The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Letter To My First Family

Dear family,
I’ve been thinking about you all a lot lately and wanted to say some things. There are a thousand voices in my head telling me all sorts of things that make me want to close this email and not do it, but I am going to anyway. May I ask that you please don’t skim through this email (it’s long) but read it when you have a quiet moment to yourself where you are not rushed.

I’ve been thinking about you all because, no matter what or where I am, you are all a part of my everyday life. After all, your first family is the one that shapes your thinking and views of the world and relationships with everyone else. You, the first people to whom I was introduced and the first people that introduced me to the world, are the ones through whom I filter everything. So I wanted to take some time to tell you all how much and in what ways you have contributed to me and to our first family. I know we don’t talk about this stuff to each other and it’s so much easier for me to sing your praises to my friends and newer family, but I want to tell you because I think we need a reminder of how wonderful our family truly is and how blessed we are to have started out together and to have each other today – even through the distance and disagreements.

I’ll start with Yanis. Yanis, your easy going, quiet and hilarious personality are so appreciated. You have a way of calming down situations with the funny things you say and the way you stay calm in almost any kind of circumstance. I love how you can see the humor in things even in very difficult and aggravating times. I think the only memory I have of you being in a panic was when you needed a cooling thing for your nose bleeds. You are so wonderful as a father to your children and I have loved seeing you grow into that role. You do it with such ease and with so much love. You have also taught me a lesson and I am trying to learn everyday through your marriage. I don’t know how, but you have never, not once, said or implied anything negative about your wife in my presence. Your loyalty and commitment to her and your new family is admirable. You work hard and give your best everyday for their present comfort as well as the future security of your family. They are blessed to have you. For our, your first family, I think you’re the magnet that we all can’t help but stick with through all the stuff we go through. I always love our visits and so appreciate how welcome you make us feel in your home and the time that you spend with us when we visit. Thank you for being you consistently, calmly and wisely.

Edwin – I have so much love for you in my heart that I often tear up when I think of you. You have such a big heart. You love so hard and your loyalty is unshakeable. I am proud and grateful to call you my big brother. I first noticed this beautiful quality in you when I saw you loving on our dogs in Kabwe and then on our children when they started to join us. Anyone who can get on the floor and get messy with dogs and children is some kind of special person. I have seen how kind you are to people in need. That compassion is not common. I am sure I don’t know most of what you do privately for others, but I know it is a lot. You will bend over backwards for those you love – sometimes at your own expense. Thank you for bringing that to our family. Your last visit here meant so much to me because I got to spend some time with just you and also, my kids got to know you a little better and adored you. I loved getting some time to sit quietly with you at the table or in our living room and just talk and get to know a little more about you as a grown man. It was such a treasured time for me. I have learned from you the value of traditions. While I will never quite have your commitment to them, I respect and admire that quality about you and will always consider traditions in my decisions.

Nancy – my dear, feisty, kindhearted, outspoken sister. I love you in so many ways, I don’t know where to begin. What you have brought to our family consistently is your vulnerability. Despite what you may have thought, your feisty actions have always shown off your vulnerability (at least to me). I admire you for being that open. I know, without a doubt, that all your actions come from a very deep and fierce love you have for each of your family members. And when your words hurt, it was only because we disappointed you by not noticing your love for us. You would go to hell and back for each of us if you needed to. All your actions are driven by that love and even when it’s hurt me in the moment, I have understood that about you. Thank you for always looking out for each of us and knowing and tending to our needs – often before we even knew we needed it. It took me years, but I did look back and realize just how much you did for Yanis and me when we came to the U.S. I will never be able to repay you for all you did but I will pay it forward when I am called to. Thank you for loving me through some of the hardest times I’ve had. Thank you for bringing your fun and lively personality to our family and for teaching us how to be generous in our actions and fierce in our love. I have learned so much from you about being a mother and I have been humbled a thousand times over when I think of how hard it’s probably been for you to parent alone and to be raising such loving and sensible children with whom I just love spending time.

Henry – my big, big brother. I have a very special place for you in my heart. I don’t know if you know, but I see you. I see your gentle spirit and your deep love for us. I also see how hard you have tried to keep us all together. You once said, over a cute shoe incident, that you show your love through the gifts you buy. You have shown your love through your kindness and humor and creativity and the way you took risks and played games and got us all to be a little more adventurous and thrill-seeking. You receive life and all the enjoyable things in life with open arms and it has taught us all to open our arms a little wider to receive a little more and then to also enjoy it. I love having you for a big brother. Even in my forties, I love the thought of you being there, somewhere, as a safety net. The same way that I waited on you to help me get up way back when is how you will probably always be in my mind – the big brother I can count on to take care of me. I know we don’t talk often and I don’t know all that’s in your heart and on your mind. But I am sure of your love for each of us – and you don’t have to spend a single Namibian dollar to show me that. Thank you for bringing your free-spirit and big brother personality to our family. We have each been blessed beyond measure to have such a strong, dedicated and kind person in our family. I deeply admire and respect and enjoy who you are as a person, an uncle, a father, a son and my brother.

