Zeke Went Home (Part One)

(Zeke’s story is in four parts. Don’t miss Part Two, Part Three, or Part Four!)

As he watched the kombi drive away Zeke knew he would never be happy again. Without Thando what would he do? Who would he play with? Who would climb trees with him to pick mangoes or play football from morning to night? Nothing would ever be the same now that Thando was gone. The complex would be quiet and lonely.

On the walk back to the house the tears came. He’d known they would. Goodbyes always made him cry. Why must Thando leave? Boarding school? There are schools all around us my friend. Zeke knew Thando hadn’t made the choice. Thando had cried too. It was Thando’s father who had sent him away. Babe Lushaba wanted Thando to learn his native culture with other Swati boys instead of “wasting time running around with that white boy.”

Nobody else wanted to play with the white boy either.

Zeke reached the house but did not go inside. He crouched on the grass and dug a hole in the soil with a stick.

He would make a new friend.

But two months later Zeke was still alone. He’d tried to make friends but the little ones ran from the mlungu in fright and the older ones already had their friends and hangouts. Even Spek the dog had left. Every day while Zeke’s parents worked at the mission Zeke sat alone in the house. Every day he grew sadder and more lonely. He wrote to Thando and Thando did not reply. He wrote to Thando’s father and Babe Lushaba replied and said Thando could not receive mail except once a month. Two months passed and still Thando did not write. Zeke decided to forget about Thando and stop caring about friends. But he found that he still remembered. He still cared.

Zeke needed Thando. He decided since Thando was not coming back he’d better go find Thando himself.

It wasn’t hard to begin. Zeke started walking. He knew where Thando’s boarding school was because it was big and they drove past it on the way to the airport. But after some time Zeke got scared. This was when he remembered the stories of the old python that lived on the road and the thieves who sometimes attacked people. When he reached the paved road through the township Zeke felt better. That’s when he got tired. His legs kept moving though. Thando is more important than my painful legs.

For hours he walked until he reached town. There between a stall of maize and a barbershop Zeke fell down quietly.

(Part Two is coming soon.)

Places I’ve Been and Places I’m Going

I’ve been a lot of places in sixteen years! The purple pins are the places I have been. The blue pins are the places I am going.

'm Going.
Places I’ve Been and Places I’m Going.

Places I’ve Been

Matsapha, Inkhundla Kwaluseni, Manzini, M202, Swaziland;
Houston, Harris County, Texas, United States of America;
Abilene, Taylor County, Texas, United States of America;
Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, United States of America;
Austin, Travis County, Texas, United States of America;
Edmond, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, United States of America;
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, United States of America;
Paris, Henry County, Tennessee, 38242, United States of America;
Oregon, United States of America;
Washington D.C., Washington, Washington, D.C., 20500, United States of America;
Maryland, United States of America;
Virginia, United States of America;
California, United States of America;
Kentucky, United States of America;
Washington D.C., Washington, Washington, D.C., 20500, United States of America;
North Carolina, United States of America;
Panama, Distrito Panamá, Panamá, 0833-0293, Panama;
London, Greater London, England, SW1A 2DX, United Kingdom;
Paris, Ile-de-France, Metropolitan France, France;
Rome, Roma Capitale, Italy;
Venice, Venezia, Veneto, Italy;
Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Tuscany, Italy;
Doha, 15054, Qatar;
Durban, eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, 4057, South Africa;
Pretoria, City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, Gauteng, 0001, South Africa;
Cape Town, City of Cape Town, Western Cape, 8001, South Africa;
Johannesburg, City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality, Gauteng, 2001, South Africa;
Orlando, Orange County, Florida, United States of America;
Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, United States of America

Places I’m Going

Mexico City, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City, 06060, Mexico;
Buganda, Cibitoke, Burundi;
Norway, Namsos, Trøndelag, Norway;
New York, United States of America;
Massachusetts, United States of America;

(It’s an incomplete list.)

