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Reflections

I think you are what your roots are. . . . I feel I am in transit.

September 29, 1987|PERRY C. RIDDLE

When she was a girl in Rhodesia, Megan Timothy's curiosity drew her to the United States. She has been in Los Angeles for 25 years, but her thoughts still draw her back to her homeland. Timothy runs La Maida House, a North Hollywood inn.

Growing up in Rhodesia was idyllic. I never wore shoes until I was in my teens. I had to at school, which was a bit of a drag. As a kid, I would ride bareback through the African bush, anywhere I wanted to go. I just lived wild, it was just incredible. I lived in a tiny village that had about a thousand people. My father built our house and made the furniture, and my mama upholstered everything.

There were no fences. The farm was up to that big rock and over to that tree. I guess it was a lot like the Old West was here. In our town, we had several streets named after American scouts and trackers. When things got too restricted over here, a lot of them went to southern Africa. My family had been in Africa since the late 1600s. They probably stole someone's chickens and were exiled.

I had been looking at American movies all my life. We used to watch in a tobacco barn on weekends. We sat on the bales. Everyone used to come from all around the township. There weren't any big windows, so you smelled the curing tobacco, which was a very nice smell actually. Then you added the local Africans, who had a very earthy sweaty smell. Then the European ladies used to come in wearing a perfume called "Evening in Paris," which was horrendous. So you got this mixture of all these people jammed into this barn and humid weather of about 90. Let me tell you, you had to be born to it to get through the movie.

There were Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter flickering around on the crumbling wall. I just fell in love with Roy Rogers. Then later, when I was a teen-ager in the 1950s, all the stuff like hula hoops, bobby sox and Elvis Presley came over. I had to see what America was all about.

I got to New York when I was 21, and it scared the life out of me. I looked up and I got this terrible claustrophobia, because I couldn't see the sky. In Africa, you see sky like in the Midwest. I stayed there about four days, and I took off across country in a Greyhound bus.

I felt at home in Washington, D. C. because there were so many black people where the bus stopped and all the buildings were smaller. I stayed in this hotel by the bus station run by a black family. They seemed to be amused that I was staying there. I had no idea that there was any racial conflict in America. I was getting along fine except that I couldn't understand a thing they said and they couldn't understand me. But we smiled a lot and we got on great.

The language was a big problem, and I wasn't expecting it, because I spoke English. But nothing's the same. In our country, napkins are diapers and diapers are napkins. Cookies are biscuits and biscuits are scones.

Between Mobile and New Orleans, a pregnant lady got on the bus with a man and they sat down together. At the next stop, another fellow who happened to be her husband got on with a shotgun. She was eloping with her husband's best friend. The husband shot holes in the roof and here I am, only halfway to the Wild West.

I was going to San Francisco because it sounded romantic. I arrived in L. A. from Phoenix with $7.35 and I had to stop here to work. I haven't got to San Francisco yet. I'm still working on it.

I think you are what your roots are. When I went downtown for the swearing in to become an American citizen, I felt very disturbed. I still feel Rhodesian, and I will always feel African, because it's simply what I am. Although I feel comfortable here, I don't feel this is my home. I feel that I am in transit. If I'm here, I talk of home very fondly, and I mean Africa. Yet when I go home, I've been away so long, they think I'm American. And when I'm in Rhodesia and I talk of home, I mean America. The whole thing's very mixed up. More and more I think you are what you are born and you never lose it.

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