That Dirt Road – My Name is…

My name is Andrea. Andrea Avinger. No, I am not telling you. I’m practicing what I am going to say when I get to the end of this dirt road. I am not sure who or what I am going to find at the end of this dirt road. The people I left here, the ones who gave me away 23 years ago, they are long dead now. But they left other people behind, and that’s who I am likely to find when I get there.

I don’t know what else I am going to say once I’m done with ‘My name is Andrea Avinger.’

My mum, Pauline Conley was raised a Southern Belle in Lexington, South Carolina. She left her hometown to major in English & Comparative Literature at Wellesley College just west of Boston, Massachusetts. While she was there she met a young woman named Magnolia Avinger who became her closest friend during their years in college.

Magnolia introduced Pauline to her doctor cousin Adam. Adam Avinger was living a life halfway between his father’s practice in Boston and volunteer medicine in Africa. Magnolia thought it was ‘just grand’, and so did Pauline Conley. They were married within a year of my mother’s graduating from Wellesley and a week later they took off for Nairobi, Kenya where my father was posted by AMREF.

My dad, Adam Avinger was a doctor, an exceptional one I am told. My mother confided in me a few years ago that my father was obsessed with his work. It is probably the reason they eventually divorced when I was 9.

My mum always insisted that the best thing they did during the time they were together was adopt me. Their little black baby.

After the divorce, my dad relocated to South Africa. My mum and I remained in Nairobi but my dad would visit every few weeks. His job with AMREF made it easier for him to fly in nearly every month.

My parents loved me. I knew that they both loved me even when they divorced. I knew that they both still loved me when they both remarried. My mum married a nice Kenyan man who was a lawyer and later became a politician. My dad married a rather nice but somewhat bigoted British South African lady.

In spite of my parents’ love and support, I still had issues with the fact that I was different. There has never been a moment that shines more strongly on my ‘difference’, than the moment when I have to introduce myself to someone new.

See, if I was to tell you my name, and well, you were American, or British, or Jamaican or you came from any one of those places where black people can have English names, you probably would not even think much about it.

But if you are Kenyan, you’ll probably say, ‘Nice to meet you.’ And because my accent is distinctly Kenyan, you will be wearing a look on your face that will tell me you assume I married a white man. You’ll probably wonder for a moment why I don’t embrace my ‘african-ness’ by bearing my African name first before acknowledging my husband.

I don’t have a husband. My surname is not my husband’s. It is my parents’ surname; my dad’s surname to be precise. These days my mum’s name is Pauline Avinger-Gikandi. If we got to know each other well enough, I’d probably tell you about my parents and my step-parents. In the course of explaining all of that, I’d probably tell you that my parents adopted me.

It always seems like a long road, explaining myself. I wish I could just say ‘Andrea Avinger’ and leave it at that. But even when people are not asking questions about it, I find myself explaining who I am. The thing is, up until a few days ago, I thought I knew who I was.

The woman who gave birth to me died during childbirth. She never identified my father. After her death, and with the realization that they were extremely ‘poor’, her parents delivered me to a mission church where I lived for a few months with a hundred other children whose parents had either died or had abandoned them. I would probably have lived there for the rest of my childhood except I had a congenital heart defect that landed me in a Free Heart Clinic for children.

To be continued…

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