African, Family, Immigrant, Life, Relationships

Looking Back … The First Years (Pt. 2)

… continued from last week after some more wine, some tears and some soul searching which led to more tears but tears of thankfulness that I’m still going strong.

Holidays – Most holidays are a full blown celebration / affair on the continent, from Easter to public holidays to Eid/Idd to Christmas (the master of them all). No matter where you are – the city or the village – holidays are a time to connect with family and friends, wear your best clothes, eat the rare delicacies (goat meat, chicken, local rice dish (I’m not going to start the fried rice wars here, lol) or local baked goods (I’m talking about mandazis, beignets, puff puff) … I’m salivating just thinking about them) … I digress but if you grew up in Africa or spent a holiday there you know what I’m talking about. It’s a time of good cheer regardless of class or background. Therefore, when I got to the US and realized that Easter is an optional holiday or Christmas was a shopping holiday celebrated on Dec 24th (nothing much happens on the 25th) I was crestfallen! I spent my first holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with family and therefore when Easter came I was not prepared for the fact that I’d be alone on a day I’d spent with people ever since I was born. My friends were working (the hustle never stops – it’s double pay on holidays) and I couldn’t afford a ticket to go see my relatives. Since then I’ve spent many other holidays by myself or with family and friends but it’s not quite the same … holidays were (and to a certain extent, still are) the hardest!

The Food – I’ve been around the world and every region has its signature taste. The American signature taste was … different and it took a while to get used to. Further, I discovered that food was a class thing. I mean good food should be good food, right? Nah! Turns out good food depends on a number of things including where you live (high end neighborhood vs other). The neighborhood I landed in is on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from high end and therefore the food was not healthy at all and tasted like recycled industrial output. And I’m not talking about fast food restaurants (some of them have decent options) – no, I’m talking about school cafeteria food that had deep fried chicken that tasted like plastic, fries that tasted like cardboard, veggies didn’t look like veggies, Fanta that tasted like sugar mixed with water and some food coloring … These items were considered novelty items at home and here they just tasted blah! I never got used to the taste of these foods and even after college I don’t touch fast food. Instead I’ve gotten used the “New American” cuisine (grilled fish, two-minute sauté veggies, mostly raw greens) and settle for occasional indulgence in African foods when I can find an African restaurant. Definitely can’t eat the same as home as the activity level is lower so it’s easy to pack on the pounds (story for another day!) but one does miss the heartiness of African food … it had a lot more .. Je ne sais quoi? Soul?

Friendships – This was among the toughest adjustments. I mentioned in the previous post, making friends at home is very easy because there’s always some type of community around. You can easily make friends in your neighborhood, school, church, etc. I had a strong group of friends back home and thought that it would be easy to build new friendships here (especially your squad!) – right? Nah, wrong! I built friendships but the real ones took years to cultivate – part of that was obviously the older you get the harder it is to make genuine friendships but part of it was the way people here did friendships – it was different! Some folks just didn’t have time because they were working, other folks preferred their own space far way from everyone (I respect this), others preferred “air kiss” friendships – the type where you have an engaging and deep conversation one day and the next day the person doesn’t know who you are and then there were those that were downright devious (people that would one day be your friend and the next day be damning you to someone else and the day after damn that same person to you – to be fair, these people were from all nationalities), the list goes on … It took a while then to build those friendships but there were some serious scars along the way …

How did you deal with the holidays, food and friendships?