What’s your immigration story?
I was a Track & Field athlete in South Africa, and a massage therapist and holistic healer. I randomly met a U.S. Olympic long jumper, Joe Green. This is how the stars align. He said, “I want you to work on me.” So I came to the U.S. three times and we’d go to the U.S. Track & Field Championships where he was competing. There I met a chiropractor who offered me a job. I said, “But I live in South Africa.” Every year he’d ask me again. One year I was in the States and decided to go online because I was bored. I looked at the Green Card Lottery and thought, “I’ll just email a bunch of lawyer companies.” I chose the lawyer company through a series of events, synchronicity. I got their name from my mom who got it through people living in S.A. and also won a Green Card. I called them and they said, “You already emailed us.” So the universe was showing me a picture and I was supposed to choose them.
I won my Green Card in the Lottery and that’s how I came over in 2000. Even after you win it you have to go through a lot of interviews and paperwork. One of the things I needed was a letter of employment. I called the chiropractor. He had met me literally three times in my entire life and knew exactly who I was. He said, “Sure, I’ll write the letter.”
My personal immigration story is easy compared to a lot of people. Every year the U.S. puts like 50,000 Green Cards in a lottery. Certain countries are allowed to enter and each year they change the amounts. So South Africa might be allowed 50 people and England could be 500, and the next year it could be the other way around.
How did you end up in San Diego county?
I’m Aquarius. I don’t know what’s gonna happen; I just have ideas. I didn’t really pick the U.S. I think it picked me. I love Europe and I would rather live in Europe if I had the opportunity, to be honest. Spain would be nice. My husband says, “But Spain has no money.” I would love to move back to Switzerland.
I think even San Diego picked me. Events brought me to this place. I was working for the chiropractor in Eugene, Oregon. I stayed there for four months. Then I heard about seasonal depression and I said, “That doesn’t sound like fun.” So I went back to S.A. I was supposed to come back straight away but I broke my foot. So I wound up staying a little bit longer. I had a friend in S.A. who knew people who lived in San Diego. He called them to see if I could stay with them. So I came to San Diego and worked for a South African company that’s based in Vista.
I came to San Diego just after 9/11. I was supposed to fly on the 13th of September. That was an interesting time to fly into the United States. Literally everyone was strip searched. It took hours to go through the airports. I eventually came on either the 19th or the 16th. In the afternoon of 9/11 a guy had come for appointment and said, “A crazy thing just happened. A plane crashed in the United States.” By the time I was finished with him, it was an hour and a half later and I had 20 messages. I was having a going away party that night and everyone was like, “Are you still going?” I was gonna fly through London but then I would’ve had to stay in the airport for five days until the flights started again. That didn’t sound like fun. So I rearranged that.
Then I left for six months and went to Switzerland. I was hating it here. The people seemed crazy. The culture is so different. I came from working in a healing environment to a corporate-America office. I had never before sat in front of a computer for eight hours a day, nor had a boss. I had always been self-employed. Having a boss was horrendous.
Now I work at home and I’ve just started a company with three other people. I literally refuse to go into an office. There are many reasons pertaining to energetics. Imagine 20 people and everyone’s having different hormonal imbalances and you’re all stuck in an office in a small space.
I would say it varies a lot with place. In Eugene, the people are amazing and lovely. They stand up to what they say they’re gonna do. In San Diego, people don’t stick to their word. I come from a country of people who say they’re gonna do something and actually do it. My husband is from Switzerland. There, if people say they’re gonna meet you at 10 o’clock, they meet you at 10 o’clock. Or they’re there early. The California flakiness seems to be contagious. Once people move here, they think, “Oh well, everyone’s like that.”
Why didn’t you want to stay in South Africa?
S.A. is a very unstable country because it’s the strongest and richest country in Africa and there’s a lot of influx from other countries. Even when I was still living there, there was a lot of poverty and crime. The crime has shifted from political crime to poverty-based crime. Political crime is like, “Because you’re white and I’m black, I’m gonna shoot you.” I remember taking my husband home with me to S.A. and we were laying bed at night and we heard machine gun shots.
These days crime is based on poverty. SABC is the broadcasting company for South Africa. The anchor was getting ready to read the news from a street location. He’s an African man, you can see the lights shining on him, there are cars in the background. Then you see two African guys walk behind him, then one crosses back and they’re like, “Get down! Get down!” The anchorman still has his mic on and he says, “We’re getting robbed!” And this is on national TV. They filmed it, even the guys’ faces. They interviewed the anchorman and he was shaking.
The saddest story for me is about a reggae singer named Lucky Dube. He was a freedom fighter and all his songs are about peace. He was dropping his kids off at a friend’s house, minding his own business, and two or three guys, I think they said they were Zimbabwean, hijacked him and killed him. That was the second time I heard about xenophobia in S.A. It was probably a random killing and they didn’t even know who he was. That’s when I knew we really had a problem.
Talk a little about the race relations that you grew up with.
From my personal experience, I’m English speaking, so we never really spoke about it in school. I didn’t know that there was a problem in the country. My parents never talked about it, no one in school talked about it. Supposedly in Afrikaans-speaking schools (Afrikaans is a Dutch dialect,) they talked about it. When I was doing Track as a kid I was a pretty fast runner and so were some of the Afrikaans girls. But even if I came in second or third, they would only put me as a reserve, like I was like a lower-class citizen because I’m English [speaking.] They never cared about spelling my name right. I didn’t get to run in provincial meetings because I was always put on the bench.
In my high school, we had a couple of Coloured kids and a couple of Indian kids. (Coloured’s not what you guys here in the United States think it is. This is like where you go to the DMV and that’s a box you can check. Just like Sutu or Zulu. [Coloureds are mixed-race, of mixed ancestry.]) But there weren’t any black kids. I just figured that we live here and they live there. I never really knew about Apartheid at all, to be honest. I think I’m dumb not to have known about it.
In college, it was mixed-race straight away. I remember thinking, “Where were all these kids? Why weren’t they in school with me?” In track we’d run all together. I had one good friend that I trained with. It was okay by then to be friends with a black person. But we never congregated outside of our training. During that time, Mandela was coming out. (I graduated from High School in 1990.) It was an interesting time for change.
What’s something about South African culture that you miss?
One thing we used to do a lot is go to coffee shops. But it’s not like Starbucks where you meet someone quick. And it’s not common to go in, buy a coffee and walk out with it. If you go in, you’ll sit for hours drinking coffee and eating cake. Maybe that turns into a drink later. I miss being able to say to friends, “Let’s just go to a coffee shop.” The culture there is more laid-back and we have more time for friends. Here everyone works and works for just two weeks of vacation. In S.A. and Europe, having time with family and off work is important.
[Later Belinda wrote me this Facebook message (FYI The spelling of Afrika is from the Afrikaans language):
There is nothing like stepping on African soil. It feels like home. Everytime I step off an airplane onto African soil, I just want to kiss the Earth. My soul feels home. I miss the people. African culture is so beautiful- the singing, the language, the differences between tribes, their beliefs. The thread that ties all Africans together is the continent, Mama Afrika.]
I also miss people being on time. I was brought up to be five minutes early to everything.
When you go to the California DMV what box do you check?
I always want to put African-American because I believe that I am truly African-American. But that’s who I think I am. According to my skin color, I check “White.”
** Want to hear Belinda’s accent? She’s a yoga teacher at the new White Peacock Yoga studio in Encinitas. I promise that her class is time well spent.