Where do I even begin? I want to express how I’m feeling lately, but all I can come up with are dumb clichés, like “a fish out of water,” or “a visitor from another planet.” Well, whatever. You get the point.
I’m starting to think that I’ll never fit in in this country.
It’s not just that I miss our lives in Africa. It’s that everything here is so…different. Bizarrely different. It’s nothing like I thought it would be when papa used to tell us all those stories. For starters, people here are not all rich. Sure, some people are rich – filthy rich. They drive slick cars and eat steaks and live in houses as big as our village. But most of the people where I live are poor. Well, by American standards, anyway. In this country, even most poor people have food to eat and toilets that flush and electricity and stuff. But Tia Karina and Tio Jaime say that we live in a poor neighborhood, which means we have to double lock our doors and look out for muggers when we walk around the city.
Every day, I take a big yellow bus to my high school. It’s an enormous brick building on the outside, and on the inside, a maze of classrooms, stairwells, and thousands of rowdy kids, sneakers squeaking as they shove their way down crowded hallways, clanging shut metal locker doors.
I kind of have a group of friends I hang out with. They used to tease me a lot when they found out I grew up in Africa. “Look, here comes the African!” they would say, jostling each other and smirking. “Say something in African, Jungle-boy!”
I always sighed and rolled my eyes. “You know, Africa is a huge continent, with a lot of languages,” I would start, but the other kids wouldn’t listen. In the end, I would spit out a bunch of words in Oromo, and they thought it was the funniest thing in the world. Then they found out that I spoke Spanish, too. After that, everybody at school called me The Mexican from Africa, no matter how many times I explained that my papa was from Colombia.
Whatever, I guess.
Kids in my neighborhood are also really into basketball. Have you ever even heard of that sport? It’s kind of like soccer, in a way. But instead of dribbling the ball with your feet, you bounce it with your hands. And the nets are attached to tiny hoops on a high pole. It seems like every boy in my school wants to be a famous basketball star someday, just like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Well, not me. Let’s just say that I found my best position in basketball – on the sidelines.
I don’t mean to say that everything about America is bad. My Tio and Tia are really nice. I’ve also befriended this old homeless man, who I call Professor. He says that he was once a professor at a great university, but now he is out of work and down on his luck. I caught him once rummaging for food in a trash can. So now, I bring him peanut butter sandwiches, and we talk. About Africa, about my future, about everything. He keeps recommending that I read all these big books that no one has ever heard of. So now, I spend a lot of my free time at the public library, filling my head with Kafka and Tolstoy and Arthur Conan Doyle.
“You must expand your mind,” the Professor likes to say. “Broaden your world view.” I’m not so sure I should keep taking my advice from some guy who lives under a bridge, eating other people’s scraps. But it’s reading books or basketball, so I guess I’ll keep reading for now.