A Brief Historette

Michaela means ‘Walk with the Lord’, but for now I prefer to walk alone and keep an open mind. Grace was suggested by my grandmother-by handing me a virtue she hoped it would transcend into my nature. These names are my own, but they’re also young- just eighteen years old with little knowledge of their identity. My last name, Kobsa-Mark, offers a richer history.

Kobsa, a name of eastern-European origin is also the name of a  banjo-like instrument. Yugoslavia is where my paternal grandmother, now Susanne Kobsa, grew up. When Hitler’s troops invaded Yugoslavia, my grandmother and her village picked up what they could and moved to a region in Austria. My deceased grandfather fought for the Nazis.

In 1913, my maternal Jewish great-grandmother Rose passed through Ellis Island and found herself in America. She married a man she had never met; His last name had been shortened to Mark during the immigration process. Rose’s daughter, Lily married a man who fought the Nazis. Lily’s sister just married a man who has the memory of his concentration camp days forever branded into his forearm.

I am Michaela Grace Kobsa-Mark, and though I muse over the thought that two clashing cultures are now combined through me, I don’t place much significance on how much this history defines who I am. Instead, I blatantly stress the opposite. When I introduce myself as “Hello, I am Michaela and I am Austrian-American” or “I am a German-Jew” it makes it amazingly difficult for people to stereotype me. It’s hard for people to have opinions on things they don’t know much about. Some real-life reactions: “Austria? You mean Australia.” “How can you be a German Jew?!” So, I hope that I can use these labels to my advantage- that when I arrive in Senegal, the people I meet will not think “Oh, great. Another fat American with a camera playing White Messiah.” Just kidding, I’m white.

So what do I, ‘don’t-judge-me-but-I-may-judge-you’, suburbian teenager expect to reap from my Senegalese experience? Well, as far as personal development goes, I’d like to learn more about how I fit into the world, as a global traveler and as a player in the cycle of life. I want to know what I can do to help, but I want to keep in mind that what I call ‘help’ can very well be detrimental. I want to know how I can create lasting relationships with people who come from a culture I had not deeply thought about until senior year. I want to learn about how Senegalese culture plays into these peoples’ Muslim faith.   I’d like to stay open-minded when I encounter customs my culture has taught me to abhor, customs such as animal sacrifice or polygamy. I am aware that I overuse the rather selfish and primitive words: ‘I, want, like’, and I’d like to reduce the frequency of these words in my future blog entries.

One of my greatest concerns is that I’ll forget this experience. I’m fabulous at forgetting and continuing on. So, I hope to blog extensively to immortalize these upcoming months, partly for myself, more importantly so that I can offer you a new perspective on a culture we really don’t know much about. Read on! And please comment.