Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Alexander Pope, Letter to Gay, October 6, 1727
English poet & satirist (1688 – 1744)
Yes, of all the emotions that I have experienced since my arrival in America, disappointment is the greatest. Of course, I had not expected to see money trees lining the highways. Neither had I anticipated to walk on golden streets or to bump into Beyonce Knowles in Dunkin’ Donuts but still whenever I remind myself that I am finally in America, I cannot help but repress a despondent sigh. So this is America? I feel so let down.
Prior to my departure from Zimbabwe, I had braced myself for the worst type of racism one can ever experience. The tales of woe that some returning students shared fueled my fears: One student confessed that no one wanted to share a seat with her on the bus simply because she was black. Another told me about her biology professor, an openly racist man who would laud praise on her white research partner for an experiment that they had done together. The list goes on, with each story more mortifying than the last.
As a result, I arrived at Yale University full of apprehension. I immediately befriended fellow heavily accented freshmen from Africa and stuck by them. After all, we were going to go through the same ordeal together.
“Why is racism against black people wrong but when black people isolate themselves and are not openly receptive to white people, no one says anything about it?” my roommate, Sophia (as American as they come) asked one day. I groped for an intelligent answer from the little I knew about philosophy but realized, in mid-sentence that I was not making sense. Never before had I thought of racial prejudice in that context. In my mind, as well as in my history books, it was the black people resisting the white man’s oppression and not visa versa. I felt cheated and deprived of the truth in its full context but above all, I felt disappointed in myself for affording the luxury of ignorance.
I had expected America to be a place where I had to stand up and speak up in defense of my values and principles but I found myself standing tall effortlessly– proud of who I am and of my origin. I thought people would stare at me incredulously when I told them that I was from Zimbabwe. Instead, the common response was “Awesome!” Of course there were some variants, such as, “Well, I’m from Hartford. That’s only forty minutes from here. Kinda boring, I know.” I had been geared up to fight for a place in this new society only to have it handed to me on a platter.
The America that I had mentally prepared myself for was an epic place that would make me feel small, insignificant and insecure. I feared that at some time, I would be forced to choose between following the madding crowd on a highway to self-destruction through prostitution, drugs and crime – and losing myself by trying out everything in an attempt to be ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded’.
Life in America, however, is not as drastic as I had painted it in my mind. America is a land of immigrants and their descendants who know how it feels like to be in a foreign country and are ever so willing to help every new member of the society ease the transition in America. Whenever you ask, you are guaranteed an answer, an explanation, a lecture or all three.
New Haven, where Yale is located, is not even as impressive or imposing as Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Instead, it is a homey, serene place with wide spacious roads, a park and a welcoming neighborhood.
Had I been wise enough to invest those sleepless nights of worry and pure sorrow on my upcoming novel, I would have completed its sequel by now!