16 people. 3 rooms. 1 apartment. And no toilet.
Welcome to Soweto, South Africa. My home for the first 13 years of my life.
To put things in perspective, it wasn’t all terrible. Mostly, because as a young person, I had no frame of reference for living in any other manner. The community showers seemed normal to me when I was living in South Africa. The fact that we ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner didn’t strike me as odd. Putu, the rice porridge we consumed, was flavorless. But, that’s how I thought food was supposed to taste. In fact, I didn’t know food was supposed to have any flavor at all, I thought of it as medicine to stop all the headaches I would get from being hungry.
We went to bed early in Soweto. 6pm, or whenever sundown was. I realize now, though, that that was only because we didn’t have any electricity, and there was nothing to do in the dark with so many people crowded into the apartment.
Through a small government loan that my mom applied for, my family was finally able to send my father to the United States to gain employment and attempt to move our entire family there as part of an asylee program we had heard about. As a security guard at a school in California, my dad earned enough to move my mother, sister, and I to South Central Los Angeles during my 8th grade year.
Things are great now! Even though we live in poverty according to this country’s standards, the luxuries I have as a teenager are far beyond what I could have ever imagined. Especially, my room.
I have my very own room now. A place where I can talk to myself. Look at myself. Understand myself. And just be myself. Looking back, in Soweto, I didn’t consider myself to even have much of an identity. Everything we did there was communal, and for the good of the tribe.
In America, though, I am David. And I’m headed to college knowing who I am.