The Otherness of Being

Our family moved around a lot when I was a child. Every new place we went to, I had to adjust to a new school and make new friends. My parents did the rest. I learnt quickly to adjust, to settle in and to feel like I belonged. It’s not so easy when you’re older.

Some years ago, I worked for a non-government organisation in Cape Town. I worked there from 1993 to 2000, straddling the regime change in the South African government to a welcome democracy. Apart from the work that the organisation did, it focused keenly on organisation development; ensuring that the work it did, as well as they way it did the work, transformed appropriately in line with bigger changes in the country. Change was something we could always depend on.

We did loads of workshops and bosberade (literally “bush councils” – meetings in isolated venues to focus on a particular topic), learnt massively about ourselves as an organisation and as individuals, and laughed and cried as we grew in so many different ways. It was an incredible time in my life, and I learnt much that I loved and hated about myself.

Accordingly I changed in ways I hadn’t recognised even needed changing. It was about shining the mirror clean to get a clearer reflection of myself. I will always be a work in progress, but having the opportunity to develop a consciousness of that is something for which I am eternally grateful.

One workshop we did was presented by a daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. An amazing speaker and awesome personality, she gripped our attention for the entire day. I don’t remember what the workshop was called but she delved into loads of different awarenesses of self.

The strongest learning point for me was in identifying my own primary identity. I am totally oversimplifying this, but she told us that once we understood our own primary identity, we could understand how we view the rest of the world. And we tend to view the rest of the world in relation to that identity. So if I see myself primarily as a woman, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”. Equally, if I see myself primarily as white, I see everyone else as the “same” or “other”.

It’s something that I have regularly been challenged to look at afresh in my own life. As a Christian, I am secure in my identity as a child of God. It’s finding my identity in my humanness that is my biggest struggle right now.

It’s no secret how much I miss my sons who are both back in Cape Town. Being a mother is a huge part of my identity, as is being part of a loving and close-knit nuclear family. We speak often, our love for each other is unquestioned, but we’re far apart. A month or two ago, a young couple in our church had their baby son dedicated. Both of their extended families filled our church for the service. I looked at them all together and I wept like a child with longing for my own family.

It is a conscious battle for me to choose not to find my identity in my work. Having worked constantly since I graduated from university (apart from a few years when my sons were born), I find it difficult to reconcile my identity as an unemployed person in London. Because of my job hunting nightmare here, I tend to view others from that perspective, and I find I see everyone around me as employed or with an income or livelihood of some description.

Finding my identity as a friend extends me too. I have wonderful, close friends back home – ones I hang out with regularly, talk with deeply, laugh with incessantly. They know who I am; I share a history with them. I have lovely friends here too, but I’m only just beginning a journey with them. That’s not a bad thing; I’m just trying to find where it all fits.

Starting a blog has been an amazing and positive experience for me. I love to write, to tell stories and share experiences and adventures with a growing community of wonderful writers, many of whom have also become friends. I haven’t quite found my identity through this yet; sometimes I see myself as a writer until I read the work of real writers, and I realise I am just a blogger. That’s okay too, and it keeps me reading and learning and growing and honing.

As you well know, life is not all bad in London! It continues to be an amazing adventure for my husband and me; we explore the city; we walk and we talk and we laugh; we grow memories and share a life here that we could never have imagined for ourselves. I know there is a deeper purpose in all of this for me and only with hindsight will I recognise what it is.

I don’t really know where I belong right now; I’m an absent Saffa and a visitor in London. Mostly I’m okay with that, but this topic has toiled through my mind for the whole weekend, circling and circling like a dog in a basket. I think it has now found its comfortable space and is ready to surrender to welcome sleep. As for me, I couldn’t have found rest until I wrote this.

Sunshine signing off for today.

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47 thoughts on “The Otherness of Being

  1. Beautifully stated. We are all on a journey (ah, that sounds so trite) and we all have life experiences. It’s a real gift to be able to share your life experiences in a way that makes other people feel connected to them and adds something to their own lives. And everything you do (every word you write) leads you to your deeper purpose.

  2. Shoo wee- sounds like you not in a great space right now? Like you not quite sure where you belong? As awesome as life is in London- you need to remember what led you there in the first place. There must have been an absolutely huge amount of passion for “something” to make such a big move. Perhaps looking back at that, will give you more direction as to what you need to feel whole again.
    PS I think you are an absolutely brilliant writer- screw just being a blogger.
    xx

    1. Thank you so much, sweet bokkie, for your kind words and encouragement. I’m okay … I haven’t lost sight of why we came here, I’m just trying to make sense of what I’m feeling right now. And thinking about the deeper purpose.

