The chaos of traveling. The mixed emotions of leaving your family. The fear and excitement of that moment when the plane takes off and it all becomes real. We’ve shared several stories of what it’s like to arrive in the U.S. for the first time, but perhaps none as vivid as this, submitted by Keith Mushonga. Keith arrived this past fall to study English and French at Winthrop University, and the journey to get there was a whirlwind adventure all its own. Here’s what he wrote:
When I got off the plane in Washington, D.C., I found myself in a fast-paced world. People were streaming back and forth like disco lights in the mumbo-jumbo of a New York night life. Young kids were banging their way past me, ogling at me like a nuisance. Everyone seemed to know where they were going. I felt lost with my thick-rimmed spectacles, my small backpack and my overactive imagination.
“Oh my… I’m gonna get lost! I’m gonna get lost!” I thought, as people trotted out of the Ethiopian Airlines, with cellphones clung to their ears.
“And so Jimmy dont forget to pick me up in thirty minutes…”
“Andrew!!! You what???”
They were calling their families and friends and telling them that they’d come back home from Africa. They’d seen lions, giraffes, warm smiles and clear azure skies. They’d been on safaris in splendid Savannah forests that stretch for eons like green carpets.
I, on the other hand, had just left home in Africa. I’d found myself in a meandering maze of unfamiliar faces, foods and sounds. I clung onto my backpack like it was my life. Then I resorted to following everyone else. I soon ended up in a long snaking immigration line, being watched by a barrage of cameras. They stared at me like a criminal. I was waiting for my passport to be stamped, and I hoped that I wasn’t going to be deported and sent straight home…
About 40 hours earlier I had been in Marondera, breathing the dry dusty air, and listening to the familiar sounds of home. Life was laid back. I’d drank a cup of tea, talked about the corrupt police officers who mounted roadblocks everywhere when what we needed were more schools and hospitals. We’d talked about the never-changing political landscape and the millions of Zimbabweans who were fleeing the country in search of a better life.I saw supermarkets that only a few years ago had been empty due to our recent economic crisis. They were now packed with people fleeting back and forth with groceries. I saw streets that I’d grown up around, streets that I’d roamed around and people that I’d hung around disappear behind me through the rear-view mirror.
All those familiar images vanished into thin air. Eventually we found ourselves driving to Harare, speeding past the unrelenting police roadblocks. Pot-belled police officers were soliciting for bribes. Cars were lined up and were being inspected. I’d hated what my country had become, I’d hated the corrupt climate that made police officers more worse criminals than convicts. I sighed. I hoped one day I was going to help change things – one day, after getting my education.
Being at Harare International was the most emotional part of my journey. Tons of people were walking up and down like ants, pushing suitcases, bags etc. New arrivals from UK were being greeted with huge hugs. There were intermittent power shortages on the airport.
“ZESA yaenda!” joked some people. A man who’d come from the U.K. stormed into the waiting area fuming with anger. He was angry because he couldn’t get his bag since the conveyor belt worked with electricity. He shouted at the guards, the managers, and even at the other travelers, not knowing that this was very normal here.
My family gave me all the attention they could.
“You’re gonna get shot, bro!” said my brother. “You been watching the news ain’t you?” I swallowed. Indeed I’d heard about the university massacres. Chances were that everyone in college had a gun and I was going to get shot.
“Now don’t forget to eat healthily, most of the food is processed there,” said my mom, worriedly.
“Don’t worry, mhamha,” I said. “If they can live on it, so can I.” She’d wanted to pack me dozens of peanut butter bottles. She feared that I wasn’t going to adjust well to all the sprawling fast-food chains, and deep fried treats. But I was willing to take my chances.
I stood in front of immigration, and looked at my family from afar. My little sister smiled with her saintly eyes, trying to hide her fear of losing me. My brother saluted me like a soldier and my mom withheld the tear that was twinkling in her eye. It is at that point that I reconsidered my decision, at that point that I decided to put my backpack down and run as fast as could towards my family. But, it was too late. My passport had been stamped and I had officially left the country, even though I was still standing on Zimbabwean soil. Now I was on my way to boarding the plane, on my way to Winthrop University. Was I going to make friends? Fit in? Was I going to be asked many strange questions about whether I lived in a tree or ate with my feet downside-up? Or whether I’d seen Simba from the Lion King in real life?
I started to think about the times we’d spent together as a family. A few years ago my country was hard-hit by its economic crisis. The Zim dollar had melted almost overnight and we’d found ourselves foraging for survival. My parents had worked day and night, to send us to school. In the most difficult times we’d had eacher to cry on, but that family chain was about to snap.
I decided to look forward to hide my guilt and fear. This was the best way of moving on.
I faced the forest of people flocking on different seats, waiting for the plane to board. I was now officially a traveler, in the same style as people going to Paris, Milan, Tokyo, Sao Paulo. I was now a citizen of the world, watching strange people streaming back and forth around the airport. In a just two days I was going to leap over to another continent to start a new life.
I got onto the plane and looked through the window. As the metal bird took to the clear blue sky I watched as Harare’s skyline disappeared like a dot. The control tower and the gargantuan Joina City building were tiny blips on my window. I sighed. Then I started to think about the Washington. I imagined a Hollywood-style city with high-rise buildings and an adrenalin-filled life. I imagined gunshots racing after lavish Bugattis and Lamboghinis. Then I imagined Tom Cruise cruising through to the Capitol, in an effort to save the president of the United States from danger. Within a matter of hours I was going to be a part of that movie that I’d watched eagerly since I was a little child in dypers. Hopefully my plot was going to end well, hopefully I was going to get rid of all the bad guys…
I couldn’t help myself. I got so wrapped up in the story that I had to ask Keith how it ended.
“So, was it like the movies?”
I love the place. It’s very quaint and colorful. The people are friendly and positive. It’s not like the films… But it’s still quite thrilling: I hear the sound of the siren every day, the police. So it’s an action adventure flick of it’s own. There are many different things such as the food, the environment, but I’m getting used to it, in fact I love it.