Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why someone like me is in SA

The other day someone asked me what I am doing in South Africa. This question comes up at least 3 times week, so I thought it would be useful o put it on my blog. My first reason is because I am in a serious relationship with my gorgeous partner Tatenda, who loves being in Africa. My second reason is that I see many opportunities in South Africa for someone like me who sees the world the way I do. I see the world as a global community. The developmental and cosmopolitan characteristics of South Africa are very appealing to someone like me. Who is someone like me?

I am what they call a "Jamaican-American." Many people ask me why do people in America say they are "African-American" or "Chinese-American," why don't they just say they are American? Well a short answer to this is that America is made up of foreigners. The only indigenous people there are "Native Americans" or I think the politically correct term these days are "American-Indians." Everyone else came by a large or small boat and for us recent migrants-- an airplane. My parents migrated in the late 70s right after my older brother was born and a few years before my younger brother and I were born. Growing up with sort of a dual identity -Jamaican and American - I saw the world in various ways. When I would go to Jamaica every year for 2-3 months during school holiday I would hear how America is taking over the world and is the new imperialist. Then when I would go back to Philadelphia (the city where I grew up) people would ask me if Jamaicans use cars and if I have a monkey for a pet (very familiar to what they would ask Africans). I realized at a young age that the world is full of people looking at the same things differently--it's all about perspective. I also realised that we really don’t know much about one another. One of the philosophies I hold is, difficult as it may be, understanding each other is not impossible… it just takes communication. When I went to university, while my father was encouraging to be an engineer or a medical practitioner (professions with obvious usefulness), I have always been interested in Communications. I think it goes back to my 1st grade (I was age 6) teacher telling my parents that I may have to repeat the grade because I wasn't "developing as fast as the other students." What she was saying was that I talked differently to the other children, I had a twang. Like many children who grow up bilingual, at home mommy and daddy talk in their tongue and then you go to school you are in a foreign situation and you have to speak something else.

I didn't repeat 1st grade, because my parents refused. My accent was not hindering my development; it just made it a bit difficult for the American teachers to understand. Jamaicans speak "patois" (pronounced pa-twa). It's basically broken English with a bit of French, Spanish and African languages mixed together. Anyway, communicating has always been an interest to me. I love to watch how people interact and talk with each other, and I like to examine the similarities and differences between and within cultures. During my first year of university, I took a Sociology course, and all I could say to myself was, "this stuff makes so much sense." So I decided to get two degrees in Communication and Sociology and that leads me to South Africa. I did a study abroad programme during undergrad in 2002 dealing with human rights. That programme had 80 students from all over the world and it basically changed my life (this was also the time I met Tatenda). I decided South Africa is interesting and exciting- and I kept coming back. After I graduated in 2004, I came here to do my Masters in Development Studies at Wits (an interdisciplinary degree that can combine all of my interests).

Finally this brings me up to date to the World of Work programme. As much as I am learning a lot about what the world out there entails, I am having the most fun getting to know my colleagues- they are from all over Africa (I am the only non-African) with vast knowledge and passion to go out there and make a difference. You can meet them at our team blog:

Someone like me believes that having multiple perceptions of the world we live in is vital and considering the ideas of others is critical.


Blogger Cyrille Mutombo said...

Hi Rochelle,
I think you are fully in this blogging thing and I am happy for that.
Your blogs are very well writen and structured. I like your ability to cover many things in so few words, that's great and keep it up

7:05 AM  
Blogger Pascalia said...

I found your blog entry very revealing about human nature. Take your first grade teacher for instance, and how you are always asked what you are doing in South Africa. These examples go to show how people are not willing to accept the "other". It is particularly worse for people like me who come from Zimbabwe. Most South Africans are unhappy by our presence here. They imagine Zimbabwe to be a country full of shacks, no electricity and with a President who talks too much. Always I am asked the question "so, when are you going back"? I find this very annoying but hey I guess its something that comes out of being the "other". You have a good blog going on here Rochelle!

8:01 AM  

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