Daddy – where do I begin. So many memories from childhood float through my mind when I think of you. You’ve come a long way from when your dad (lovingly) called you names and spoke of the low expectations he had of you. While I realize it was somewhat of a cultural thing, I believe it kind of stuck with you and your life has revolved around debunking his predictions. You must know that you are enough and then some, Daddy. You have always worked hard and done the best you could do in every phase of your life. You did most of it without anyone before having set an example so it must have been hard and scary to have done it. Raising kids in Tanzania and Zambia without a community of other Goan families must have been hard and you must have questioned yourself often. And yet, you showed up every day and went to work and stayed committed and created joyful experiences for us often and also hurt and forgave as life offered you the ups and downs of your children leading their lives and making their choices. You have risen above it and remained committed and cheered us on and encouraged us as our biggest fan offering us whatever you could to support our journeys. Thank you for being a great example of staying committed to your family, for making mistakes and for forgiving ours, for reading so many self-help books along the way because you were always trying to do better and be better. You are enough and then some. You don’t ever have to say “I love you” for us to know it. We know it.

And Mummy….I need to get up and get another cup of coffee and a tissue to be able to write this. I know I won’t get it all on here. Your love can only be described as Godly. Your faith in God and deep love that only a mother can have for her children has become more evident to me as I muddle through motherhood. Your free spirit and ready love and friendship to others and deep, deep generosity is admirable. You have taught us to love other human beings in a pure sort of way that God asks us to, with no judgment, just faith tin the fact that God created all humans and so we can only love them because they are like us and a part of our humanity. You give and give and give and I have watched you sacrifice your comfort and the best piece of chicken or the last piece of food without even thinking about it. Putting each of us first all the time – whether it was so we could sleep on your lap on an airplane or sit on the most comfortable chair or have the first choice of things or cooking our favorite things even when you would rather have taken a nap or read a good book. I noticed. I think we all noticed. You are the glue that has held us together through the quiet ways you showed your strength and the firm ways in which you spoke up when you needed to. Thank you for always blooming where you are planted. Being this far away from family in a land that is not really mine, has made me appreciate even more just how much you gave up and how hard it must have been for you to get married and move to a new continent with no family or friends around you. I didn’t have it that hard even. It amazes me how you adjusted and maintained your love of life and people and God through it all. Thank you for mothering us and doing the best you knew how and for taking it all in stride as your life unfolded. You are the heart of our family.

I woke up this morning thinking that I should say all these things because we need to remember where we started out and what we have been to each other from the start and along the way. Our family has been a family of trailblazers and we have done it well together as well as apart. We have a lot to be proud of and lot to be grateful for. And while we have not been ones to tell each other, I felt compelled to tell you all and I did it despite the little voices screaming at me to quit being so open and vulnerable. I don’t think I shared this with any of you, but when I was about 10 in Kabwe, I bought an anniversary card for Daddy and Mummy that said something about how much I love them. Well, I hung on to that card and was so afraid to express my love that I actually never gave it to them. I’m a big girl now and can handle being vulnerable. We must remember the joyful times we have shared and the things we have learned from each other. I carry you all in my heart every day and always will. Your voices speak to me in my daily life and the lessons I learned from you influence who I am today as a woman, a mother, a wife, a friend, and a sister. Thank you for being exactly who you are for our family.
I am really excited about being with you all again in July and I look forward to creating some new memories together.
Much love,


7 responses to “Letter To My First Family

  1. donnafrob says:

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful “letter” to your family. It really struck a chord because in many ways our lives were influenced by the same elements…..parents as immigrants, work ethic, sacrifices, giving the kids the softest pillow, etc. having kids really changed my parents and not a day went by without them telling their grandchildren how much they loved them; something i never experienced.

    • justrhina says:

      Must be so beautiful for you to see them loving on their grandkids. Mine are that way with their grandkids, too! Donna, isn’t it amazing how much we find we have in common when we share pieces of ourselves?

  2. sfl says:

    This letter is such a wonderful gift to your family and to yourself.

  3. Emma says:

    Quite moving, Rhina. You have the makings of a great author of memoirs! I liked most the words of endearment to your mother….”blooming where you are planted”….and “mummy!” My Middle Eastern students often referred to their mothers as “mummy” in their writings and I tried to correct their spelling when coming from a college professor such as yourself that it was I who needed to be corrected. One correction to your blog, although you are far away from family, “This land IS your own!!!!” Love, Aunt Em

    • justrhina says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting with such kind words, Aunt Emma. I appreciate it. Yes, my Mummy can only ever be referred to as “Mummy” in any language or dialect. 🙂 LOL

  4. […] done I clicked the ‘send’ button. (If you’re interested in the actual letter, you can read it here). Immediately after doing that I sat and stared at my screen and felt naked (I really had gotten […]

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