Welcome to Earth: It’s Big.

When I was five or so my aunt called from California and said I had a ‘twang.’ I guess that’s what you get when you’re born in Abilene, Texas. Ten years later I went back to Abilene and was told, “You have a strange accent. Where are you from?”

Africa, I said: eSwatini-formerly-Swaziland. After all, I’ve grown up there and hardly remember the land of my birth.

It began when my grandparents decided to come home. They lived at African Christian College as long as I have, but “home” was the States because that is where their children and grandchildren were. My family flew across the ocean to see them. It was my first time outside the country.

My family – me, my two younger sisters, and my parents – loved our stay on the campus. We made friends. My dad taught a class.

But boy was I surprised when six months later they sat me down as said, “Ellianna, how would you like to move to Africa?” Well I’d never moved before, only read about it, but it didn’t sound too hard. Turns out it was.

I had a life in Abilene, little though it was, and I missed it. I wonder now what my life would be like if we’d stayed. I might go to public school, have a driver’s license, date someone. But in all that time my life would be so much smaller than it is. I wouldn’t have flown for 17 hours or eaten NikNaks or gathered friends from six different continents. (Twenty countries. I counted.)

I’m glad I made that trip.

Now I fly back and forth year after year. My dad’s job takes us from one side of the world to another. To me, they’re two different planets. There’s even two different Elliannas! But you can’t tell the difference unless you know them both. And that’s only me.

I’ve learned to blend in anywhere and where I can’t blend in, stand out in the best way I can. I’ve learned to make friends no matter what. I’ve learned the importance of hugs when you say goodbye. I’ve learned that not everyone is like me and that’s okay. I’ve learned that what’s strange to me is normal to others, and I’m pretty strange myself.

I’ve learned that people are… people, pretty much everywhere. (Well, at least in twenty countries.)

How To Kill a Pig

“Wen’ umfana, are you sure-sure you want to do this? I am telling you when you see this it will stay in your mind. You won’t sleep.”

“My friend, I already do not sleep. I will be fine.”

“Hah. I am telling you. I will ask your small sister – she will tell me you are screaming in the night.”

“Thank you for the warning, Simon. I am still going.”

We tramp through the thick brush to the near-empty pigsty; his gumboots flattening a clear path, I in bare feet on the lookout for snakes and broken glass. The five young men are ready. They pass out ropes and bestow the panga upon the tallest one, Lazarus.

She is the last pig, a huge sow, the end of a successful agricultural experiment. Quietly wary she stares them down, grunting softly.

Lazarus offers me the panga. “Come and h-h-help, girl.” Joking. I laugh. They would never let me near her. He turns back to the group as my friend Kurukayo comes up beside me, the dog he adopted from me following as always.

“Kuruka. How are you. Please keep my dog away from the pig.”

“Oh-oh! my sister! If he goes there the pig will eat him! It is so strong and it bites. Ah! if it gets its teeth on my arm… I don’t want to imagine.”

“Stay on this side of the fence,” I recommend.

“It will not let go…” he muses.

Now soldier-turned-pastor Grevin is going in. Rope in hand he squeezes into the waist-high house of the sow. She grunts and runs away squealing, but there is nowhere to run. They circle each other like boxers, feinting and dodging until he tackles here and ties her left hind leg with the help of Sandile. 

They release her, whether by accident or intentionally I do not know, and she runs grunting into the fenced area where the men stand ready, waiting. Each time they tackle her or scramble for the rope, she pulls away, grunting steadily but not rhythmically. When I was a child, I marveled at how loudly a lion roared. A noise so great erupting from the mouth of a creature so comparatively small! The same is true now.

My dog Max wants to take part in the fun. He dashes past us and throws himself at the wire fence, then tries to dig his way under. “Kuruka!” I cry. Max listens to him; not so much to me. Kuruka calls Max and sends him away. Max goes off a little way, disappointed. This is a hunt and he is a hunter! Why can he not join in?

