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Reflections on identity

When people I met on my journeys asked me where I'm from and I replied that I'm from southern Africa, some enquired: “Yes, but where are you really from?”

I was born in Namibia and have lived for 18 years in South Africa (where my parents and grandparents were born). Some of my ancestors came from Europe, and long, long ago, their ancestors came from Africa. Before that, it is said that we all came from the stars. So where am I really from? Where is anybody really from?

I feel at home when surrounded by many races and cultures. I feel it in African music and stories. I feel it when sharing something meaningful with others. In South Africa I learned that the word ubuntu (humanity) describes a part of how I relate to the world. Desmond Tutu writes:

"Ubuntu is the philosophy and belief that a person is only a person through other people… Our humanity is bound up in one another, and any tear in the fabric of connection between us must be repaired for us all to be made whole. This interconnectedness is the very root of who we are.”

I’m not sure if there is a word like ubuntu that incorporates other species, but my identity goes beyond humanity. I feel alive through other living beings. I feel home through the sunrise and sunset and in the presence of wild water, mountains, forests, animals and the deserts. Having grown up close to wild nature and a wealth of incredible biodiversity, I feel at home in the wilderness, and I can’t imagine life without a connection to it.

Today I feel that connection in the song of the swallows. When I lived in Zithulele (Wild Coast, Eastern Cape; South Africa), the swallows lived beneath our roof, and I would watch them through the kitchen window. Like me, they are migratory.

Man-made boundaries are by far not the be-all and end-all of who we are, what we are worth or where we belong. For me it never was, nor can it ever be, rooted in one country, one language, one culture, one race, one gender, one species, one story or one life.


What are some of the important elements of your identity?

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