“Consider your origin...” ~Dante Alighieri
As revealed in Parental Units I am a product of adoption. It is not something I think about on a regular basis as my adopted parents will always be my parents and I find no fault in that logic. I have, however, been considering the idea of origins … my origins … a lot this week.
I was born in San Antonio, Texas somewhere around 3:00 a.m. on August 15, 1974. I do not know why my birth parents gave me up for adoption and I do not particularly care as there could have been no better set of parents than those who raised me. I know little about my birth mother and father … just a couple of paragraphs of a letter sent by the adoption agency that convey a bit about the individuals from whom I came:
“Her biological mother was in her late teens. She is of Irish, French, German and English descent. She is 5’5” in height and weighs approximately 130 pounds. She has blue-green eyes and brown hair with a fair complexion. She has always done well academically and was in the National Honor Society in high school. She has a great deal of leadership ability, having been active in many extra-curricular activities in school and church. Her hobbies and interests include reading, writing, swimming and sewing.
Her biological father is also in his late teens. He is of Scotch and German descent with dark brown hair and brown eyes and medium olive complexion. He is a quite capable young man. He is especially talented in art and enjoys working with his hands.”
Well, there you go - basic origins: Irish, French, English, Scottish and a lot of German as it comes from both sides. My ethnic background amuses me as European tourists in Kenya consistently asked me if I was Swedish. Obviously, I am not Scandinavian at all. Simply put: I am your basic, garden variety, American mutt. I do ponder where my blonde hair came from as it was almost reflective for most of my life and both birth parents sport brown locks. My eyes were blue until I was five or six when they turned an interesting shade of hazel. Sometime during high school they changed from hazel to full on green and have never returned to either previous shade. I was never in the National Honor Society, I am not a strong swimmer and I can not abide sewing. However, I do love to read and write and I have a small collection of artwork although I do not consider myself an artist. I also seem to carry a tad bit of that ‘leadership ability’ mentioned in my birth mother although those are stories for another time perhaps.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” ~Seneca, Roman Philosopher
I am an American and I was adopted by Americans. From my adopted parents I inherited much. I don’t know how many times others have exclaimed, “You are just like your father!” I look nothing like him, of course, although - I do favor my mother a bit. Perhaps it is all the German blood as she is of German descent as well. I am stubborn like my father. I drive like my father. I am a people person like my father. I am extremely analytical like my father. More than any trait or behavior, my parents exemplify the origin of my faith more than anything else. From them I learned about my God and came to call him Father.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” ~African proverb
|I'm an African too... and why am I wearing this bonnet?|
I am an American … and yet, at the age of six months, I was transported over the big blue ocean and transplanted in Kenya. Home. It will always be. Scientists say that the origins of man come from this region. I doubt their evolutionary theories, but the origin of who I am today lies in the equatorial soil and air of Kenya even more than the biological traits handed down to me through the DNA of my birth parents. I was raised by my adopted parents, yes, but I was also raised by two distinctly different villages.
The first was the missionary village. It seemed to be an unwritten rule to collectively keep an eye on all the children. Subsequently, I have been disciplined by almost all of my missionary “aunts” and “uncles” just as my parents have done their share of parenting my friends. It was a system that worked and my missionary family was (and is) closer to me than most extended family here in the United States.
The second village in which I was raised was comprised of those who were hired to work at Brackenhurst, the conference center where I grew up, and their families. Considered to be the “staff quarters” by most, this was still an area that had all the elements of a traditional village: the wazee (elders) would sit and smoke and watch over the village, the women would cook in the open air and half the young children ran around naked while being minded by older siblings. As I have previously referred to this place as My Childhood Domain it should come as no surprise that I spent much of my free time playing made up games with the children of this village or drinking chai and eating the ugali (cornmeal and water cooked until stiff) that was offered. They, too, were my extended family. Because of this, I have followed the news of my home country closely throughout the years and I am sickened today by what has been happening there over the last few weeks. Still – I am helpless. I repeat: I am an American. I am not Kenyan. I never carried dual citizenship. I can not vote in Kenyan elections in order to make a difference. All I can do is weep in anger when I see photographs of bodies piling up in the morgues of Nairobi and wait for emails from those in country telling me they are well and pray for peace.
“Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.” ~Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President
The Kenyan people are strong and passionate and caring. It is these qualities that brought them to independence and yet racist tribalism and corruption is threatening to set the country back in its progress. It has been thirteen years since I have been home and I wonder how much of another piece of my origin is left. This would be the British influence. I bet it is still there. I remember vividly celebrating the 20th anniversary of Kenya’s independence. Still, much of the infrastructure was very much influenced by the years Kenya spent as a British colony. The main form of currency is a shilling … that word definitely stemmed from colonial times and is just one example in many.
I can not deny that I, too, am much influenced by English society. Many of the words I use are considered extremely English. Heads turn when I refer to someone as being “mad” or when “bloody hell” escapes my lips in a moment of pain or anger. It took me years to begin spelling “colour” without the “u” as is expected in this country. I also have a rather irritating habit of correcting the grammar of those around me. (We may be able to understand one another, but American and English are two distinctly different languages in my book.) My focus in university was English Literature. I adore English film-making. I follow the football scores and, yes, I am a fan of Manchester United. My favorite city in the world (to date) is London … aside from any given location in Kenya … and I have traveled a lot. I have ex-boyfriends in Great Britain. I have friends in Great Britain (who are well overdue for a visit). I am a sucker for a man with an English or Scottish accent (little known fact – but true). Like it or not (and I do not mind) my origins are also found in the remnants of English society on modern day Kenya.
Still, I am an American. I have origins on this continent as well. Somehow it all mixes together and makes me who I am. I happen to like myself. I may be a bit complex at times and it is difficult to understand me in full if you have not set foot East Africa or the United Kingdom, but there is a lot about me to like. Personally, I think my origins did right by me. From the biology I was given by my birth parents to the values instilled by my adopted parents to the sense of community I gained in Kenya to my unexplainable addiction to fish and chips … my origins have made me who I am.
"This above all,--to thine own self be true …” ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet
I have no complaints.