When I first Came Here
When I First Came Here…
Los Angeles. Miami. Palo Alto. Hell, even London.
Why on earth did I come to this damn hellhole again? Yes, I applied here – this is all my doing but again, why did I do this to myself? Honestly– I blame it all on Emmanuel. He told me that this school was one of the best in America for engineering but this idiot didn’t tell me exactly how cold it was! All he said was bring a coat and some jumpers. Bring a coat?! I can feel this weather inside of my bones. No simple coat-jumper combination is going to fix that.
As Amaka filled up the trunk of the cab with her luggage, she surveyed the scene in front of her.
So this is Wisconsin? Hmmm…its calm.
The cold, crisp air scratched at her skin and the blanket of fluffy white snow that she expected from films appeared to be more of a grey slush as the endless stream of taxis drove over it. As she entered the car, the cab driver looked up and down at her – his expression jumping from puzzlement, to concern, and finally to sympathy.
“Let me guess – you’re about to start school at the UW but you’re not from anywhere near here, are you?”
“Yes I suppose something like that…sure”
Were all American drivers this curious? In Lagos, drivers hardly even look at you before taking you to your destination.
“Look, I’m sure you’re in a hurry to get over to campus, but you’re gonna freeze to death before you get there if you don’t have any proper clothes. If you want, I have a bag of my daughter’s old puffers and boots here in the front that I was planning to bring over to the Salvation Army anyways. I could give them to you for you to use until you get something more permanent.”
Amaka studied his face for a second before answering. Naturally, she was cautious about ever accepting things from strangers. If there was anything she learned from her father, it was to always avoid uncertain situations. The man looked kind, his face tinted slightly darker than hers and his silver kinky afro frozen in place from the cold. He probably was the same age as her father, yet his leathery worn-out hands showed that time has not been as friendly to him as it was to her father. She wanted to be prideful – it’s not like those clothes would fit in with her wardrobe of Ferragamo boots and tailored pantsuits. However, as she felt her hands struggle to thaw from her time outside, she knew this was one of those points where pride had to take a backseat to practicality.
“Thank you, I would love that.”
“No problem. You know we gotta look out for our folk here. I’m guessing by your accent you’re African, right? I’ve always wanted to go back to the motherland.”
Amaka’s lip curled into a soft smile as she nodded.
“Yes, I’m from Nigeria. I’m about to start a PhD program at UW.”
“Oh my! That’s impressive. Well, if the entirety of the next generation is as smart as you, I can rest easy. You know, my daughter is at college there too. She’s a junior undergraduate but we’ve lived here our whole lives if you need someone to show you around.”
“Thank you. That would be great.”
As the driver started the car, the radio roared alive just at the end of Alanis Morisette’s new song. Yup, she was right, life does have a funny way of helping you out.
When her dad first told her about Amaka, Brianna's face couldn’t contain her joy. A budding African Studies major, she had always longed for someone who she could talk to about the ethnolinguistic undercurrents of the Biafran War or debate with on the authenticity of the Negritude movement and whether the works of Fanon or Césaire hold more relevance in the current political struggles on the continent. As big of a school as it is, one could probably count the number of African students at UW on two hands. Even the addition of American Black students was not enough to make a sizeable portion of the student body. To that note, none of the students in her classes were ever African. Brianna just wanted one occasion where she could discuss different African cultural and political topics with someone who was…well, actually African.
Brianna herself was as much as a Wisconsinite as anybody could be. Her grandparents had moved up to Wisconsin from Tennessee and she has never even left the state. However, when she was a teenager her Aunt Mabel used to tell her about stories of Yoruba mythology and the Solomonic dynasty in Ethiopia. This sparked her interest in studying African cultures with the hope that she would eventually learn where her ancestry originates from and travel to that country.
Upon first seeing Amaka, the first thing Brianna did was study her appearance.
The woman before her held all the elements of 90’s Black elegance. Her hair was bound into tight single braids that were all swooped onto her left shoulder and fell around her belly button. Even with the unforgiving, freezing temperatures outside, her skin glistened as if she has a never-ending supply of portable sunlight and coconut oil with her at all times. Her small pearl earrings and bold red lip made her look as though she was heading to a black tie event, even if she was just meeting Brianna for coffee. With her height, lean athletic frame, and designer clothes, she could’ve easily blended in with any crowd of statuesque models at New York Fashion Week.
