IN LOVE WITH MY AMER­I­CAN

Ac­tress KGO­MOTSO CHRISTO­PHER, 36, talks about her FAIRY-TALE mar­riage to her Amer­i­can hus­band, their CUL­TURAL DIF­FER­ENCES and rais­ing their chil­dren in South Africa.

True Love Bride - - Cover Story | Bride - By Katleho Khoaele Pho­to­graph Jurie Pot­gi­eter

My fam­ily didn’t have any mis­con­cep­tions or con­cerns about me dat­ing a non-South African, so I was not afraid to tell them that I was dat­ing an Amer­i­can. They fell in love with my hus­band Calvin from the day they met him. He’s a hum­ble guy who is very re­spect­ful of cul­ture, specif­i­cally my cul­ture and coun­try.

Calvin and I met at a fresh­ers’ party dur­ing ori­en­ta­tion week at the Univer­sity of Cape Town. I had just ar­rived to start my first year and he had just be­gun an ex­change pro­gramme. He must have been anx­ious to ap­proach me be­cause his friend asked if he could in­tro­duce me to Calvin. When I looked over, I saw a guy who looked like he had just walked off the set of a mu­sic video or a bas­ket­ball game. He was a to­tal Amer­i­can hunk!

We took time to get to know each other and even though we were seem­ingly two very dif­fer­ent peo­ple with dif­fer­ent up­bring­ings from dif­fer­ent coun­tries, we were in­stantly com­fort­able with each other. With him be­ing Amer­i­can and me South African, we didn’t know how we would man­age a longdis­tance re­la­tion­ship, let alone mar­riage. But we were in a longdis­tance re­la­tion­ship for three years and I would visit him in the US. We made our re­la­tion­ship work be­cause we were deeply in love and wanted to progress to the next level.

THE PRO­POSAL

My fam­ily got to know Calvin very well in the six years we dated and they spent time with him at many fam­ily gath­er­ings. They had no judge­ments about him be­ing Amer­i­can. We met some of his rel­a­tives who came to visit while he was a stu­dent, and my mother was also able to visit me while I was in the US, so she got to spend time with his fam­ily.

My fam­ily couldn’t have been hap­pier when he asked me to marry him. We all knew what we were get­ting our­selves into. Calvin pro­posed while we were in the US in 2002. It was the most ro­man­tic thing when he got down on one knee on New Year’s Eve and asked me to be Mrs Christo­pher. I was over the moon! We’d al­ways known that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives to­gether and we had dis­cussed mar­riage over the years, so it was an easy de­ci­sion to make. Even though we’re from dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds, Calvin didn’t take any short-cuts and paid lobola. He started with the let­ter, which was sent by his fam­ily from the US. He then ar­ranged to have a South African fam­ily, who ‘adopted’ him when he lived in Cape Town, to come to my fam­ily for the ne­go­ti­a­tions and lobola. We also did amahlabiso and ho apesa.

It was very im­por­tant to Calvin to ful­fil the mar­i­tal rites that are im­por­tant to my fam­ily and an­ces­tors. We had a tra­di­tional wed­ding in 2003 and a white wed­ding the fol­low­ing year.

CUL­TURAL DIF­FER­ENCES

I am for­tu­nate that my hus­band is one of the most un-Amer­i­can Amer­i­cans you will ever meet. We sel­dom clash. I have spent many years in the US and the same goes for him in South Africa, so we know about each other’s cul­tures.

The mi­nor cul­tural dif­fer­ences we have ex­pe­ri­enced were at so­cial or tra­di­tional fam­ily gath­er­ings, usu­ally at wed­dings and fu­ner­als. It took him a while to un­der­stand that at such events, he couldn’t sit with the women. Now he knows that he needs to find the men and drink beer with them while the women help out in the kitchen.

Calvin and I al­ways talk about cul­tural dif­fer­ences and he asks when he is not sure to avoid con­fu­sion. In the US, it’s not con­sid­ered an­ti­so­cial to sit with a group of peo­ple then whip out a book and read while you are all chat­ting to­gether in the liv­ing room. Calvin loves read­ing and some­times, in the mid­dle of a

gath­er­ing, he would switch off and read while ev­ery­one spoke. He found noth­ing wrong with it but I found it quite of­fen­sive and an­ti­so­cial. These are the kinds of cul­tural clashes we’re able to avoid now be­cause we know each other bet­ter.

I don’t have any in­ter­est­ing or funny anec­dotes to share about my hus­band not un­der­stand­ing me when I speak in Se­sotho. Calvin is a poly­glot who speaks English, Span­ish, Man­darin, isiZulu and Se­sotho. He loves learn­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages for fun and has a nat­u­ral abil­ity for it. He was re­cently posted to Tan­za­nia for four months and came back speak­ing Kiswahili. He finds joy in learn­ing lan­guages and other peo­ple’s cul­tures.

De­spite our cul­tural dif­fer­ences, the big­gest ob­sta­cle in my mar­riage is that half of our fam­ily is on the other side of the world. Our chil­dren only see their grand­par­ents and cousins in the US when­ever we travel there. My in-laws come to visit when they can. As a fam­ily, we have to pri­ori­tise trips to the US of­ten as we want our chil­dren to know their Amer­i­can her­itage as well.

The kids re­ally en­joy spend­ing time abroad. Now that they’re older, we put them in school pro­grammes in the US. That is part of the joy of our in­ter­na­tional union. Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, I don’t live the ‘Amer­i­can dream’. I could have set­tled in the US, but my hus­band fell in love with South Africa all those years ago when we met. Liv­ing here was his choice, and he has im­mersed him­self in our cul­ture, lifestyle and lan­guages.

All these things have helped with his tran­si­tion to live here.

It was also very im­por­tant for him that we are able to raise our chil­dren as proud Africans and the only way to do that is to raise them here. This has re­ally worked out be­cause our chil­dren, Larona and Le­sika, have a strong and gen­uine love for South Africa. They are also able to con­nect to their Amer­i­can her­itage and are com­fort­able there too.

FUN AND GAMES

One of the things I love about be­ing mar­ried is the as­sur­ance that I al­ways have a buddy at home.

I have some­one whose opin­ions I re­ally trust be­cause he has my best in­ter­ests at heart. Now that our kids are grow­ing up, it is fun to have our own gang, and we en­joy our time go­ing out on fam­ily trips or hav­ing Fri­day home movie nights.

There is so much one learns in a mar­riage. Right now my kids are of­fi­cially lit­tle adults, so I’m fi­nally re­claim­ing my self­hood as an in­di­vid­ual. It’s quite nat­u­ral for a mother to be con­sumed by rais­ing lit­tle ones. I am now tak­ing ad­van­tage of their growth and learn­ing to serve my own in­ter­ests too.

When get­ting mar­ried to some­one from a dif­fer­ent coun­try, you need to take time to find out about your part­ner, his back­ground, his coun­try and his val­ues. Ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries are su­per­fi­cial. If you are kin­dred spir­its with the same val­ues, where you are is to­tally ir­rel­e­vant. Most im­por­tantly, value and re­spect your part­ner’s her­itage.

If I had to de­scribe my mar­riage in three words, they would be: ‘un­con­ven­tional’, ‘lov­ing’ and ‘fairy-tale’. There’s so much I look for­ward to in my mar­riage, but right now, I look for­ward to many more years of hap­pi­ness and love as we raise our chil­dren to­gether.

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