Malynnda Littky-Porath

We are all from Africa

On an awkward moment involving a shared complexion and a failure of connection

I am not as nice as I thought I was. Well, technically, I have a deep understanding that I’m not particularly pleasant. But since I try very hard to have others like me, it is always something of a disappointment when I learn that someone has seen through the facade.

This week, I went to lunch at a local café, where I was served by a cashier who looked and acted like Jason Biggs from American Pie, and who told me that I should have asked for the English menu in English, although he wasn’t able to understand us when my companion and I asked for the English menu in Hebrew.

The café is a continual source of minor annoyance for me, since they ask for your name when you buy your meal, and announce it over the loudspeaker when it’s time to collect your plate. It feels like a recipe for developing an eating disorder because I can see people craning their necks to judge exactly what I’ve selected.

Dang, honey. You need to lay off of the sweet potatoes and stick with the quinoa. Two finger snaps with a headroll.

The boy (now that I’ve turned 40, I’ve decided that anyone under 25 is officially to be given that moniker) said I have a nice name, and when I replied that I couldn’t exactly take credit for it, he told me that I should, since at least I didn’t change it. So that took a little of the edge off when they lost my companion’s order, and then, after 15 minutes, served him his salad with a hair in it. I told my friend to consider it an organic source of fiber.

Having thoroughly enjoyed both my salad (I did go with the quinoa; thank you for asking, Ms. Headroller) and the small drop of angst suffered by my friend, I rushed back to the office to place my leftovers in the fridge. Upon entering the break room, I said hello to the Ethiopian cleaning lady and went to put away my food. The cleaning lady cleared her throat and I looked up to see if I had done something to impede her task of making the cafeteria look as though it had not just been attacked like in that scene from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

“Are you from Africa?” she asked politely.

“Err… no,” I stammered. “Wait. Yes. Kind of…”

Okay. My workplace cultural training gleaned from decades of working in corporate America had not prepared me for this. How do you reference your African heritage from 200 years ago without sounding like a complete ass when speaking to someone whose family probably walked across the desert from Ethiopia 20 years ago?

I shrugged. Hey, this is Israel, right?!

“You know, um, I’m from Africa the long hard way… slavery and all. Whatcha gonna do?”

She nodded. And then she added, a little forlornly, “I just wondered, because this is the first time you said hi to me.”

Um, what? Oh no. Realization slowly dawned on me.

“Yeah, usually you just rush in and out.”

In my head, I said a word that I tell my kids is fudge, whenever they overhear me say it out loud.

“Oh wow… I am so totally sorry. I get so busy and when I’m in here, I am in such a hurry, my mind is just totally scattered! Like right now, I’m just on my way back from lunch, so I have to get back. But really nice talking with you!”

I ran away from the break room like I had just laid a huge fart. A stinky eggy one. Because, in truth, hadn’t I? Not only did I ignore this poor girl, when I was one of the few faces that looked even halfway close to hers that she would see during the day, but even worse, I don’t remember seeing her before, at all! Oops.

I felt horrible. My friends all consoled me that I wasn’t nearly as bad a person as I thought I was. Well, except my one friend who agreed I was a terrible person, but proceeded to give several better reasons for why that was the case. Still, later that night, while I was hanging out with a friend, someone asked if I was from Ethiopia. I paused and said, “No. But I am from Africa.”

Because in a way, aren’t we all?

About the Author
Malynnda Littky made aliyah to Israel with her family in 2007 from Oak Park, Michigan. Her recent stay in Paris, enjoying both medical tourism and her new status as the trophy wife of a research economist, has renewed her love for Israel, despite arriving just in time to enjoy several weeks of lockdown.