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My mother’s story in my words…
When I think about my childhood in Mbabane, Swaziland, the first thing I remember is the warmth, the big open bright skies and the two rows of tall pine trees in the garden where my father made a trapeze for me to play on.
I would swing and swing and swing, the African sky soaring above.
Our house was a long bungalow with long wooden floor boards that Lizzie, our maid, would polish and polish. In the kitchen, we had a big Rayburn stove that used anthracite. Lizzie would light the Rayburn stove in the morning and all our meals would be prepared on it.
Every morning, I would walk one mile to school, one mile home for lunch and one mile back to school again, then at the end of the day a mile home again. Four miles a day.
During the weekend, we would go walking in the dramatic mountains that surround Mbabane. Our dog Bess (she was a Foxhound) would charge ahead up the mountainsides chasing real or imagined prey.
We had a garden, but no gardener, which was unusual in those times. My parents did all the gardening. We had banana trees, guavas, a big mulberry tree, tomatoes and all kinds of other fruits and vegetables growing.
This was the 60’s, we lived in a bubble and the world outside was changing.
There was no apartheid in Swaziland. However, in many ways society functioned in the same way. I went to a local school with local white children and we had an African maid. Black and white didn’t mix. Our maid Lizzie, I remember, was kind to me, but she would spend her time doing her work.
I was a child and so my memories of those times are from the perspective of a child, and sometimes it was hard to fathom where the truth lay.
Our maid had a visitor who was an Albino African man. My parents told her my grandmother was upset because of how he looked and he couldn’t visit anymore. He was an activist so I speculate sometimes that my father used this as a convenient excuse, and the real reason they didn’t want him to come was because of his activism. My father was working for the British administration and I expect he thought it wouldn’t do to have an activist visiting the house.
I was seven years old when we arrived in Swaziland and, even though I had never lived in England, we were nevertheless English. When I first started school, I was bullied. Not many years had passed since the Boer war and the English were not popular.
Time went by, I defended myself, my parents settled in, we made friends and the bullying stopped.
I loved my life in Swaziland because it was a very free life. We spent a lot of time outdoors. The summers were hot, but not terribly hot. The winters did get colder, but not the bone chilling cold of Northern Europe. We ate clean, fresh, homegrown food. Life was simple.
When we had holidays, we would explore Africa. We would go to game reserves, and one year we drove all the way from Swaziland to Egypt, where we took a boat to the European continent and continued driving from there.
When I was 16 years old, my parents made the decision to return to the UK. The time had come for my father’s retirement and I had already finished high school. They felt my education was important and they wanted me to be able to attend a good university.
In the end, I was the first person in my family to earn a degree. My father had worked his way up in life through hard work and determination. He never had the opportunity to go to university.
My grandmother and I didn’t want to leave Swaziland.
Arriving in the UK for the first time was a shock. Cold, wet, low grey skies.
Once again, I was the outsider.
When we returned to the UK, activism against apartheid was at a height and most people didn’t realise there was a difference between South Africa and Swaziland. I was a child when we lived there and I could hardly be blamed for the situation in South Africa. Yet, I was. People assumed I was pro-apartheid, though I wasn’t.
Even though I gained entry to one of the top universities in the UK, I was turned down because of my early years in Swaziland.
One of the things I learned was that sometimes, in an effort to carry out justice, humans end up carrying out their own injustices.
When I finally attended university, I found it hard to fit in. Everyone was talking about pop culture, movies, music and other subjects that I had no idea about.
The world was shifting under my feet and I longed for the bright, wide-open skies of Africa.
Nevertheless, time went by, I settled in, I made friends and I continued to live, learn and love. I learned that even outsiders can make friends. In the end, if you are patient and have an open heart you will find people with whom you are alike.
As an adult, I have lived in many different countries all across the world. I have friends from Africa (black and white), friends from Korea, Japan, the UK, African Americans, Caucasian Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans, Hawaiians. I have friends from the Philippines, from Indonesia. I have friends from the Middle East, Arabs from Egypt and from Jordan.
I have friends from all over the world and I always look forward to making new friends along my journey.
I cannot consider myself English, I have never truly belonged in the UK, yet if I was to return to Swaziland, I would no longer belong there either. I have lived in Hawaii where I feel at home, yet even there I cannot truly belong because of my residency status.
In the end, in a world of diversity, I can say I am not of one nation or one race – I am a citizen of the world and I belong to the human race.
In a world where people of all races collide, I would like to say to those who feel they are outsiders: be a citizen of the world, have an open heart and you will always find a true friend.