Where is home for an American child in southern Africa?

Certainly not the United States where Henderson-James visited only three times before she was 16. Perhaps not even in Angola where she lived with her missionary parents, for she knew she would have to leave eventually. In this memoir of growing up in colonial Angola, the author learns five languages, goes away to school at nine, and travels 1500 miles for high school in Rhodesia.

cover final1 Where is home for an American child in southern Africa?

At Home Abroad: An American Girl in Africa

In love with Angola, she must leave when war breaks out in 1961 and find her way in an alien America, in her parent’s hometown of Tacoma, Washington.

The summer Henderson-James turned 14 she studied Umbundu, the language of central Angola, with Rebeca Valentim, an Ovimbundu friend. It was her fourth language, beginning with English, the language of her family; Portuguese, the official language of the colony; and French, the colonial language of the Congo next door.

Learning Umbundu was a lifeline, anchoring her to the culture. Her language studies were interrupted by the arrival of an Angolan orphan whom she nurtured for 5 months. Tez, the orphan, arrived a scrawny seven month old, unable to hold up her head, turn over, or smile. By the time Tez was returned to her extended family at age one, she was a sturdy toddler on the verge of walking.

For Henderson-James, understanding the language and knowing the people tied her to Angola in a way that she could never, as a teenager, be attached to her parents’ America.

22 Responses to “Where is home for an American child in southern Africa?”

  1. Hi Nancy,

    I have been listening to your live interview with Reader Views and have just ordered your book to read. I find it so interesting to hear other people’s views and experiences of other African children. I published my memoirs “Born on Friday 13th” in December 2008, and Reader Views was extremely helpful with reviews and interviews for me. I cant wait to read your book. I was born in Kenya, my great grandfather went out there in early 1900′s, as one of the first settlers, and after Independence we emigrated to South Africa and eventually moved to the UK when I was 16 in 1966, and I certainly suffered the same thing you did, fitting in with other British teenagers.

    I never could settle in England, although I am British. I lived in France for thirteen years and eventually came over to the US on 9/11, spending 5 days in Gander, NF with 10,000 others. I think of Kenya as my home, and have returned on two occasions as a tourist, and I even returned to our beautiful hotel in the Highlands, but all is so different now, and so sad. The strip of tarmac that was laid through our small village has never been re-done so the road has these occasional mounds of tarmac in the now dirt road.

    I love it here in the Virginia, with all the space; I think far more so than I like England which I always found so claustrophobic and overcrowded.

    I wish you the very best of luck with your book, and I looked at the date of your launch, would love to come to it, but unfortunately it is one of our busiest weekends of the year. I would love to meet you and maybe one day….

    Anna Murray

  2. Nancy Henderson-James says:

    Thank you for your encouraging words. This book has put me in touch with so many folks with Africa connections, a real bonus!

  3. JANE SHOAF says:

    Nan–I hate to be this late in telling you I can’t be at the book launching this afternoon. Family matters came up which require my attention, so I can’t be there for the big event. However, I want to buy your book for me to read and then pass on to my granddaughter, Brianna, age 15 who lives in RI. She’s a great reader who will devour it, I’m sure. Thanks for including me in the plans, and I know all of you will have a delightful afternoon. I hope to see you soon.
    Love, –Jane Shoaf.,

  4. miranda says:

    V interesting interview.Thankyou. In Africa the land owns the people
    In America the people own the land

  5. Nancy says:

    I like that! May I quote you?

  6. Larry Ashley says:

    Nancy:
    I’m out here in La Jolla with Chris, and we were discussing your book, so thought I’d write.
    I enjoyed the book very much. It left me with a lasting (several days) nostalgia and somehow a sense of loss. I was, several times, reminded of A.E. Housman’s elegaic and sad reflections on life love and loss. Are you a fan of his? The lines I remember best and bothered to memorize, from Poem 40:

    Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
    What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.