Tionge seizes the sow’s rope and does not let go. He pulls this new leash tighter and tighter until he has hold of her leg. Meanwhile, Mlungisi and Sandile wrap their arms around the huge struggling body and Grevin snatches at her ear: once, twice, then he has it. She squeals. Then falls. 

Sandile plants his foot firmly on her snout. The others gather around her, holding her down with hands and feet.

“Lazido, we are ready!”

As Lazarus steps forward with the panga, I too take a step, unconsciously.


I raise my foot and examine the wound. Rough. From a root, most likely. Not glass. Blood oozes out of the cut. I wipe it away and look up.

Hesitating only a moment, Lazarus leans into the panga and begins to slice.

The sow is screaming now and a second before it happens I know the sound will change, know how it will change, and I almost cover my ears but I do not.

And the pig continues to scream as her through it separated, a gurgling grunting scream that courses through her convulsing body. Blood pours out on the ground, a feast for the circling flies. I think of my foot and nearly laugh. I was never bleeding at all!

The men shout as Sandile loses control of the still-struggling half-disconnected head and they all jump back to avoid the rain of blood but keep their grips. “Keep cutting, Lazarus!” “Sandile! Hold it!” Sandile regains control and they continue. The sow’s head is at a very strange angle now and her screams have almost diminished to moans.

I saw a man, a loerie-driver, on the road to Johannesburg and he looked like the sow. The people had cut his hands and feet almost all the way off so he flopped and twitched and moaned but could do nothing. He was naked and soaked in blood. The prostitute was there, too. They had given her the same treatment.

As Lazarus reaches the top of the head, the men release the body and jump back. “Leave her,” they say, and the last crescendo of moans and struggles ensues.

“She is still alive,” mutters Kuruka. I nod, eyes fixed on the sow. Her body heaves one last time, then she is still.

Mlungisi fetches the wheelbarrow, a casket that will carry the meat to the waiting women who will gut it, clean it, chop it up. Kuruka and I walk back to the table by the market where he works.

“My sister…” His voice is troubled. “My sister, have you ever seen men fighting with pangas?”

My friend Melo’s daddy was attacked by men with knives one Christmas day. They wanted his wallet but he said, “Ngeke!” and paid for his refusal in blood. His wife came running in tears screaming for help. His face was scarred when he took his family and left not long after.

We reach the table, sit down on its scarred wooden bench. “That is the worst thing you will ever see.” Does he mean the men? The pig? I do not know and I do not ask.

Sandile walks up and shows off the spatters of blood decorating his blue work trousers. Flies applaud. Ma’ Bulunga the gate-guard asks, “Blood?”


“Sandile, how do you kill like that? Do you sleep at night?” Kuruka is not-looking at the blood.

“Yeah.” ‘Duh’ is not a word in Sandile’s vocabulary, but his face knows it well.

Kuruka shakes his head as Sandile walks away. “To kill like that…”

We sit in silence for a while. Then I muse, “To kill a man – Kuruka, to kill a man you must see him like he is that pig. You must see his body, his neck, as porkfat, and hear his screams as the screams of a sow. This is how you kill a man.”

He looks at me. Afraid. “Yes. I have killed only chickens.”

“Me, too,” I say.

After the Last Day

It is evening, and it is the Last Day. Our suitcases stand in a row by the door. In groups come uncles who are not my mother’s brothers, aunties who are not my father’s sisters, passing in and out to wish us safe journeys.

I don’t want to live the Last Day.

I don’t want to wake up to No Day tomorrow or begin the First Day someplace hat isn’t home. But it is the Last Day.

“Hannah, it’s bedtime. Sleep well. Tomorrow we go home.” But before I fall asleep I draw a picture of my special mango tree and hide it under my mattress. I hope someone else will find it, someone else who can call this place home.

