What Celebrate Means to Me

Celebrate Southern Africa

When the idea of Celebrate Southern Africa was born, I thought it would be fun. It would be something exciting and interesting to get involved in, and where I could enjoy some South African company.

Little did I realise the impact it would have on me…

The concept of belonging has occupied my thinking over the last couple of years. I really don’t feel I belong anywhere.

South Africa

I left South Africa to travel 25 years ago, and I am still here.  Every day I am in the UK now, is one day longer than I spent in South Africa. I now own a bit more than the backpack I arrived with, but it still does not feel like home. When people hear my accent, I feel them metaphorically taking a step back. I am often treated like a visitor or even a tourist.  Many times have to fight my corner because I am not taken seriously.

What does she know?  She’s not even from here. 

Cultural references have to be explained to me and I am often left out of conversations because I have no idea who or what people are talking about, and I often don’t understand the jokes they are making. Sometimes people notice this and make a joke of it too, but I do often think they really don’t understand how it makes me feel – and why should they?  They have not been in the same situation. Being so socially isolated and so lonely can be quite difficult – character-building, but still difficult.

I go back to South Africa for holidays, and you know what?  It is the same there. Besides the memories I have of the first 23 years of my life in the country and my on-going friendships with my South African friends, I have lost 23 years of social and cultural experiences.  Often I don’t know the people whose names come up in conversations, what incidents they are referring or what somethings mean.  I feel like a stranger in my own country.

In the United Kingdom

Those who have emigrated and immigrated will know what this feels like. And since I lost my mother in 2014, I barely have a DNA connection left in South Africa.  I have no children, no parents, no grandparents, no grandchildren, no siblings, no nieces or nephews, not even any god-children – so I am as genetically isolated in the UK as I am in South Africa.

Where do I belong?  I am kept at arm’s length in the UK and I am unfamiliar with so many things in South Africa.

Community

But, by making contact with South Africans who are in the same position as me in this country, the UK, I instantly feel connected.  A South African pointed out that working with other South Africans and running a business that attracts South Africans, means they feel less homesick.  That has touched my heart because I can completely understand. 

I am not only homesick for South Africa, I am homesick for South Africans too – people who understand how hard it is to be away from what we know, people who use the same slang, speak the same ‘language’, make the same cultural references, people who are carving a niche for themselves in a foreign country without their family and friends – South Africans who ‘get’ each other and who share the same history and roots.

As I get older I value my history so much more. I am proud of my past and my family tree, but it means so little if we don’t make it work for us in the present and take it proudly with us into the future.

Celebrate Southern Africa is not just a weekend for me to enjoy South African food and drink, South African products and South African company – it is about me being connected, feeling a part of a community and being with people who understand me without knowing me – it is about one of the most basic of human needs – it is about belonging.

Dawn A Denton

Owner at Celebrate Southern Africa

Celebrate Southern Africa is on Facebook & Instagram

You can read more by and about Dawn:

An interview with Dawn in: Celebrate Owner, Keeping the Dream music review, Lady Anne Barnard and reading an African tale

9 Comments

    • It’s an interesting dilemma for me….I think I have been away too long now to go back, but being here is still such a challenge for me….

  1. This resonated with me so much Dawn – I’ve been here 15 years now and still feel like a foreigner here. As soon as I open my mouth the questions start and I feel singled out. However, I’ve had opportunities to study and achieve things I would never have had back home and my children too so it’s not all bad! Occasions like Celebrate Africa are so welcome so thank you Dawn x

    • I have also had the most amazing opportunities here, and for that reason it is my home now. But I feel I need to connect to stay sane 😉

  2. Wow! Felt like you were writing about me ! My husband and I have been here 10 years and feel the same way. I think most South Africans living here feel the same. SA is unique, it just won’t let you go completely!! Well done for all you do and for getting this group together. Will keep in touch and am interested to see what other activities you have in store for that weekend.

    • Thank you so much for you message Candy. We really a unique bunch – Southern Africa is so much of who we are and I am so proud to have Africa run through my veins! Hope you can join us in June (we are planning a wine tasting and a movie day), or even just enjoy our online magazine (https://issuu.com/celebratesouthernafrica). Lots of love to you and your hubbie!

  3. Your words could have been mine they resonated so strongly with my own feelings. My story is further complicated as I was born English and lived here until I was 8. We then emigrated to SA and I was well and truly bred South African. And so proudly so. I have lived in the UK again for 20 years and increasingly feel like nowhere is home. I cant quite make myself fully comfortable here and still feel very much like an outsider. I still feel very South African but my memories largely stop in the 90s – and I was last back for a short visit over 10 years ago now. I dont really feel that connecting with South Africans here necessarily helps me in the way you talk about it helping you; although I do still really enjoy meeting up. It’s weird. I keep hoping this feeling goes away and that I’ll feel British as this is now my home. But South Africa wont let me go. It’s in my heart and my soul. Xxx

    • Oh Sarah. I totally understand. I have not always felt the South African community here in the UK to be that welcoming either. I do feel like a cork bobbing in the Pacific…I know what you feel, and what I feel is not unique. For all those who have left South Africa, for whatever the reasons or circumstances, we all struggle to fit in, and always will – I think. It is such an emotional topic for me, and only South Africans will understand…not just about emigrating / immigrating, but also how Africa is so deeply etched in our souls….Sending you lots of love. And thank you so much for sharing of yourself too.

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