    This may sound negative, which I don’t mean to be, but I suggesting that the loss of things, community, people(Tez), country, home etc with which you deal so directly were the dominant character of my experience of your book.

    Write some time. I feel reconnected. Chris would like to hear from you as well.
    We are both also saddened by the loss of Ki. Hope you are all accommodating to her absence.
    Larry

  7. Annah-Pauline Ferguson-Buxcey says:

    Congratulations!! Looking forward to seeing you at the Angola Reunion in July and buying and reading your book. I am sure it will bring back a lot of memories of my own from Angola and from my own adjustments when coming to Canada suddenly at the age of 15 years due to my father’s illness. I see Angola as my homeland and yet feel I really belong in Canada now which I also love. My husband I know will read your book too. He was suddenly brought to Canada when 11 years from England and had to adjust to a country that “talked funny” and to leave his precious Grandparents who had raised him until 7 years of age. He is also a writer and working at his first novel. See you soon. Annah

  8. Page After Page Bookstore says:

    Greetings from Page after Page Bookstore! We would love to have you come to our store to discuss and sign your book ” At Home Abroad: An American Girl in Africa”. Please contact us to schedule.

    Thanks

  9. Guerra says:

    Hello Nancy,
    I am Guerra, an Angolan national residing in the United States, and I am the Executive Director of SHAREcircle (SHARE). SHARE is working on establishing a university in Kuito city, the capital of Bie province of Angola. One of the volunteers from one of our university project commitees brought your book to my attention, and I am looking forward to reading it, and she advised that I contact you. Therefore, I was wondering if there would be a way we could communicate. I enjoyed learning that, in addition to other languages, you can speak Umbundu.
    More information about SHARE and its university project is available at http://www.sharecircle.org and http://www.angolauniversity.org, respectively.
    Best wishes!

  10. This is a gorgeous site that draws one closer and closer to the story and the experience of those reading her story. Hope to attending a reading soon. Especially enjoyed Pat Schneider’s description, but then she was my teacher and is such a spiritual expression of life herself.

  11. Nancy says:

    Thank you all for the words of support. The reading at the Regulator on August 25 drew a large crowd of people full of questions. Check out the Upcoming Events for a reading near you.

  12. Courtney says:

    Nancy,

    I had the good fortune to read your book while spending a few days in NC with Pam W and Sally R. The sharp imagery you used to describe the haunts of your childhood enabled me to see, hear, smell, taste and touch places I have never visited. But mostly, I was moved by your story and your courage.

    Congratulations on your book and best wishes for continued connections with others who read it.

    Courtney

  13. Nancy says:

    Good to hear from you, Courtney. At a Congo reunion a couple of weeks ago, I met a man who turned out to have lived in the same hostel in Southern Rhodesia as I did, but he arrived right after I left. We reminisced about living with the Gleggs.

  14. karol neufeld says:

    Hi, Nancy. I just ordered two books using my husband’s Paypal account. I’m excited about getting to read At Home Abroad since I feel as if “I knew you when.” I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to any of your appearances, but perhaps our paths will cross yet. Congratulations on the success of your book!

  15. Karen Kemling Tullos says:

    Hi Nancy,
    My sister Ruthanne loaned me your book to read and what a flood of memories it brought back. How cool to read a book that has me in it! Even though I grew up in Mozambique (Portuguese East Africa)my experiences were so very much like yours when I returned to USA and the experience affected my personality in similar ways. I returned to USA when I was sixteen also. It had to be much more difficult for you since you were sent away to boarding school at such a young age. We didn’t go until we were 12 or 13. That made a big difference. Also, our folks didn’t return to Africa and leave us behind. They had planned to but apparently (I didn’t find this out until later) Mom told Dad that she couldn’t leave us behind and if he felt he had to return she would stay in America with her children. He wasn’t willing to do that so they ended their missionary service after 2 terms. I have lost touch with all the kids I knew at AMF–Mary Seager, Barbara Schaad, David and John Persons, Melvin and Jerry Noah, Terry and Melden Houser,Kenny Enright and Graham and Rosemary (don’t remember their last name) from Australia. We left Africa in 1963 just as things were getting heated up all over. I have never been back.

