I have been living in America for two years now and people often ask me, "So, how has it been adjusting to America?"
My routine answer is usually something like, "Well, I don't think I'll ever fully adjust."
Most will then nod and smile sympathetically, knowingly.
But they don't know. They don't know what it is to be a stranger, in a strange land.
There are moments when I feel an uneasiness tingling through my body, like a cool chill that raises goosebumps on my flesh. In these moments I seem to awaken from as if from sleep, look out at the strangeness around me and wonder, 'Where am I? What on earth am I doing here, in this unreal world?'
It is at these times that I feel my alienness most acutely, and my foreignness seems to rise to the surface, seeping past the mask of normalcy in which I have shrouded myself.
This feeling is triggered by the most mundane, simple and every-day things of American life - men in baseball uniforms, the overflowing isles of Wal-Mart, the smell of a cold, air-conditioned room, the sight of snow - things that, to an African girl from Zimbabwe are wild, extraordinary and other-worldly. They make me feel that I am living in a dream or experiencing the unreality of a Hollywood movie.
Travelling on the train into Boston this weekend I felt such a feeling creeping into my consciousness. The city of Boston, with its graffiti words spray-painted on the back walls of apartment buildings, its black fire-escapes, reminiscent of movie stars like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, its slim, well-dressed, high-heeled females carrying Styrofoam mugs of Dunkin Donuts Coffee - this city often sparks off an awareness of my own alienness. It churns up buried emotions - a disquieting mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement at the plethora of possibilities and opportunities this rich, wide world has to offer, with its accessibility to wealth, possessions and travel. In such a place I sometimes feel that I could truly do, have or be anything! The future is open to me and its unknown potentials are exhilarating!
But there is fear too - fear of losing myself, of forgetting where I have come from, or worse, of being forgotten. This world is changing me; I am no longer the girl I was when I left Africa two years ago. Even now, when I speak to my family on the phone and hear their voices filled with duty in taking my calls, when the e-mails become less and less as they become busier... when I am not missed - then I know that I am being subconsciously forgotten.
My ultimate fear is that the alienness that I feel here in America will return with me when I go back, manifesting itself in new, terrifying ways in that place I call home. To be an alien in my own land, my own family - that is my fear.