  3. My dear “almost twin”…you are a writer! And we are privileged to read the words you choose to share with us.

    I relate to everything you say about being unemployed…I’m on my 16th month of it! It’s hard not to get down on yourself! Being the rose-coloured glasses girl that I am, I believe that the right thing will come along for both of us, when it’s time!

    Hugs,
    Wendy

    1. Thank you so much, lovely Wendy! What a wonderful thing to say.
      I knew you would relate to how I feel. Optimism is part of my nature too, but somehow I needed to share this perspective today. But you’re right and I too believe that the right thing will come along. Sooner rather than later would be good!
      Big hugs to you, dear friend xx

  4. Great post. Really.

    I so admire your bravery and willingness to be so honest and open with readers…I’ve lived in NY since 1989, after leaving my native Toronto sure it would all be GREAT! Not so much. So I find myself often questioning why I came and why I stay and what else I should be doing instead. It is very hard to leave behind people you love dearly and a culture (never underestimate that) in which you grew up and feel best-known.

    Much as I appreciate some of the aspects of American life and attitudes — that can-do spirit, optimism, directness, willingness to take risks — I also miss the much stronger sense of community and civility in Canada. I miss having and relying on social capital. You can only look at so many buildings as a tourist without wanting to feel like you BELONG and are connected to the place where you are living.

    I never feel I belong anywhere, neither in a job (bored, bossed about) or freelance (always terrified about money) nor in a country.

    Being an ex-pat, and especially one without work, can be terribly hard. Hugs!!!

    1. Thanks so much, bsb – I so appreciate your comment. I thought there was much I wrote that you would relate to … it’s a strange thing, this belonging, and I wrangle with it every now and then, trying to make sense of what I’m feeling and why.
      I’m so glad to have connected with you, and am so glad we have a common experience – somehow that helps, don’t you think?

  5. I very much can relate to this. I struggled with this for a long time, and still do. I went from “eternal student” until my final degree to therapist and then social worker. I only spent 5 years at that, but then I moved across continent and to another country where I couldn’t use my degree and couldn’t work. I tried. Nothing. For over 5 years. I had wrapped myself up so much not just in the job itself, but the reputation I had made for myself within the field (top tier). And then I lost everything at once. (Darn getting married and moving away!)

    I’ve been almost a year now in a place where I have limited opportunities, which is a step up, and now have a part-time job doing something I’ve been trained to do (and feeling grossly inadequate at it for all the years lost) and also discovering myself through my photography. It’s all a work in progress, no? Keep on! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Winn. I thought you would relate to this too – and I so get what you describe from your own experience. I’m so glad you’ve got your foot in the door again, and that you are discovering yourself through your photography. You’re sure hugely talented at it, and are blessing so many people not only with your photos but by sharing the “how to” too.
      Yes, we are all works in progress, and thanks for the encouragement – I really appreciate it.

  6. Oh Sunshine how I wish I were there to give you a hug. I’ve been in our small town for nearly 30 years and wonder some days where I fit in. I long for some of the friendships that other women have with each other. I have a best friend in my husband but sometimes it would be nice to just go have a girls day out to laugh at the same silly stuff and share stories about our children as only a mother can do.

    Many days I long to be anywhere else but where I am. There’s a big world out there and I have only seen a portion of it the size of a pin prick on a map. I know I would miss my children if we traveled but the homecoming would be sweet after seeing new sights to share with them and catching up on their lives.

    Somehow I can’t reconcile in my mind that I may be stuck in this little town, seeing the same stuff, day in and day out without chasing a few dreams in other parts of the world. Life is short and it seems possibilities are becoming fewer each day.

    BTW: You are an awesome writer…What’ s up with just a blogger? I love how you weave a story and pull me into it wondering where you will lead me today. Blessings, Jeanne

    1. Thanks so much, Jeanne – I so appreciate your kind comment and encouragement. And hug!
      I envy you having your family all around you and close to you, but I do hear your frustration at wanting to experience something different. Everything comes with a cost, doesn’t it? When you do come to London (I’m not saying “if”), let’s go and have a girls’ day out, ok? Is that a date?

      1. I guess I had better start saving and checking on tickets to London if I ever plan on getting there. A girls’ day out would be wonderful and I would like to start my own red box and add a few tickets. It is a date as soon as I figure out a plan to get there.

