When I think of the word “image,” I think of the questions people ask me:

Random people: “Where you are from?”

Network groups: “What do you do?”

Professionals: “Where did you study?”

Mentors: “What do you want to do with your life?”

I always take a long pause before tackling these questions. I have to. I have the answers; but it’s complicated.

For a long time, I was drenched in fear every time I tried to formulate an answer, worried that I was not replying quickly enough to their questions. Unfortunately, this became a recurring situation and I began to wonder, Am I experiencing an identity crisis?

Often, I try to paint images with my words so that people can understand why I do not have a quick answer. Recently, the image that pops out of my mind is one of Picasso’s paintings, Buste De Femme, hanging on the 4th floor in the Cubism room at Tate Modern in London.

As you stand closer to the painting, you think you know what is going on. You can see that the painting is of a woman of color, but when you stand few feet away, you realize that the image is composed merely of a combination of cubical shapes of different shades of brown, black, white and gray. There is nothing smooth or simple about this figure of a woman. And, when you take a step closer, you realize that your eyes deceived you at first glance. It’s this shifting back and forth that allows you to see the woman as a whole. Imagine how much you would miss if you only stood close or far from her.

I am not suggesting that I am as complex as Picasso’s Buste De Femme, but like Picasso’s Femme, when people think they have discovered something about me, there is always more. If we only see others through the questions that we have been trained to ask, then we miss so much of who people are. When you first hear me speak, you will detect my accent and wonder where I am from. I was born in Rwanda, but that’s not the whole answer to my accent. My accent could be from any of eight countries I grew up in.

Students: “Were your parent diplomats? That’s a lot of countries you lived in!”

Actually, no, I was a refugee when we lived in all those countries. My older sister took me in those countries so we can be safe, we did not have parents.

My therapists: “It must have been very hard…”

This is where I wish to walk away. But I am not angry, and I choose to stay, to respond. Although, I am not even sure what words in any languages I can use to describe my perspective to someone who makes that kind of statement. I stay to answer all these questions because I have acknowledged that every part that makes me, from living through different war conflicts, poverty, pain and all the joy I have experienced, they are mine. I own them. By the way, there are no books, movies, shows or even image that I have seen that collectively demonstration who I am, nor you. I have learned that we cannot classify or measure each other through questions that we have trained ourselves to ask each other or through what our eyes first see.

Our experiences and our self-worth as individuals are always shifting. So the answer to the question is: It’s complicated. And that’s okay.

A #Beautyfullreminder: “Our experiences and our self-worth as individuals are always shifting.” -Clemantine Wamariya

Clemantine Wamariya StorytellClemantine Wamariya is a storyteller who uses her experiences as a survivor of war conflicts to inspire and challenge us to be aware of others and opportunities around us. She is a remarkable public speaker and voice for authentic forgiveness and hope. You can visit her at Clemantine.me. Instagram: Clemantine1.