American flag at Dulles Airport

My America: A Gratitude List

It’s 1:36 a.m. and I’m at my desk, staring at my computer. This never happens. The reason it’s happening now is because: 1) I’m jet-lagged; and 2) I’m sad. I doubt I’ll be sleeping for a while so I might as well do something useful.

Two days ago I caught a flight from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg. It was the night before the American election. I arrived in Johannesburg a day later, Tuesday, while the election was still in progress. I couldn’t stay awake late enough to see the results — South Africa is seven hours ahead of the American east coast. But when I switched on my phone this morning, Wednesday, there it was:

“Trump looks set to win presidency.”

It’s weird that this happened just after I returned from a trip to America. I was shocked beyond belief at the headline above but I think the shock would have been greater — perhaps heart-attack-inducing — if I’d been living my normal life in Joburg for the last two weeks, with my head in the sand regarding U.S. politics.

Even though I was there in America, watching hours and hours of news coverage and talking endlessly with everyone about the election for two straight weeks, I did not see this coming. When my friends and family expressed concern that Trump might really win, I laughed dismissively. Not possible, I said, over and over. Never in a million years.

American flag at Dulles AirportThe American flag at Dulles Airport, just outside Washington D.C.

I apologize, family and friends, for laughing dismissively at your fears. You were right and I was so very wrong.

I could go on about my shock and outrage, my bewilderment, my despair, my embarrassment and shame, my abject terror about the future. I could rail against Trump’s bigotry and misogeny, his nastiness, his lies, his ugly orange skin and expensive fake hair. I could express optimism and hope. I could try to convince you (and myself) that things aren’t as bad as they seem. I could implore us all to process our feelings and move on and work together, sing kum-ba-yah, etc.

But everyone has said everything already. Every human being on earth with a Facebook account (including me) has already posted his or her own little blog post, or several, about the U.S. election and what it means to them. We’ve already had millions of online spats and love fests. We’ve screamed, we’ve sobbed, we’ve gotten drunk, we’ve blocked people from social media. There is nothing more to say, and maybe nothing more to do, at least right now.

Instead of saying all that, I’m going to write a gratitude list:

  1. I’m grateful I got to visit the U.S. one last time while Barack Obama is president.
  2. I’m grateful my sister is pregnant and I’m going to become an aunt for the first time this March.
  3. I’m grateful to have spent time with so many wonderful friends in America.
  4. I’m grateful I visited my mom in South Carolina, which was recently hit by Hurricane Matthew, and Mom is okay and her house wasn’t damaged by the storm.
  5. I’m grateful that both my sister and I happened to be with my dad this past Sunday, when he had a serious medical emergency and had to be admitted to the hospital. And I’m really, really grateful Dad is okay now and back at home.
  6. I’m grateful to be an American, despite the current situation, because America is still a beautiful country and my citizenship affords me many great privileges. Let’s hope it stays that way.
  7. I’m grateful to be back in Johannesburg, which is home to me now, with Ray and Smokey, who I missed terribly while I was away.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the trip.

Heather and Claire in Meridian Hill Park

My best friend Claire, who I’ve known since birth, and I in Meridian Hill park in Washington D.C. We were trying to take a selfie with the bad-ass statue of Joan of Arc in the background.

Bob and Heather in CharlottesvilleMy dear friend Bob and I at the Carter Mountain Apple Orchard in Charlottesville, Virginia. Both Bob and I went to college at the University of Virginia, which is in Charlottesville. This was my first time back in years.

Bob and Tim in CharlottesvilleBob and his partner Tim at their cute little bungalow in Charlottesville, where I stayed with them for the weekend.
 Donald Scott in CharlestonDonald Scott, who my mom and I met on the streets of Charleston, South Carolina. Donald sells handmade sweetgrass baskets and he gave me a great deal on one. Please look for Donald the next time you’re in Charleston — his email address is

Mom in Hilton HeadMy mom, Jeanie, on the beach in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Dad and SassieMy dad, Tenney, and his funny dog, Sassie, on the steps of my childhood home in Maryland.

Susanna and baby XMy beautiful sister, Susanna, and her unborn Baby X.

Leaves in MarylandChanging leaves in Maryland.

As President Obama recently said, the sun will still rise tomorrow. And with that, I’m going to bed.

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  • Reply thirdeyemom November 10, 2016 at 3:23 am

    Beautiful Heather! I saw it coming and am shocked and filled with despair because I have to live here. Not sure I’m grateful to be American though. I’d rather be Canadian right now

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:16 am

      Haha, yeah. Canada isn’t looking so bad right now. Although too cold for me 🙂

  • Reply Ellen November 10, 2016 at 3:55 am

    You really had the perfect trip and escaped before all hell broke loose. It’s difficult to remain optimistic about the future, but I’m trying. Lots of love. Ellen

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Ellen! Hope all is well (considering). Hopefully we can catch up again one of these days when I’m back. xxx

  • Reply mvschulze November 10, 2016 at 4:55 am

    It’s been 24 hrs. now since the totally unexpected and depressing news seemed to materialize out of nowhere. We’re still puzzeled, and wary of the coming months and years ahead here in America. M 🙁

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Yes. I guess we can only wait now and see what happens.

