, the streets were not the same anymore. My feet failed to find comfort in the red earth. I was angry that electricity didn’t flow interrupted. I was frustrated that it took me 2 days at government offices to get my National Registration Card (NRC). Are we not in the 21st century? Why are we using an old typewriter to print NRC's? I raged as we waited for over 2 hours to get our meals at a local eatery and my aunt wanted to tip the unhelpful waiter. I mean, why do we accept mediocre service?
I was disappointed in myself for not loving the home I had craved so much while I was away. What was happening? Why wasn’t home the same anymore? Is this what they mean when they say ‘you go abroad and you change?’ Had I changed? No one bothered to listen to my “this must change” or “that must stop” sermons. They gave me pitied “poor Western you” looks. I guess now I have to accept that whether I’m at home or abroad, the pitied looks will always follow me.
I remember a show on ZNBC called Home is Here. It was a sit-down interview with foreigners who have settled in Zambia. I was too young to fully comprehend why that was a thing but now I get it.
We crave belonging and finding a home, whether it is with someone or in a location. That belonging makes us whole. When that sense of belonging is not there, we are lonely islands. They say home is where the heart is. I have found that it doesn’t always have to be a full heart. It can be part of a heart here and part of the heart there. I love to laugh with my Zed family. I love that we face the struggle together. I love the community. We rally around each other in times of joy and sorrow. I love that I can be lost in a river of melanin and never stick out. I miss that when I’m Down Under.
So let me be frustrated with the pace of progress while believing "Bally will fix it". Let my righteous anger be on those who benefit from corruption. I rage at their profiting from the power bestowed upon them to change many lives. Alas, they only change their own. I’m sure our freedom fighters are sad too.
I choose to stay Down Under because the passport gets me to many countries without the whole visa shenanigans. Don’t get me wrong, wilful ignorance still annoys me but how people perceive me is slowly becoming something that I don't give the power to care about. Home to me is a time and place that changes like seasons. Yes, I don't fit here or there. I fit perfectly in my third space that is Zambian, Australian and everything else I create outside my geographical coordinates.