Fitting In.

Growing up, I never felt like I fitted in. I thought I had been delivered to the wrong address. How could I be so different?

I was the plump, spotty, unacademic one in an extremely sporty, driven and achieving family.

So, I grew up as an outsider, looking in on life, looking at life from a distance, observing, watching. I buried myself in the love of books and the love of animals. I was seen as “the complex one”, the troubled one.

Later in life, I became a political activist. It amounted to “leaving the fold” of my established culturescape.

When doing my honours thesis at University, I interviewed unionists on the Cape flats, the more impoverished areas of Cape Town. Hidden behind the dunes, far from the glamourous seafront of the tourist areas.

I saw a slice of life I had never encountered before. I saw life as it truly was for millions of people. Carrying water. Living in shacks between the sandy lanes. Twenty-three people sharing a tiny two-bedroom flat in a tenement block in Lavender Hill. Sleeping shifts. Trying to provide for their families in a culture dominated by gangs. Not being able to go out at night.

But they remained smiling. Their humour was always bubbling beneath the suffering. An effervescence I had not encountered before. It taught me so much about life.

And then I met a man. His name was John Ernstzen. He was a trade unionist.

We spoke for three hours. Unfiltered. Our stories tumbled out of our souls.

He had grown up pale-skinned in a dark-skinned family. In the height of apartheid, he was classified coloured and yet often mistaken for a young “white boy” but his family were all dark skinned.

He knew what it was like to straddle two worlds. To not feel like he “fitted in”. He watched, he observed. He thought above life. We were kindred spirits from two different worlds.

He offered me a job. I felt understood; I felt seen, and above all, I saw. I saw a world I had never encountered. I saw the narrowness of my privileged background. So much I had taken for granted. So many opportunities effortlessly afforded me. Unconscious, unspoken, unknowing.

But now I knew. Now I had seen, and I could not unsee.

And so, I worked under John for seven long years of seeing life. Seven long years of laughing, of crying, of forming deep relationships.

Seven years of growing up and out growing an inherited identity.

Now I am a sporty, entrepreneur, a speaker, a writer and a mindset coach.

But it started with seeing.

Thank you for tribing with me.

Alison Weihe

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