Belong: Five Minute Friday

I’m writing with Five Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo’s today–the only thing that gets me writing these days!

My husband remarked to me this last morning of a week with temperatures soaring past 90, “I figured out one way Africa changed me. Everyone at work makes fun of me because I don’t wear shorts. It’s not conscious. I just don’t even think of it.”

Lest I mislead anyone, plenty of people in plenty of places in Africa probably wear shorts. But my husband, whose best friends weren’t other ex-pats when he lived on the coast in Kenya, absorbed a way of thinking that he isn’t even aware of most days. I have too. Shorts on grown-men make me turn away, as if I spied something forbidden, or at least very uncomfortable.

I haven’t owned a pair of shorts since high school. I occasionally try to run in my husband’s shorts on really hot days. It’s a circus. They aren’t much shorter than my running capris anyway, I have to constantly readjust the drawstring waist and I always give up before I planned to. I relax with other mothers on the playground or at Toddler Time or at evening VBS and I put myself on edge as I compare: not only am I the only adult wearing jeans in 90 degree weather, I’m the only one in a three-quarter length sleeve shirt.

I am used to a semi-permanent state of un-belonging (I borrowed that from another FMF post!). Only when I choose to unbelong in the Horn of Africa, it’s obvious. One local friend was remarked about all my ex-pat friends: “Oh, her nose makes her look Arab,” “She looks Lebanese,” “She must be from such-and-such a place.” She claimed a closer belonging for each person than they really had; most were from America, Canada or Brazil. After going around the room, she stopped at me and said, “You look Arab from the back.” From the back, of course, I looked like one long swath of pink fabric, covered from head to toe. But there we could talk about my unbelonging, my different attempts to belong, my conscious choices to not belong. I made those decisions all day long; they were both wearying and exciting.

I often taste that bittersweet unbelonging here, only it isn’t obvious. So we don’t talk about it.

A friend prayed for me the best thing I’ve heard since I’ve been home here. She said something and then said, “While she’s away.” I have no idea what she was asking God to do while I was away but I felt profoundly understood. Most people say, “Welcome home!” and pray for great things “while I’m home.” On some days, I know I have no home. On other days, I have many homes. But right now, I am away.

Last Monday night fresh basil sprigs sat tall in a glass on my counter next to the sweetest watermelon we’ve had yet. In a flash of inspiration, I knew I needed to eat a basil leaf on top of my watermelon slice. If summer has a taste, that’s it. I’m sure that foodie blogs or Le Cordon Bleu knew that the combination could take my breath away but I had never tried it. (I asked the same praying friend to try it and she told me, “That just ruined my watermelon. I ate a leaf.” We are radically different people which is why I love her.) There is no obvious marriage between watermelon and basil. So it is with me. I am at home and away. I belong and I don’t. Others might notice and they might not. You wear shorts, and I avert my eyes. It is obvious and hidden. I am American and I took shape in Africa. I speak English and I speak Somali. I am watermelon and basil. The unlikely combination is perfectly me.

Five Minute Friday

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11 thoughts on “Belong: Five Minute Friday

  1. That is so beautiful. I love that you are watermelon and basil. I smile at the thought of it and feel like I got to know you today – a person whom I have never met! It’s a beautiful thing.

    I wonder if anyone feels like they really “belong” anywhere? We are all in our own thoughts, striving for something uniquely our own, and wherever we go we will always continue to be… different. Searching. Reaching. Striving. Never quite settled. I love the uniqueness that life offers us. No two people have the same experience. Do we ever really belong anywhere? Was that ever part of the plan? I don’t know the answers. At any rate, I loved your post!

    • Wow Erin–if there’s a better compliment for me as a writer than that you got to know me without ever having met me, I can’t think of it. Thank you for the uber-compliment! I think you are likely right in your musings…that belonging is something that haunts us more than something that any of us conquer. I do think living cross-culturally for the past 5 years makes that sense of belonging all the more precious and all the more elusive, since I live daily with the reality that I don’t belong, if that makes sense. Without that, it was easier to fool myself, I guess. I appreciate the time you took to read and comment. Thank you so much for the kind words!

    • Thanks Karen! I hope you get it to try it. I’m probably most like watermelon and basil in that the people who love me really, really love me and the people who don’t…well, they don;t! I appreciate that you took the time to stop by and to comment.

  2. How beautiful! You belong even in your feeling of un-belonging. I feel that un-belonging frequently. I’m looking at life through the windowpane seeing the lives of others progress, but I am the unseen observer. I want to be let in to the belonging…and yet, I don’t. Let us all unite in our un-belonging. Then, we’ll belong to each other. : )

    • What a wonderful idea, Amy! Yes–I feel the rub with you–wanting to be let it and also quite content to be looking in on it without membership. And for me, perhaps it changes by the day and the circumstances and even the people. Three cheers for belonging in our honest unbelonging! I’ll take it!

  3. “Only when I choose to unbelong in the Horn of Africa, is it obvious.” I don’t know if you even realized it while writing, but that sentence is very profound. There are so many times when I need to choose to unbelong. To unbelong in conversations that include hate or judging. To unbelong when fear is being spread. To unbelong when prejudices are trying to be justified. Thanks for making me think all the way from Africa to Florida!

    • Thanks Cheri! I’m sure I didn’t realize that my thought might have been profound so I’m returning the thanks to you for making ME think! I appreciate your visit and comment.

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