  7. Sunshine, I so identify with your post (and never fear — you’re a writer, not merely a blogger, and don’t ever doubt it!). I, too, have been upended more times than I care to count — to go off to university, for this or that job opportunity, to move away and get married, to move again after divorce, etc. Each time, I questioned “Why me,” but that answer only comes in retrospect. Remember, when God closes a door, He opens a window. I pray you’ll find the employment you seek as well as the feeling of home — it takes a full two years after relocation to settle in, though (I did a story on that once, and that’s what the experts told me!). Hang in there!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and your encouragement, Debbie. It is so helpful to know that others have experienced what I’m feeling. I didn’t realise the two year settling in period … gosh, that’s a while. But I’m almost there!
      Thanks for your support and prayers too – I look forward to looking back on this. 🙂

  8. I enjoyed this post. I’m sure you’ll adjust and become more aware of your primary focus as you branch out and try new things. That’s really the only way I’ve found that I can discover myself–to look outside of my own junky head 😉 I’m nowhere near settled on all the identities I will have (I’m only 25) and I can’t claim many identities or roles I hope to inhabit just yet (wife, mother), but I do know my primary role, and it does influence how I see the world.

    All this talk of “self” and “other” takes me back to Deconstructionist theory and Hegelian theory.:-)

    1. Thanks, 2blu2btru, glad you enjoyed this and thanks for your encouragement.
      Everything about this London adventure is new and different and changing and I think that’s my struggle – trying to find myself in the newness and unfamiliarity of a life far away from what I’m used to. It will come! 🙂

  9. Hi, I read your blog from time to time but today I really felt I must reply. I can also identify so much with what you said, especially the bit about the family being away from you and you watching others enjoying theirs around you. It certain tugs at our hearts. I also am unemployed at the moment and it seems that lots of us are. Maybe you should write a book about adjusting in another country as so many of us are trying to do. Some tips about what would help us to settle etc. You know that it’s all about learning contentment in our lives and also the choices we make. But it REALLY is hard sometimes. I’m not sure where in London you are living but I may be doing some caring work in Kensington next month and have some hours free in the afternoons. It would be LOVELY to meet up for coffee one day. We’ll keep in touch. It’s been years since we saw each other and I feel that we have so much in common. I know it would be a fruitful time together. Take care. Lots of love Lorna X

    1. Thanks so much, Lorna – both for reading my blog, and for taking the time to comment today. This post seems to have touched a nerve with so many people, and the replies have literally made me cry. (In a good way!) It is hard, but we’re not alone and that helps me, for sure.
      I am blown away that you said I should write a book about this. It’s something I SO want to do and, funnily enough, I wanted to mention it in this post but I couldn’t quite decide where it would fit with what I was writing today.
      Lorna, I’d love to meet up with you. I’ll send you my contact details on FB – would be great to catch up!

  10. Oh Hon, this post really hit the spot, and I won’t plug on about why here, suffice to say I am either unemployed or in a power-suit, the extremes define me.
    But, off the subject, you may find some creative challenge to write something on this blog. This girl sits next to me at work and heads up a subdivision of the main agency. If you don’t want to write something for them, you may simply enjoy reading some of the other contributors:
    http://www.homecomingrevolution.co.za/

    1. Thanks so much, Cindy – I’m glad this hit the spot for you. Thanks for the link – I’ve heard of the Homecoming Revolution, but not checked out their site before. I’ll do so now.

  11. Sunshine, what a beautiful journey you are on! Identity is a hard one to face and your reflection was very well accounted for. We are all nomads in our own worlds. It amazes me the nomadic community we have found in our blogging community….how similar we all are and from so many different walks of life! 🙂 Keep beaming Sunshine! Have faith, you are right where you need to be!

    xoxo
    CatMan

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, CatMan, and for the encouragement. True that we are nomads in our own worlds … and isn’t it amazing that we can find each other through this medium?
      Thanks for coming by – welcome to my blog!

  12. I guess what He has in store for us is who we are, Sunshine 🙂 Your blog has such a strong identity: In my mind I have you firmly anchored in London, but know how much of your heart lies in SA. Most days I learn something from you, and that’s all to his purpose. You may not be being paid, but you’re certainly filling that Sunshine-shaped hole like no-one else could. All part of the plan.

    1. Oh wow, Kate – what an amazing thing to say! Thank you so much.
      You are so right about that He has in store for us is who we are … so true, so true. You have blessed my socks off with this comment, Kate. 🙂

  13. Beautiful post, and one that hit me in the gut…as I struggle to decide what my identity is…and it confuses me that it seems to change–with the seasons of life, with where I live–all of it.

    I could really feel and understand your heart’s cry…and I sure feel blessed by your sharing…
    blessings
    jane

    1. Thank you so much, jane. Hope it didn’t hurt?
      I’m glad you could relate to this post and it is interesting that identity is not constant (although it is, in God). So much changes in our lives all the time, and often that requires us to reconfigure ourselves, like snakes shedding their skin.

