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From Zimbabwe to America: Learning to Adapt and Overcome

“Remember to keep warm when you get there. America is a cold place. And to call us daily. Don’t forget us.”

These very words were the ultimate installment in a long series of many, many snippets of well-meaning advice from aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, cousins, passers-by, cousins of those passers-by, and anyone else who had caught wind of the fact that I was, indeed, going to America.

I had been warned about things such as the perceived perils of overeating when I got there, and it had been predicted that once I tasted that delicious American food, I would surely eat too much of it until I fell ill or exploded.

Would I cope with speaking in English all of the time? No, it was hypothesized that I would surely forget I was in North America and I would end up confusing my American friends by cracking jokes to them in my native language while still expecting them to laugh at those jokes.

And what of the cold? Would I survive? I would never cope with all that ice! After all, America is colder than the deep freezer! (an actual quote).

Others fantasized (wildly) that I would most probably bump into, and most likely get to mingle with, celebrities. In the event of this occurring, I was to ensure that I took a clear photograph (smiling, with teeth showing), which I was to post on my Facebook page as evidence.

Myself, I liked to think of my journey to the U.S. as being similar to the experience of sampling an exotic piece of fruit for the first time in your life. A fruit you have never ever tasted can be one of two things: refreshingly different and juicy or nastily vile - even poisonous. Was America going to be bursting with succulence or overflowing with the bitter, sour juices of culture shock? Would I love it? Would I hate it? Would I miss Zimbabwe chronically?

I had no way of knowing for sure, but what was certain and obvious was that I was about to embark on what will surely be one of the most definitive experiences of my life.

I was going to America. They wished me well. And I was surely on my way to the land of opportunity. Step aside Columbus, a new explorer is born!

My arrival

I arrived at Oberlin College in the early afternoon, with the sun spreading its golden tinged tangential light across the wide, expansive campus. Archaic stone washed buildings sprawled over green expanses of perfectly sheared lawns and rows of trees adorned with red and auburn tinged leaves that lined the perfectly paved streets of Oberlin.

This was the ultimate antithesis of Harare, Zimbabwe. That cosmopolitan African city that I know to be home.

Harare, where at every intersection of one or more walls that even vaguely resemble a corner there would be at least one person actively trying to convince you to buy a fruit or an ear of corn or a frozen drink or some other miscellaneous food item that probably should not be sold on the street to begin with.

Harare, where a constant stream of traffic meanders through well constructed roads that snake around magnificent steel skyscrapers that teasingly nudge the clouds to let you know that you are in a booming African metropolis.

But this campus at one of America’s top liberal arts colleges was serene, quaint and calmly gorgeous. Ancient yet modern, calm yet alive.

The opposite

America, as I have discovered, is the reverse, the complement, the opposite of Zimbabwe.

For example, one of the first things that completely took me by surprise in the U.S. was that cars here drive on the right. Growing up in Zimbabwe it had been hammered right into my skull that when crossing the road one should ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, look to the RIGHT. Now queue an image of Simba trying to cross the street while relying faithfully on this very Zimbabwean information, which becomes horrid misinformation in the U.S. Yes, I almost got run over by a car, after frantically hopping all over the place and glancing confusedly in all directions like a flying insect under threat.

Pounds instead of kilograms. Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. Left instead of right. Color instead of colour.

It’s confusing, and it’s like learning to talk again. Unlearning and relearning. But like what one of my mentors here at Oberlin said to us the other day, one must adapt and overcome. That is my new slogan as I start off in this exciting new dispensation in my life.

Adapt. Overcome. Conquer.

So, what kind of fruit do I think America is now, after having being here for almost a month? Well, all I can tell you for now is that it’s a pretty delicious kind of fruit. Want to know why? Just read my next blog post in which I will tell you all about the specific little details. With pictures!

Till then, Take care of yourselves readers. And remember, Adapt and Overcome!