In-Between

About a month ago I recorded a piece for the Stockyard Institute’s  collaborative exhibit “In Anticipation of Belonging” at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.

I hadn’t anticipated crying in a museum, or feeling so weighted by the piece, but it moved me. Here is the Recording, I hope it moves you. Listen to the whole thing or start @ 10 minute mark for my portion.

Transcript:

My husband asked me what does it mean to belong? Initially I assumed belonging was about being a part of something all the time, about symmetry with a place or people- connecting and being simpatico. For me, a lot of my fears about belonging come from my relationship to my family and being bi-cultural.

I never really fit in my family, or at least I didn’t think I did for a long time; sometimes I feel like the black sheep, other times I realize how distance, a continent and an ocean can alter what it means to be a part of something so complicated, so convoluted as family as ancestry, as diaspora.

Being the only child of my parents has always given me a little chip on my shoulder. I am alone, apart from all of my other siblings, who share a bond with their siblings, who have something we don’t, a wholeness that I can’t really articulate. This is common among Liberian families, blended families where some children share one parent, some both. The phrase same ma, same pa used as a way of discerning where one fits.

Growing up I wondered why I was so different from my mother. In part it’s because I’m too American for my perfectly Liberian mother.  I’m too feminist, too rancorous, too demanding. I can’t cook all the Liberian foods. I’m an atheist even though I can say all the prayers, sing all the songs; it’s mimicry.

It wasn’t until I went back to Liberia that I realized just how American I was, the way I walked, the way I spoke, the fact that all I wanted was a friggen salad; raw lettuce, not so Liberian. And yet, during my stay I felt wholly a part of the culture. Things that didn’t make sense growing up finally had a context which made sense.

I was surrounded by interesting, well connected black people who ran institutions- schools, churches, and the government. These moments were so affirming, and yet, in quite moments simple actions didn’t make sense. The way older men talked to me as if I didn’t have sense, the patronizing remarks about not knowing any better about God, the fact that I was marrying a white person, and a jew (what!). These and other things would shake me, would tarnish the veneer I had placed over my time in Liberia, and Ebola, always Ebola.

When I think now of my place in the world, maybe it’s not about where I fit, but in what way. I spent a good portion of my life from childhood through adolescence not really fitting anywhere all the time. Being too black, or too weird, or an Oreo, or too smart, or too angry, too goth, too much for everyone and myself. But I also think about the moments where things were easy, where I felt truly like myself.

Of holding my husband’s hand a second before the plane leaves the ground, we know there is certainty in our take off, and that we always land together.  I think about simple moments, sitting around tables in random houses across landscapes and time, eating food, laughing. Engaging an entire world filled with different people and perspectives; sharing and celebrating ourselves.

So maybe, belonging, like love, or death is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And the truth is maybe, just maybe, if you’re lucky you find it, in fleeting moments, before your flight takes off for good.

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