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.

At Home Abroad: An American Girl in 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.

19 thoughts on “Where is home for an American child in southern Africa?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.


  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Hi Nancy,
    I cannot wait to read your book!!
    I still cherish the stool you brought back from Africa and gave to me!!!
    While I did not grow up abroad, I have lived in a couple of other countries for a few years each, and for whatever reason the USA has never really felt like “home” to me – and so it will be interesting exploring your voyage and your insights.

  8. Wow, this is a nice surprise. My last memory of getting together was in Brooklyn in 1973. I’d love to catch up. Did you want me to send you a book or are you getting it in another fashion?

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