By Gloria N. Mkushi
Three-and-a-half weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to contribute a piece to The Centre Magazine’s upcoming issue writing on the theme, “Belonging”. After quietly marvelling that anyone trusted my awkward and sometimes politically incorrect ramblings to be turned into prose, I accepted the challenge and thought that I would be done within a few hours.
“Belonging? That is easy enough, right?” I mused. The invitation coincided with my obligatory visit to the Dutch Ministry of Immigration and Naturalisation, where – finally – I was eligible to apply for permanent settlement status in The Netherlands, having legally resided here for the past five years. Even with a fancy micro-chipped plastic identity card, now bearing the Dutch and no longer Botswana flag, the ability to finally understand and even direct ‘tourists’ to the nearest “geldautomaat” in Dutch, doesn’t in any way negate that I still don’t really feel that I ‘belong’ here in The Netherlands.
Of course the challenge of identifying several hundred different types of cheese, adjusting to the tight-fisted attitude towards money, riding a bicycle on the right-hand side of the road, and learning the language all whilst studying a double Law degree has afforded me unique opportunities to learn, grow, travel and has definitely brought me closer to God; but belonging and identifying a single place as “home” is something I have struggled to designate to mere geographical markers.
One might think that by now I am accustomed to adjusting to new cultures and different ways of doing things. I’m often asked where “home” is, and whilst I truly wish I could say, “Harare” without thinking about it twice, that isn’t really true. I love Harare. I was born there. Then we moved to Norton, then Mhangura and eventually left Zimbabwe altogether. I have such fond memories of my childhood there; but I am still afraid to drive anywhere beyond Sam Levy’s village when I visit on holiday, because all the landmarks change too frequently, and I fear getting lost.
I moved to Australia as a teenager, and thought that my rubgy-loving, beach-visiting and English-speaking Southern Hemisphere lifestyle would be uninterrupted. Who doesn’t live for a braai with good friends, discussing the latest scores of the English Premier League as the sun sets on a Saturday afternoon? Yet, after the five year stint there, I didn’t feel that I “belonged” there either. I thought it had to do with my career choice, and so the itch to cast fortune to the wind, carpe diem and relocate gripped me, and with a swift “See ya later!” I indeed, ventured onto newer things.
Botswana was the next destination. Surely, the saying was true, “Once you have tasted Africa, nothing seems as sweet”? But with each “Dumela” and “O amogetswe” I was offered, I didn’t feel welcomed nor that I ‘belonged’ in Gaborone, anymore than I did in Melbourne or Harare. The adjustment felt difficult and cumbersome. Constantly having to “explain myself” made me defensive. I was being forced to pick sides. I had never left Zimbabwe with the intention of replacing the values life there instilled in me with any other values; only exploring this vast earth and the billions of stories each person upon it had to share.
Genesis 12:1 has long been a favourite of mine. The patriarch of faith, Abraham, left his Father’s house in Ur and went in search of a place that God would show him. Whilst I have yet to live in tents, I can definitely relate to the sentiments Abraham must have felt, as he attempted to build a life, start a family and walk in God’s promises for him so far away from “home”.
On my worst days, I log onto the internet and purchase treats from the South African shop in Amsterdam. Beacon Fizz Pops, Nik Naks, Bisto Gravy and Mazoe Orange are essentials which could make the difference between me crying my ‘homesick’ self to sleep or erupting in inexplicable rage on the train and ending up on the 10 o’clock News. And on my best days, I can log into my Facebook and see how my peers have changed their last names to married ones, have had children, have bought homes and have opened businesses. I’m thankful that I have the technology that Abraham didn’t.
But that aside, the truth is that moving to The Netherlands has cemented an idea I wasn’t very happy to discuss before I moved here: Abraham was not sent to a place; he was awakened to something that was inside of him.
Every day, whether in Dutch, Setswana, Shona or English; I have to humble myself under the Almighty’s hand and rest in this fact. The place that God has shown me has turned out to be a place of singleness, a place of confusion, disorder, delay, frustration, failure as well as a place of incredible opportunity, development, self-discovery and (perhaps surprisingly) budget management. I don’t yet belong to the “married” club, and I don’t belong to the “Home Owners’ Association” either. As I chant “Hup Holland Hup” at the local pub next week when The Netherlands takes on Spain in the FIFA World Cup, I will carry my Zimbabwean Flag and wave it (even though Zimbabwe won’t be participating in the tournament) and I will likely be wearing an Australian Rugby jumper… just because.
Rather than worrying about not being where I think I should be in terms of a career and mature ‘adult’ life, I will wait. And meditate upon the fact that I have finally found where I belong: in the loving arms of a Heavenly Father who leads me deeper into his bosom and His will for my life with each passing day, using each failure to reveal His grace and each victory to remind me that I am daily becoming more like Him. Where is ‘home’? Home is here. Home is now. Home is in the choices I make daily, and the moments I laugh, dance, cry and worship. Where I truly belong.