  14. I will join the chorus in relating. I am still in my home city with friends and family around but have been out of a job for 16 months now, and life is increasingly challenging. Like you, I have found great solace in my blog — which will celebrate its first birthday this week — and in the blogging community. If nothing else, it keeps us from feeling we are alone. Oh, and I am blessed to have known Bishop Tutu slightly, both from my years as assistant in the Hunger Office and later as deputy news director at the national headquarters of the Episcopal Church here in New York and because decades ago he and his family visited the church I grew up in quite a number of times, as he knew our rector. He is an extraordinary human being, and it appears it runs in the family 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment, jevcat. I know that you’ve been in a similar situation, and it is good not to feel alone. Congratulations on your blog birthday!
      How wonderful to have met Archbishop Tutu – what an amazing man. Wow.

  15. Beautifully written, Ms. Sunshine. This is certainly a relatable post, and I appreciate your honesty and wisdom. It’s never easy being a stranger in a strange land. But look at you, Sunshine–what an adventure you’re leading.

    Your description of London reminds me a lot of my time in graduate school. I loved my classes, I made wonderful friends, and still I was miserable. When I look back at those years now, I see them as some of the best of my life because I appreciate how much they taught me about myself. I think, five years from now, London will be that to you: A beautiful, terrible beast you can’t help but adore because it helped inform your experience and shape who you are.

    Hang in there, friend. You’ll find your place in London. When you do, it will fit you like a glove.

    1. Thank you, Maura – you’re quite right, and that’s how I feel about London right now: a beautiful, terrible beast I can’t help but adore! I can’t wait to find my place here … glad to have you along the journey with me, cheering me on, dear friend!

  16. I recently (four years ago) moved to South Africa from Kenya and although by now I have settled in and things are splendid, there is always that one day when you miss home so much that it feels like a whole other being altogether. Love this post because I could totally understand what you were saying. Generally, love the blog.

    1. Thank you so much – I’m glad you could understand how I’m feeling. It’s fabulous to have a new adventure, but home is home. Period.
      Where are you living in South Africa? And are you there permanently? Thanks so much for coming by – welcome to my blog, I hope you’ll be back!

  17. This post really spoke to me. As I’ve been writing my SA blog something has been niggling away at me and you have made me see what it is: it’s about how we identify ourselves; the labels we give to ourselves and others. Thank you.

    I hope you come to terms with your own situation. Think of it as an opportunity to discover something new about yourself. I’ve been there; I know how hard it is. But not impossible.

    Would you mind if I print this post out for my notebook?

    1. Thank you, Tilly – I am sure you can relate to this, having spent so much time away from home too. I’m glad it spoke to you, and you’re absolutely right about discovering something new about myself. I think I am doing that with my writing – it takes me to places I hadn’t imagined I would go.
      Yes, sure – you’re most welcome to print this out. Do you have a printer, though? 🙂

  18. Beautifully put Sunshine. I can relate to those feelings, but my story is a little different. As a native Goan who was ecstatic to leave 15 years ago, I’m finding it difficult to fit in here after all this time. One reason I think, is that I’ve changed and grown as a person through traveling and living in a different country, meeting people from different walks of life, while many of my Goan friends who are all doctors lead a very standard ‘doctor’s’ life – they practice medicine, are married to doctors, their children aspire to be doctors and they spend their weekends attending medical conferences (sacrilege to me!).
    Me, I rebel against this neatly cubicled life every way I know how and that leaves me with a lot of alone time. That’s not to say I’m lonely or not busy…just wondering about whether I will ever fit in or if I even want to! But as you point out…it’s not all bad and who knows a couple of years down the line…I’ll wonder what I was agonizing over!

    And I love what you said about ‘shining the mirror clean to get a clearer reflection of myself’…that’s what we all need to do a lot more of.

    Great post Sunshine 😀
    Cheers, H.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Harsha. I can imagine the “going back” to be equally challenging, especially when you were gone for so long and so much happened and changed in you and your life. As tough as it is, I guess the agonising has to happen in these transitions so we can truly understand – one day – what they were all about. My husband says that hindsight is a great thing to look forward to. Amen to that!
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Harsha.

  19. Do we ever stop searching for our identity? I find I am in the process of constantly changing and when I think I have it figured out, I don’t at all. As for your writing, my friend, I read a quote not too long ago that said “If you write, you are a writer.” Wish I could remember where and who the quote was from. Oh, well, if I think of it, I’ll pass it on. Hugs, Diane

  20. I love your post^^..And i could relate on the regard of finding your identity.Having seen a mirror and had a reaction that der some stuf to be fixxed..yep life is a journey…^I wish i had the same joruney in Londo..ive never been out of the coutnry yet..but i hope someday i can go overseas to experience other culture and find my identity on a differnt country

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind comments. Welcome to my blog! How are things there in the Philippines?
      Yes, finding one’s identity is a constant journey – and it isn’t always about being in another country, although that changes things of course.

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