I. I attended the American International School of Johannesburg for the latter part of high school (*I went to three high schools) where I was one of only a handful of South African students.
Of the 54 countries represented in our community, the United States was dominant. I often say that American adolescent socialization mores were imported onto our campus; we had “homecoming” and “prom,” and we played sports against other American international schools in the region in lieu of getting to know young people from schools just beyond our walled garden. We used American textbooks, wore Made in USA sports uniforms and followed a September to June school calendar.
Spending my days in an American bubble in my own home was certainly strange; I was a local who was more often than not the only South African my peers knew. This put me on a three-year defensive against complaints about slow internet, terrible cable TV, backwards pop culture, awful rap music, and “no Burger King” among other things dismally wrong with living in South Africa as a foreigner. There was the larger issue, too, of being a black African and therefore not the same kind of black (*the wrong sort) as my African-American classmates who called Atlanta, Newark and Houston home.
II. Like most teenagers, we’d stand around during lunch break sharing headphones, exchanging mixes and talking about upcoming house parties and elaborate lies to tell our parents so we could drink vodka and Red Bull in peace. When Mya’s Case of the Ex came out I’d just transferred from the International School in Harare. I was a loner for a day or two until my friend Thandeka snapped me up, making me part of her crew – three black American girls and one Portuguese-Mozambiquan. We’d situate ourselves within earshot of our counterpart group of black boys (The Morehouse Three Fifths, because three out of five of those young men would go on to attend Morehouse College). They’d been playing dating musical chairs with Thandeka and company since before my time at AISJ. In fact Mya’s single and I appeared just in time for a cheating scandal between the two groups. The Real Case of theEx.
III. I was always the odd one out in Chuck Taylor’s, my dad’s old work trousers, braids and Art Swag. I was the puzzling one, although I was once told that being Alt made me “the hottest black girl at school” (<— I shan’t dissect that any further, but I will vehemently disagree). I’d play the part sometimes and borrow low cut jeans from my friend, Filipa like in the Mya video. It never ended well though; I got all the more flack for batting my eyelashes at the only skater in school (we held hands at the movies, he now makes beats for a very famous rapper — ie. “Sarah’s coming, act like a skater who smokes weed”). Low cut jeans also meant being bombarded with taunts about my “fatty” which, for the record, none of those boys ever got to go near.