Something I really enjoyed during my trip this past weekend was meeting up with some ooold friends. I realized I was in the same city as some family friends. I should have given them some notice, really, but Saturday morning I called them up with a ‘Hey, remember me? I’m in town!’
This family was one of our first friends when we came to Canada 23 years ago. It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve seen them. C, M and myself were thick as thieves back in the day. C is my age and M is two years younger. We used to have the best times when our families would get together. The best.
I spent a couple of hours at their place and we caught up, laughed and reminisced about the good old days. A lot of things M couldn’t remember because she was pretty young. I asked if her she remembered my parents’ wedding and she said no. I then realized that I had been 3 at the wedding so she would have been a baby, not much to remember.
They are Zambian/Liberian and were great friends to my Zambian parents. When it comes to being Zambian, recognized as being from Africa, there are certain things that come your way consistently that you learn to respond to. For example, when someone asks me where am I from. There are certain variables I consider before answering. I may say, Northern BC, which is where I grew up. And honestly, depending on how long this exchange has gone on for or, gotta say it, if the person isn’t black, that’s the answer I’ll give. If the person is black it’s usually intuitive that they’re asking which country I’m from in which case I say Zambia. They may respond with a greeting in Bemba or Lamba and I’ll smile apologetically. That’s usually followed by surprise and a head shake. How can I not know my own language? Siigh.
Living where I do, there aren’t a lot of black people, and I think I find myself looking for some sort of community. When we first moved to Vancouver I had a lot of black friends. When you’re that age, it’s not something you think about, but looking back it was nice to have friends who wore their braids in their hair and who mothers laughed at unimaginable decibels. Whose parents also had an accent and whose house smelled like cooked fish or vegetables or meat. Who also ate their meals with their hands. It was familiar.
So when someone learns I don’t speak my language I feel as though there is a marked separation that I can’t overcome. This is the same when they ask if I’ve been back to Zambia or Angola. The resources, time and opportunity to visit have not come for me at this point. I’m hoping to go back next year but until then… I only know what I’ve been told.
I was talking to M and learned that neither her nor her sister a) spoke their language or b) have returned home, I have to say I felt relieved and not so alone!
Another thing I realized as we all sat there was out of us three girls, me at 25, C at 24 and M at 23, we were all wearing our hair in different styles. And it just made me think how cool it all was. You could honestly have 20 black girls in a room and still have a chance that they’re all wearing their hair differently. There’s so much versatility it’s amazing!
M asked me about my hair and whether I relaxed it. I said no, my hair didn’t do too well relaxed. I told her how I chopped it off last year and she was surprised by the length I had and said I was lucky my hair grew so fast.
It was nice to catch up, to see how we’ve all changed and to chat about our lives now. It was really nice.