I was born and raised in Volksrust for a short period of my life, five years to be exact. The rest of my growing years were in Johannesburg in a suburb called Midrand. I wasn’t known as The Lokshin Girl anymore, but I was now The Joburg Girl.

There’s a huge difference between Johannesburg and Volksrust. Firstly, Volksrust’s dusty streets made Midrand’s tar road look as if one was walking on a freshly polished stoep. Secondly, the quietness of Midrand compared to Volksrust’s loud atmosphere made it seem as if you were living in the library. Of course there are many other differences between the two places, ones that are more obvious, like the availability of resources and the education systems. I bet there’s a difference between township and urban dogs too.

Growing up in Johannesburg made me the person that I am today; outgoing, competitive, a snob and – let me also add – different. Different in the way that I prefer staying in and reading on a Friday night, than going out to parties or clubs. Different in the way that I prefer hanging out with guys than hanging out with girls, but I wouldn’t call myself a tomboy (trust me, I am so girly that I still have male celebrity crushes and stuffed animals all over my bed) and different in the way that I love listening to music from not your ordinary artists.

I know that it is only natural to say that my growing years were a blur, but I do remember the most valuable times I faced whilst growing up. I remember how terrified I was on the first day of Grade 1. Six year old me was a bit underweight, small sharp pointed ears that I’ve always disliked, a gap in my front rotten teeth and one of my best features, my thick, dark hair that I inherited from mum.

I remember feeling out of place and I thought, “Who are these people? Why are they staring at me like that? Where is mum?” In that first week I didn’t want to go to school. I had no friends, I was lonely during break times and I always looked at other kids who played together, ate together, laughed together and I wished to be like them. Until I decided to tell mum about it one Sunday.

Mum was in the kitchen, dishing up Sunday lunch that wafted through the air, as I said grumpily, “Mum, I don’t like school because other kids don’t want to play with me.”

She looked up and frowned at me, noting my folded arms and my tone and asked. “Have you tried introducing yourself to them?”

It was like a light bulb flicked on in my head, like I had been living in a cave all my life, because seriously? Why had I not introduced myself? I knew right away that the problem wasn’t with other kids not wanting to be my friends, but it was that not everyone is brave enough to walk up to a person and say, “Hey, my name is Mbali. Would you like to be my friend?”

So I decided to take action that Monday morning. It felt like I was on a mission only a brave one can achieve. I felt so positive and I knew that nothing could stop me and by the end of the week I had more than ten friends, and I was invited to a lot of birthday parties and outings. I had sleep-overs almost every week. I finally belonged.