What the hell?! How does this woman look like Naomi Campbell? Hell, she even has the same “better than you and I know it” pout. Wow! And her clothes! Her shoes! She even looks like she got off the runway. Wait, is that my old puffer in her hands? Aww, did dad give that to her when he drove her over to campus? She’s probably giving it back to me because she can’t bear to be seen in it. I get it. She doesn’t exactly have my same Berkeley chic style.
“Hello, are you Brianna?” said Amaka, her words dancing through Brianna’s ears.
OH! MY! GOD! Her accent – it’s like a song.
“Hi! Yes, yea, I’m Brianna. Nice to meet you. My dad told me about driving you and that you could use someone to give you a crash course in life at UW and the consistent source of misery I affectionately know as Wisconson.”
“Haha, yes I’m still finding myself lost in places. The cold also is just too much. I don’t know how you learn to like it.”
“Oh like it? Nobody can enjoy this. We’ve all just come to terms with it being a regular source of suffering in our lives and move on.”
She could see Amaka’s lip curl up a little, but she couldn’t tell how genuine the reaction was.
Oh please let her like my jokes. Is she a funny person? I hope so. Maybe I’ll try not to break out the jokes until later.
“So Amaka, is this your first time in the States? What do you think so far?”
“I’ve actually been before to New York just to visit and do some sightseeing. However, I did not realize how different Wisconsin could be. It’s definitely going to take some adjustment to life here.”
“Well, I’m your girl. I know everything about this place – whether I like it or not. I’ve only lived in Wisconsin but I definitely want to travel more. In fact, I heard that you’re Nigerian. I would love to visit Lagos one day.”
“Oh really? Your father said something similar.”
“Oh yea he probably did but he hasn’t done much research on things. I actually study African studies at UW and so I’ve been kind of the brains of the operation when it comes to that travel dream.”
“Oh that’s really nice that they offer that. What do you study in that?”
“Lot’s of different things. I focus primarily on critical race theory in relation to colonialism and its structures. I’ve also done a lot of cultural studies – especially with indigenous religions and the sociopolitical effects they have on communities. It’s a wide range. I could talk your ears of endlessly about it but I’m sure you already know so much.”
“Actually, I don’t really focus in social sciences or follow politics beyond what outrageous thing Abacha is doing at the moment back home. But I’m impressed you know all that. I’ve always been much more of a maths student.”
Brianna tried as hard as she could to not let her face visibly drop in disappointment.
“Haha I’m sure you still know much more than I do since you actually live the life that I just study in books.
At this point, Amaka could tell that this girl was disappointed in her. Her demeanor shifted from bright-eyed and ecstatic to bored and disinterested. After a three-minute high-level pitch about Amaka’s doctoral focus, she could see the light in Brianna’s eyes were almost completely faded. At this point, Brianna was making more eye contact with the foam in her coffee than she was with Amaka.
What am I even doing here. I honestly just wanted to return this girl’s jacket and here I am being insulted. Just because I don't study sociopolitical whatever does not excuse her behavior. This is what Emmanuel warned me about. For all his faults as a lazy playboy, he does fulfill his brotherly duties once in a while, especially with advice. People here just want to study you and dissect you if you don’t fit their schema of what an African person is like. This girl better not me cause me trouble o. I dey just mind my own business.
Even though Amaka was growing an indifference to Brianna, she couldn’t help but also be intrigued by her. In direct contrast to Amaka, Brianna had a coffee skin complexion and a bouncy auburn twist out. Her soft facial features made her look even younger than she was. She wore hardly any makeup except for some mascara and a coffee tinted lib balm. When it came t her clothes, Amaka wasn’t surprised. Although she was extremely grateful for not freezing in the past week since she met Brianna’s father, she couldn’t have been more excited in her recent memory than the moment she finished buying all of her own winter clothes and donated the bag of Brianna’s old clothes. She did keep one jacket though as Brianna’s father mentioned that he was sad Brianna wanted to give it away. It was a memento of Brianna’s closest aunt and he didn’t want her to regret her “grief through purge” strategy later on in life. Amaka thought the least she could do was return the jacket and meet the daughter that he couldn’t stop talking about the whole ride over to UW.