Sofia, you’re beautiful

It’s the end of the third week in Sofia, Bulgaria. We are past the 100-day mark as this is Month 4 of our Remote Year journey. Sofia is very different from Rabat (our destination, last month) in many ways. Although for many of my RY peeps Morocco was way too rough, I felt right at home. It was so close to 1 of my homes (KENYA), the busy medina (Jemma el-fnaa) reminded me of Maasai market, and I saw more people who looked like me than I have in the entire trip (thus far).

Last weekend, 7 friends and I went on a writers retreat an hour away from Sofia. We got to write and share some of our work with each other. With all the shenanigans going on in America right now, and from watching an interview of the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I feel like I should share with you all a little bit of what I wrote over the last weekend.

I don’t remember how I found out that I was black

Was it all at once that I realized I was black? Was it a gradual change? Was it the first day of school? Perhaps it was when my parents often talked about how it was to work with white people. I think it was when every interaction that I would hear about differentiated everyone by the color of their skin. When my sister would say ‘my white coworkers’ and my mind wondered why she mentioned that they were white. When I realized that we aren’t just students, daughters, and humans.

It must’ve been on the first day of high school. It was probably when I opened my mouth and my singy songy voice with the Kenyan British accent, that I didn’t realize I had, uttered those words. Hi I’m immaculate, I’m a new student.

That was the first time I was questioned about my name; both first and last. That was when I was quickly led down a hallway to a classroom that said ESL. Without any explanation or accord, I found myself sitting between another black girl and an Asian girl. It was in the ‘ice breaker’ event that I realized that I had been put with people who didn’t speak English very well. I got out of ESL by writing an eloquent paper on why I shouldn’t be there in the first place. How fucked up is it, though, that there was no test or anything that placed me in ESL other than my accent!?

It was then that I started to understand the differences. It was when I talked to someone who looked like me but sounded like the black people I saw on TV. It must’ve been when she uttered that I was nothing like her, but that I was FOB. It was then that I further realized that I wasn’t just black, but I was the wrong black. I was reminded that the kind of black that I was, was the kind that was made fun of in movies. You’ve all seen it: poor, uneducated, caricatures of people. It was when I had to answer questions like ‘did you live in huts’, ‘did you come over here by boat’, ‘do you ~even~ wear clothes where you’re from’ from the blacks that looked like me.

It was then that I understood they wanted the separation between my kind of black and their kind of black. It was a snowy winter in Minnesota. The whiteness and coldness I was experiencing, for the first time ever, made me have to live in a world where I was reminded that I was black but not just black, the black that wasn’t cool. 

I further realized even the other Africans who were the ‘bad kind of black’ like me, did not want to be my kind of bad kind of black. I was cornered in the you are this particular kind of bad kind of black that is not like any of the other bad kind of black that is around you. Imagine my shock when the white people lumped me into the African-American group, the African-Americans lumped me into the Africans, the Africans further lumped me into the Kenyan group.

Imagine my shock when someone would talk to me and ask me a question about being African-American. I remember the first time I experienced racism. I had finally realized that I was black but I knew that I wasn’t the kind of black that they thought I was. However, they treated me like the other kind of black that I wasn’t. I remember actually saying that ‘you can’t be mean to me because I’m not black, go find an African American to be mean to because those aren’t my people’.

I quickly realized that I was going to have to suffer numerous times in the newly found blackness. I would suffer being Kenyan, being African, and being African-American. For once, all the Kenyans I knew, cared less about their tribes than I had ever seen before. Somehow this animosity we were all facing from the outside united us. Lo and behold, the stereotypically ‘greedy kikuyus’ were my friends, the ‘boisterous Luo’ was my crush, and the ‘fast running Kalenjin’ was the second slowest in my class but also my friend. I was turned inside out. I had so many new realities to balance out that I didn’t realize, probably until this moment, just how scarring it all was.

I was 14 when I moved to the States. This was written in my 14-year-old voice. Don’t get it twisted, it’s not that I didn’t know I was black, I just never needed to be reminded that I was. In Kenya, everyone around me was black so we had other things to differentiate us, such as our tribes.

In case you were wondering, I support Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee. This is because as a veteran (6 years in MNARNG), this is the freedom we are referring to when we say the Soldier’s creed. Specifically “I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.” The other (hopefully OBVIOUS) reason is that I am black in America {not at this moment but you get it}. Systemic racism and injustice, unfortunately, doesn’t care that I’m Kenyan. I’m past trying to differentiate which kind of black I am. If I tell you that I’m being treated unfairly, the least you could do is listen. DO NOT TRY TO CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. This just makes me MAD.

TL;DR  Just because you’re 8395km {~5216.411 miles} from home, doesn’t mean that issues at home don’t affect you anymore. Morocco made me homesick & Bulgaria is great! I can count how many POC I’ve encountered in Sofia, so far. I recommend a visit. 

Thanks for reading. 

Indeed, I am.

Outside the Alexander Nevsky cathedral
Drinking from the mineral water springs in Sofia
Welcome party with lovely traditionally dressed Bulgarian women
Cool thing I saw in Sofia
Escape room in Sofia

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Edna O says:

    wonderfully written piece love!


  2. Cyprian says:

    Wonderfully written, I was so intrigued didn’t want you to stop. You hit on all the issues Kenyans face in America


  3. I hope you’re enjoying Sofia! I arrived to this beautiful city almost 3 months ago, to work and live here. It was my first time travelling abroad. I came first and then my girlfriend came as well. We are portuguese and I have never been so happy in my life. I never felt so welcome in my whole life. It was the best thing I ever did! I would like to know where is that “Escape Room” in Sofia? and what is it exactly?


    1. That’s awesome Luis! I loved Portugal when I spent a month there. The escape room is called Questomania {ul. “Pirotska” 20, 1000 Sofia}. If you visit their site, it gives you the details of what it is. Here’s the link Good luck!


  4. moraa says:

    lovely piece……reminds i am going to be black in Nz. i miss you


    1. Thank you! I hope it helps you navigate the complexities in NZ


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