I got tired of lying about who I am. Yes, I’m grateful to philanthropists who have supported
my academic career since high school. Through their support my mother did not have to worry
about the already low tuition at my public high school, nor about the more expensive book fees.
Through their support I discovered the world, having lived the first seventeen years of my
life holding onto my mother’s apron as they say. I had never gone to boarding school
before that. The first few months living at my aunt’s house during the summer were some
of the most challenging moments of my childhood. And still at that moment when I was offered
a chance to leave, none of this came to mind. I was very, very excited.
But in another way, I didn’t have a choice. The year I left, there were four scholarships
for Norway, India, Canada and the U.S. The final candidates were chosen from a pool of more
than a thousand students who sat for the end-of-high-school exam that year. How could I or
my family turn down such an opportunity? The decision wasn’t just about us.
When I was in New Mexico, the growing pains continued. True enough, all of the two-hundred
students in the international school had traveled from afar, and we were able to empathize
with one another. But there was a lot of personal grieving as well for our mothers, sisters,
brothers, cousins, food, that red soil that you just wanted to kneel down and kiss but couldn’t.
I sat on a shrink’s couch for the first time. I cried aloud, and with more force, than
I’m yet to see again into my roommate Anna’s arms. Poor soul, I know now that she
had no idea what to do with me for me and was terrified!
The school I went to, the United World College, has the grandest ideals: to have international
understanding, to be committed to international understanding at that, to build bridges and
resolve conflict (and I mean on the scale of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). We basically
understood that we were to become the leaders of our own countries and the leaders of the world.
Somewhere in the fabric of this beautifully embroidered world view, I – and maybe others,
too – ignored the necessity for healing. You can’t just bring Palestinians and
Israelis to the table and expect them to shake hands. People have tried that for three decades.
Both sides have lost so much, people are still hurting and living in fear. Their psyches have
been affected and even skewed, and mine has, too.
I don’t even know the full spectrum of what I have to heal from in order to build bridges
as I move forward. I have lost – part of a beautiful country. Their frontier was leaving
us jammed in the (beautiful) mountains – they are beautiful, I’ll give you that – with
only eleven percent arable land. Over the years, we have seen so much erosion, and climate
change tells the unending story of droughts and famine.
I have lost, we have lost, a culture that was vilified out of existence. Our society was so
beautiful and always contained what the West brought in as “new ideas:” sex education,
giving birth, faith, healthy living and exercise, social and political organization. But just
because our system didn’t look like their own, ours was less worthy and now we
have neither system. We are caught somewhere in between, and in order to move forward, everyone
needs to get their bearings: figure out where we started, the change that happened and how
to take the next step.
When I left home, I was given an incredible opportunity for growth. Separated from my mother
and left to make mistakes out of ignorance, thereby gaining a great sense of accomplishment
when I figured it out. But now I have to stop. I have to stop taking things just because they
are offered. In these twenty-three years, an individual has formed, with her own opinions,
her own desires, her own ideas about how things should be done. And yet it seems that someone
is always there, threatening to put me on a leash. That voice, those voices, say, “American
medical schools are great. You have great medical schools, too, BUT there’s a lot of
violence in South Africa. With an American M.D., you can practice anywhere in the world, blah,
blah, blah.” Well, what they don’t say is that American schools are long and expensive.
What they don’t consider is that I will be navigating the system. Wherever I
choose to be, I will be living and breathing that life every day, and maybe I don’t want
to. Regardless of powerful people’s intentions, this is not some chess game where they
are the mastermind and I am the pawn. Growing pains – I will be the one suffering from the
growing pains, and I want to choose where I will be and how I will do what I want to do.