Six – America the Beautiful
An ant hill that is destined to become a giant ant hill will definitely become one no matter how many times it is destroyed by elephants, African proverb
A House is Not a Mud Hut
Gale’s house and life was strange and new to me. I became fascinated with “John.” I would visit “John” several times a day, just to shake his handle and watch him swirl around and around down a hole over and over again. I had never seen such a miraculous occurrence. I was mesmerized by all the colorful undergarments I saw in the stores. I wanted all of them – every size, shape, style, color, decoration, and innovation I came across. I guess I was obsessed. I also became obsessed with shoes. However, “a rose by any other name, it’s not, I repeat, it’s not necessarily a rose.” Let me explain.
At the Center we were given clothes to wear as well as what they described as shoes. These shoes were the ugliest covering for feet I had ever seen. They were all black, covered your entire foot up to the ankle, and were thick and heavy. Over time, the shoes seemed to age and looked uglier and uglier. So, not all roses, or shoes, can be called by any other name and still be a rose or a shoe. I keep those shoes to remind me of what I have overcome.
Rosie still came to visit me. She sensed I was not comfortable living at Gale’s house where there were other occupants. She told Gale she wanted me to visit with her for a couple of weeks at her place. I never went back to Gale because Rosie introduced me to another woman whom I nicknamed Carla (for car lady) who bought me a car and allowed me to live with her for a time. I needed to find a way to earn money. One of my greatest desires was to have a room, all to myself. Better yet, a separate room and a separate bedroom. I taught myself how to drive and passed the written test, although it took me three times. I needed to find a way of earning money. I did most anything to earn that income. I have been a caretaker for children; a caretaker for seniors, cooked and cleaned other people’s homes, provided transportation for people to go to doctor visits and do food shopping. I soon learned prejudice was not specific to Africa (and it was hurtful beyond words).
Seven – Africa, present day
A child who has no mother will not have scars to show on his back, African proverb
My little sister moved to the city with the money I sent her. She went to school and was learning accounting. I don’t know what happened because she would not tell me, but she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. I do not know whom the father is. I sent money to pay her rent and to pay for my nephew to go to school. To my disappointment, my sister left school and started a business selling items to make money. This business did not last long. My nephew is 10 years old. Recently he became a big brother to a new little sister. Although the baby’s father left, he has returned. I was somewhat relieved when my sister told me he was going to marry her. However, the future remains rocky and uncertain.
Now that I can think clearly, I wonder if I was the victim of an agreement my father may have made with the Chief regarding my older sister. Was she the one he promised to the Chief? Was I simply next in line once my sister died? Why didn’t my father tell me? I wish I knew, but I never will. At least I could have protected myself better.
Eight – Being a grown-up in America
A mother is gold, a father is a mirror, African proverb
Persona de Jour
I went to work for a family whom I found held no prejudices. They treated me with respect and concern. No one I had previously worked for took the time to teach skills I needed to learn to survive in the United States. A middle-aged woman who needed assistance running her home taught me how to pay bills, manage money, and how to take care of my car. Carla bought me a car but neglected to teach me about maintenance, inspections, and registration. This woman, whom I nicknamed Guardian Angel, also paid to take care of my physical needs. I had suffered with impacted teeth and infections but learned to ignore the pain. She took me to an oral surgeon who cried when he realized how much and how long I had endured the pain. He told me he couldn’t believe how anyone could have tolerated such pain. She also took me to a woman doctor who checked that I had no infections or damage from my trauma with the Chief. My GA stayed and held my hand during the examination. She helped me furnish my apartment. My friends in the building told me I lived “like a white girl.”
My GA enjoyed my fascination with undergarments. She also enjoyed what she came to call my “persona de jour.” I guess I was trying on different personalities, often copying people around me or in magazines. One day I could be “a little French girl” with a French beret, white shirt and a skirt and glasses with clear lenses. Another day I was a traditional African woman. My hair styles constantly changed with the wigs and extensions my friends gave me. A pixie cut with bangs, long straight shoulder length hair, or long braids. My GA took me to the hairdresser who cut my hair in a short African fro that she loved. I, of course, insisted on growing it out, damaging my hair with all the different processes I was doing. It takes me a while, but I eventually listen to my GM. I finally realized how much I had damaged my hair.