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.
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.
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.
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.