We hold a gaze of familiarity, something like that one song you remember hearing, you can hear the words and feel the rhythm, but the song never comes out your mouth. A similarity like a mirage in the horizon, something you swear is there. But was it ever there? Or was it the longing for it that you saw?
I was standing at the edge of the field at Afropunk, done with the entire day. I just wanted to isolate myself from people, even if just for a second. I needed that space.
I saw her in the dawn of light and I was hoping she saw me too. I was staring at her, making sure my gaze was gentle enough so that if our eyes should meet, she would feel at ease. She kept getting closer and closer to the point that I had to look away.
What if she had realised I was staring at her and was headed over here to yell at me, what if I had food on my face, what if she’s trying to walk past me to get to where she’s going? All the scenarios played over in my head and by the time I had looked up, she was standing right at my feet.
Tall statue, skin like a glazed donut. I looked up at her and she was smiling down at me. I tilted my head, like you have some audacity to look at me like a garden gnome. Her smile was so gleeful, like she was about to have an outburst of something.
I smiled at her too – we recognised each other. She pointed at me and said, “South Sudanese?” I smiled back at her, nodded and said, “South Sudanese.” We embraced another in a long and tender hug.
“I knew it, I knew you guys were South Sudanese, I just wasn’t sure.”
I introduced her to three of my other mates and she proceeded to hug them and introduce herself. We were all just as happy to meet her as she was to meet us.
She wanted to know where we’ve been, what we’ve been eating, and how long we were staying. She spoke to us like an older sister, who just wanted to take care of her sisters.
We wanted to know how she’s been, how long she’s been here, and how was she surviving.
She came back closer to me and asked if we were going to be in the same spot for a while because she had some people she wanted to introduce us to. Within 10 minutes, she came back with a group of ladies. We all started screaming and pointing at each other. We all hugged who we could, and shouted over one other for introductions. We were South African, South Sudanese, Kenyan and Brooklyn, New York.
She invited us to her favourite restaurant in Harlem – we were so tired of eating bodega food. All we wanted was a home cooked meal that would smell and look familiar.
We arrived at the restaurant, took our seats, and continued to talk over each other about our experiences of being in the diaspora.
I loved listening to her talk about her passion for connecting all the South Sudanese in the diaspora, her struggle to merge cultures, surviving on her own, going to school, having to juggle university debt with a job one has no passion for. I felt that right in my chest.
I was finally grateful to be from Australia, the idea of leaving home to go to a completely different state for school and having to support oneself scared me. Having my parents’ house and Uncle Centrelink gave me the comfort of knowing I had a safe place, and I wouldn’t need to worry about money for now.
Some of us wanted to go to a home we all left when we were too young to remember, but still hold on to the hope of one day returning. Some wanted to make do with what they had. It was their home now. The only home they remember.
Even though she was in a place that was predominantly black people, she still felt different, she still felt like going home.
Something we all felt at some level.
But we recognised the familiarity in our eyes. Our joy was familiar, our laughs, our excitement – it was the Familiarity of the Diaspora.