  16. Nancy says:

    I’ve often thought about the Kemlings and wondered where they were. I’m very glad to hear from you.

  17. Lloyd Paul says:

    Hello Nancy: I received a copy of your email from Kate Rodd.
    It is great to read your website and to make a connection with someone who has
    lived in Angola. I am giving leadership to Men’s Ministries with the United Church of Canada and presently we are promoting the Dondi Project, building a school in Lutamo. Thanks for putting our YouTube on your site.
    We are raising 1 million dollars and are working closely with Luis Samicumbi and the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola.
    I live in Toronto. Where are you living? I look forward to continuing opportunities to communicate with you.
    Blessings
    Lloyd Paul

  18. Nancy says:

    Dondi was the epicenter of UCC work in Angola, a jewel of a mission. It will be wonderful to see it begin to be restored to use.

  19. Daniel Chipenda says:

    Hey, are you really Lawrence W. Henderson’s daughter?
    i am so happy to find you. well, my name is Daniel Chipenda, i am the grandson of Daniel Julio Chipenda wich is the son of Jesse Chiula Chipenda wich your father wrote a book about him, named: ‘Development and the Church in Angola: Jesse Chipenda the Trailblazer.’
    My father and my grandfather used to talk a lot about your father and tell me stories about him.

    Please contact me i’ld like to talk a little bit more about these.

    My e-mail is: ‘laton90@hotmail.com’ or ‘Daniel-chipenda@hotmail.com’

    Greetings!

  20. Daniel Chipenda says:

    well, i am living in Portugal now, i came to Portugal 2 years ago, i lived in Angola untill my 11th year of age, and then i went to South Africa and to Namibia where i learned how to speak English, and every now and then i used to go to Angola for holidays. I’m living with my mother and my brother, my father is still in Angola.

    i’m 17 years old, i’m in High school doing grade 10, the reason why i’m still late in school is because i had to stay 1 year learning english in order to speak and to study in Namibia, and when i came to Portugal, they delayed me 2 year at school. So now i have to catch up and be the best at what i do in order to get a scholership to study in your country U.S.A, that is my dream.

    I think you will love Angola, it’s very different now, i mean, really different because the 1975 war destroyed the country but now it’s okay, is beautiful and the people are amazing there!

    Now i am in holidays, and i still don’t know if i am going to Angola for holidays or not, and i hope to go so we can all meet each other.

    My number in Portugal is 00351965862492

  21. Nelson Lourenco says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Are you Lawrence W. Henderson’s daughter?
    I’m Nelson Lourenco, the son of Sequeira Joao Lourenco. My father used to work with your father back in Angola during colonial times in Bie province – at Chissamba hospital. Your father wrote a book ” Angola- Five Centuries of Conflict (Africa in modern world) where he cited some of my father’s memoirs. My parents always used your parents as good references, and they told us so many good stories about your father. If you live in the US or elsewhere, I’d like to be able to speak with you on the phone anytime soon. I went to school in the U.S at Indiana University, Bloomington, in Indiana. I’m an economist working for an Oil and Gas Company. So, I now live in the U.S in Houston, Texas, with my wife and children. My contact is + 832-316-5344
    Please call or send me your contact telephone so that we can talk about our parent’s good
    legacies they they left us, such as education and good principles.
    Look forward to hear from you soon.

    Best regards,
    Nelson
    In Houston

  22. Billy Matoquissa says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for the book.I enjoyed the reading…it brought back some good memories
    I am from Lobito,Angola.Residing in Irland.
    Again a big thanks to you,family and to all the missionaries who have done good work in Angola,Africa.

    God bless

    Billy Matoquissa

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