Dear Starr: To Be Free!

Dear Starr,

Good morning, amazing woman!

I write to you today from my room in our Airbnb in Johannesburg, South Africa. I can’t help but take a moment to lay out my scene: this room is completely blinged-out, Lion King-style. The walls are painted with vignettes from the Disney film; the overhead light is plastered with Nala and Mufasa stickers; even the trash can has a wooden cut-out of Simba peering from its side. So here I am, in the heart of South Africa, surrounded by animated depictions of animals instead of by real ones. The irony isn’t lost on me.

I’m not sure what your background with traveling in general is–let alone, sojourning in Africa–but I have no doubt you’ve had some experiences similar to those I’ve already had.

The first thing I’d like to name, that I imagine you’ll understand: exhaustion. The second leg of my journey ended up being 16 hours long, including over an hour sitting on the tarmac in Atlanta, Georgia before finally climbing into the skies. I emerged from the plane feeling like I’d experienced a time warp: was it really possible that 16 hours before I’d been seated in that exact same seat, but literally on the other side of the world?! I’m not a good plane sleeper, so the foggy brain, light-headedness, and “plane legs” (the whole world felt like it was dipping side to side for 8-10 hours afterward) was striking and real. Suffice to say, I’m grateful for a delicious cocktail of Magnesium, Melatonin and Trazodone for keeping me sleeping the entire following evening, despite it being midday back in Portland.

Whenever I have prolonged sleep deprivation for a number of days in a row, I think of new parents, who without question have to deal with an epidemic of sleepless nights (not to mention, everything else that having a new babe entails). Starr, I salute you for being a mom. There are so many components of parenthood that me and my no-kid counterparts mostly take for granted, or gloss over completely. I can only imagine what it was like to raise little ones, and I thank you on behalf of those kiddos who are not-so-little anymore for all your hard work, love, and care throughout the years.

Another thing I’ve encountered thus far in Africa is the experience of being around many people very different than me. One of the things I admire about you is that you seem to really be committed to expanding your perceptions and awareness, engaging with world views that differ from your own, and putting yourself in “uncomfortable” situations and dialogue that stretches you. This is truly rare, Starr (both in our Portland pocket, and yes, around the globe!), and once again, I salute you for incorporating this into your life. What a beautiful example to those around you that it’s okay to explore new terrains, and to feel the feelings that accompany this.

I often think of what a balancing act it is to navigate my boundaries, and keep myself feeling supported while also venturing outside of familiar grounds–either literally or metaphorically. It’s the “uncomfortable, but not unsafe” dance. I see you navigating this consciously and gracefully.

Here in Johannesburg and the surrounding areas, white people are the ethnic minority; somewhere around 30-35%, with essentially the entirety of the rest of the population being black. There are many times that I’ve experienced being the minority, in some way or another, but in South Africa, this is particularly striking. It’s also particularly complicated, given the fact that most of the white folks who live here are Dutch-blooded, due to the Dutch colonization of the country. Therefore, though I am mostly surrounded by gorgeous, deep black faces, the white faces and bodies are ones that look very much like my own. In fact, I’ve been mistaken for a local on repeated occasions–beginning on the plane flight from Atlanta, when the flight attendant asked my sister and I “Are you headed home for the holidays?”

And “complicated” barely seems to scratch the surface of this country’s racially-based political divides, over the years. Flip-flopping from a nearly all-white government to a post-Apartheid world has left a nation still growing into its new identity; we’ve seen evidence of stumbles and missteps along the way, and the country certainly hasn’t ironed out all of its kinks. Crime rates are so high that, even in the fanciest suburbs, people are told never to walk outside after dark. We were advised not to rent a car because of the amount of carjackings that take place, and all of the streets around our AirBnb have gated entries and attendants keeping guard around the clock. This is a culture ravaged with discord. They have repaired so much of their history, but thus far, I’m struck also by all that has yet to be healed.

One last note: it’s HOT here! I’m trying to recall if you’re a warm weather lover or not; in any case, the mugginess initially felt fantastic, and now seems to be contributing to my lingering sense of exhaustion. I took the afternoon off, rather than heading to the local crafts market–another thing that I know you will understand. How many fantastic opportunities are available to us (especially someone like yourself, a visionary entrepreneurs!), and how important it is to prioritize, ground, ask yourself “what is it that I truly need right now?,” and act accordingly. Once again, an area where I have much to learn, and you have much to model.

Best wishes to you, and happy holidays to you and yours!!

PS The cover photo for this post is an image taken at the fabulous Apartheid Museum–a quotation by Nelson Mandela reading “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

2 thoughts on “Dear Starr: To Be Free!

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