Amy, a dear friend from Miami who recently visited us in Johannesburg shared with me that when some of her African American co-workers found out she was traveling to South Africa they said “you are going to the motherland!”. This struck a chord as I realized that my connection to Southern Africa has turned maternal as well, for it is here that destiny had me give birth to my first child, a daughter.
After experiencing pregnancy and now motherhood in the “motherland”, I feel that I have been privileged to don new lenses through which I view this newest chapter of my life. I would describe this process a little like falling in love and feeling my feet on the ground here, for the first time.
This grounding occurs a little bit more each time I step into our garden, holding my daughter, feeling the sun on our faces. We sit, in silence, and it is like a blanket of snow has fallen. I look at her and watch her smile when she hears the loud caw of the hadeda (Egyptian ibis).
When I was having a hard time adjusting to the reality of my firstborn being born outside of Israel, a good friend challenged me: “if you dont find your roots here, how will you be able to connect to your African-born baby?” I spent most of my pregnancy deep in my thesis and the rest of the time trying to locate the access point to which I could connect to this land.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my father, who spent some of his childhood living deep in the jungles of Liberia. My sisters and I grew up on stories about riding pet donkeys and swimming away from white alligators and giggled endlessly when our father would sing-song to us in a language of clicking noises. He told us that he was called “Jungle Joe” at school- he and his younger brother David being the only ‘whities’ around. We of course thought that these stories were over-the moon outrageous, even better than any fairytale.
My grandfather, Saba Moshe, was sent to Liberia by the newly established state of Israel on a friendly diplomacy mission. His construction team was responsible for building infrastructure- roads and schools and hospitals. My Savta Trude, a child-survivor of Aushwitz, was a mother in Africa too.
The chasidic masters teach us that the places we are drawn to in this world- we are drawn to in order to reclaim pieces of our souls. Having a baby has anchored me to this land, and allowed me to rediscover these African roots by reconnecting me to my own families circle of life.
My African-born daughter, Oriana Saphira, whose name means “my sapphire light has answered”, is a tremendous blessing. She is gentle and loving and every sweet breath she exhales holds the newness of experience. And her laugh…well you will just have to come for a visit and hear it for yourself.
My Savta Trude, May Her Memory Be a Blessing, who never had a daughter, would have loved Oriana Saphira. She sits with us on the grass each morning, the sun caressing our faces, and we laugh together as Oriana Saphira wiggles her toes into the earth.