  • Reply autumnashbough November 10, 2016 at 5:30 am

    I was counting on pollsters and 538 to be right, but too many white people lied about voting for Trump because they were ashamed. And they should be ashamed.

    Seriously, if you are ashamed of your vote, maybe you should change it.

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:13 am

      I just don’t think polling works anymore. Time to come up with a new way to measure public opinion.

  • Reply Lani November 10, 2016 at 7:13 am

    Thoughtfully said. You know, as Americans we easily forget the great privilage we enjoy. As angry protesters take the streets, I can’t help but think about what happened to those in Asia when people protested, the military junta takeover in T-land, and the great silence that has fallen over many countries who cannot criticize their gov’t.

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:12 am

      Yep, true. Let’s hope our government and constitution hold up…

  • Reply Kate November 10, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Great post! And beautiful pictures…..and I’m glad your dad is ok! It’s a kind of scary thought of parents/siblings having problems while we’re all the way over here. And they’ll have 4 years of a damn problem with Cheetoh Jesus, right? 😣 I head to SC on Tuesday and I have to say, this year I’m less excited about it than I’ve ever been. Had some good friends that decided they didn’t need to vote and so I’ve lost some respect for them. This whole election has soured the trip for me.

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:12 am

      My mom said she as never less proud to be an American than she was on the day she voted in SC this week. Interesting times ahead…I hope you have a good trip though.

  • Reply Tamara November 10, 2016 at 7:57 am

    Great post. I can’t imagine the mixed emotions. I’M not even American… I have never been and I feel bewildered. But you are right. Days carry on and its important to remember what your country has given you. Only time will affirm whether Trump is actually good on the inside xxx

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Thanks Tam. Hope you’re well 🙂 xxx

  • Reply Kate November 10, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Oh! I meant to say I love your sister’s Dean Russo pit bull tshirt! Is she a pit bull/bull breed lover like I am?

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Yes, she is a HUGE pit bull fan. I just tagged you on her Instagram feed 🙂

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun November 10, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Nice post Heather. Like you, I never, ever believed this could happen. I haven’t been to the US very much since I moved away so I guess I was really out of touch with what was going on. Some of my closest family members are T supporters and that has been extremely hard for me to comprehend. I am so sad and sick about this outcome. France is also going to elections in May and they too are headed in the same racist direction if something doesn’t change. Glad you enjoyed your trip and seeing your family and friends.

    • Reply 2summers November 10, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks Kelly. I was also awakened to the fact while home that several of my family members voted for Trump. It’s half of America and I guess it’s time to wrap our minds around that.

  • Reply Sine November 11, 2016 at 1:14 am

    To think that there is a whole world of people out there who spent yesterday in a daze not thinking life could possibly go on after this calamity. And yet it does, as you say, and it’s already a little better today. The five stages of grief. Something good must come out of this – I see it in my kids, who seem more politically energized now than before, because they cannot believe what happened either. It has also made me understand better my South African friends who always gripe about their politics. And yet their country has so many good things going for it, that so many of US have wanted to live there. Same goes for America, as you say, plenty to be proud of and grateful for.

    And yet… I still shudder every few moments with another image in my mind of what the next 4 years will look like. And I can’t fathom that there are all these people out there who didn’t see him exactly as you described above. How is it possible? My only explanation is that Americans just love change. It has to be different from before to be glittery. Can’t possibly go with continuity, even if it was going in a pretty darn good direction.

    I am grateful that we’ve had an amazing president (and first family) for the past 8 years. No one can take that away. History will judge.

    • Reply 2summers November 14, 2016 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Sine. Yes, it will be interesting to see what this era looks like in the history books 25 years from now. It’s hard to imagine.

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica November 13, 2016 at 7:23 am

    A lot of non-Americans feel the same way that you do. What amazed me was how some people who were anti-Trump before the elections, are now trying to put a positive spin on things. I heard somebody say this week that if they had the choice between two pilots that they did not like, they would chose the pilot that could at least fly the plane.

    • Reply 2summers November 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      Yes. It would be so nice to have an actual pilot flying our plane right now. Too bad we don’t.

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish November 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you for the uplift — I needed that. I’m not one of those planning to move to another country, but I am having trouble understanding that the country I thought I lived in could be so NOT be the one I thought I’d been living in since the 1960s of my hopeful youth. I’m not expecting Big D to now be any better than the man who bragged about grabbing the ***** of every woman who worked for him, but I am hoping that most of the Republican leaders who sat back and let it happen will now start curbing his worst impulses before he grabs the ***** of the Duchess of Cambridge or lets Putin build missiles in Mexico.

    • Reply 2summers November 14, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Ha! This comment is the best. (Or maybe the worst.) Anyway thank you.

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