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.
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.