On the Last Day, I do not say goodbye. I remember when I said goodbye to my cousins and my real uncles and aunts on another Last Day, and I cried. I don’t want to cry and ruin the Last Day at home. Instead I take two Stock sweets and hide one in my secret box in my special mango tree. I give the other sweet to my best friend Themusa.

“I will come back, my friend. We will see each other soon.”

“We will meet, sister,” she says.

The States is big and loud and greasy and scary. People I don’t know smile at me and people I do know will not greet me when we cross paths. There is no shima here, my mother says, but I can’t imagine how that could be true because the grocery stores are so big. People are always talking on their phones. Sometimes they wear tiny white things in their ears and talk on the phone that way and it looks like they are talking to themselves. I thought they were like Uncle Fana, but my mother showed me the little white earpieces and explained them to me.

We stay with my grandmother for a few days. She is very happy to see us and she takes me to buy new clothes because mine are too dirty and full of holes. I am happy to get new clothes but I don’t like it when she takes away most of my old ones. I won’t let her take my Spiderman shirt, though. She says I can wear it to bed. But I take it off as soon as I lay down on the soft lumpy air mattress. My bed at home is perfect: hard and flat, not rounded like hills of beans. I miss home.

My father makes many phone calls. The First Day didn’t go as he planned. Eventually he decides we will go back to Abilene, where I was born. Maybe he can get his job back.

In Abilene, we stay with Mr. Baird. At first I would forget and call him Uncle Bird, which confused him the first time but then my parents explained it to him and now he just laughs. But I have to practice calling men “Mr.” because I only have two uncles now and they are my mother’s brothers. Mr. Baird has a beard and he talks like everyone else here in the States: he says vowels all wrong and drags out words in strange places. A sales clerk once asked my grandmother if I was adopted. She said I talk weird. I said, “No, you talk weird!” My grandmother told me to hush and explained, “She lives in Africa.” The clerk didn’t believe her.

I am very lonely in Abilene. My parents say I will start school in August. Till then, I read books from the library. There are so many books but they are about people who live in the States and talk like Mr. Baird. When I get tired of reading, I write letters to Themusa. I know they will take months to arrive. Once my grandmother sent a Valentine’s card and we didn’t get it till May.

Every day is the same.

In July, we move into our own house.

In August, I start school. But I already know what the teacher teaches and the other kids bully me, so that doesn’t last long. My parents take me to a doctor and she says keep reading, so I read.

I read stories like Little House on the Prairie. I read history books. Indaba, My Children is a beautiful book and its words sound like home. My mother says it is too old for me but it makes me happy so my father says, “Let her read.” I read. I finish it too soon.

We go to Tennessee for Christmas. My cousins don’t remember me, but I remember them. They watch a lot of TV and talk to their friends on their iPhones. They have hoverboards and a big house and dogs. They have a swimming pool.

At last I get a letter from Themusa. “I miss you Hannah,” she says. “I told my new best friend Hope all about you.”

What Am I Doing Here?

Where am I, again?

Oh, yeah. Lockdown. I’m home.

If covid hadn’t paused the world, I’d be bouncing through the States right now, waking up on a different air mattress every other week and opening my eyes to ask, “Where am I?”

But I’m home: eSwatini.

Well, I guess I’m home. I’m an American-Swati and “home” depends on who you ask. My America parents call the States “home” and my sisters and I insist that this is “home.” My friends call me an African girl and then ask when I am going “home” and what will I bring them.

So I’m a little bit of a mashup, and that’s cool, that’s fine when it’s not giving me problems. I’m a TCK and proud to be one.

(A TCK, or Third Culture Kid, is typically a kid born to parents of one culture and raised in a different culture. The kid forms their own, third culture; hence the name.)

That’s what this blog is all about! It’s about embracing the variety of my culture and experiencing the joy and pain that comes with growing up a TCK.

I hope my fellow TCKs can relate and find solace in my words.

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