Hi, it’s been a while since we had a blog-versation, the whole of July, right? I’m sorry, it’s…like we say back in Ghana, “Abrokyire abrabo o”. To wit, “the American life got me”! 🙂 Speaking of the American life, I don’t believe I’ve told you about my first experience or impression of America. In fact, it all happened exactly 5 years, yesterday!
On August 10, 2013, I left Ghana with my daughter, for America! It was her first time flying and my third. I remember that day vividly because it was my father’s birthday and I chose it specifically for for very symbolic reasons.
One, as the “leaving the nest” symbol. Though I’d live on my own before, this was the ultimate “move out”! I was leaving not only my family, but my country and my continent of birth! Second, I chose that day in honor of my father. My father, though he may not know this, is the one man I always want to look at me with love and pride and say, ‘that’s my daughter, in whom I am well pleased’!
My dad and I have had our agreements and disagreements (as all parents and their children have), but he has always been my first love! So, I wanted that day to be a day of pride for him. Every parent wants to see their child do better and move forward, and I am sure my father was happy that day, because his “little” girl had grown and was going out into the big world to make it! And though I was going to miss him, I wanted him to always remember that day, as I would and still do!
This decision to leave home, was by far the most daunting, yet most exciting one I have ever made! I was, after all going to “the land of dreams and opportunities” and to a city where I knew no one! I wondered if I would manage the pressure of adapting to a new culture, new environment and meeting new people.
While all of that made me nervous, it also felt very exciting! You see, I am a people person. Anyone who really knows me will attest to that. I am also a child of two countries, Liberia and Ghana; so I have sort of an advantage at adaptation. I love meeting new people and learning about them and their cultures. It was also very exciting because, I was going to start my own family, outside of Gingy and myself!
Our first place of port out of the motherland, was London. Unfortunately, we couldn’t explore the city because I hadn’t looked into how we could do that. So, no Big Ben, no London Eye, no palaces, no nothing. In fact we spent the whole five hours layover in Heathrow! You can imagine what a miracle that was, being that I was traveling with a four year old!
The port of entry for us, was Newark Liberty International. It was there I realized how citizenship is taken very seriously! US citizens had a line and all other nationals had a line. They were very strict on following rules and reading signs were very crucial! We were in a long winding line and I had to carry Gingy at some point because she was exhausted! Eight hours to London, five hours layover, and eight hours to New Jersey, who wouldn’t be exhausted?
Anyway, when it finally was our turn, our passports, visas and other documents were checked and we were ushered into an office like area for further questioning. I was scared because the officers looked very serious and were not welcoming at all and I thought I’d done something wrong!
You see, Gingy and I were traveling on K2 and K1 visas respectively. A K1 visa is also known as a fiancee visa. And since Gingy’s visa was based on mine, hers was a K2. My visa implied that I was in the US to get married to my fiance who was/is an American citizen. The visa gave me a total of 90 days (3 months) in which I was to get married or be removed from the States if the marriage did not occur in 90 days! So, we were taken into that office for me to be questioned about the purpose of my visit. Once everything was cleared up, we were allowed to go for our luggage.
We followed signs to the arrival hall, and there waiting, was my fiance, soon to be husband! I finally was able to breath! I looked at my watch and it was 11:52 pm, August 10! We had spent 21 hours traveling, and 3 hours going through customs and immigration! I am pretty sure we spent more than 24 hours for the whole thing, considering time zone changes and all that!
Despite the exhaustion, I was happy to see my fiance and be in my new country of residence! I looked around and saw the lights. Like Kanye’s song, all of the lights! All the time we spent in the airport, I never took the time to look around, heck, there was nothing really to see, nor was there time to, as we had to follow strict rules and I did not want to get into any trouble! At the hotel, Gingy and I took a quick shower and plopped right into bed!
Have you ever woken up in a strange bed and had the feeling of being in an unfamiliar setting? That is how I felt the next morning! I was still jet lagged, but I was looking forward to seeing the city and visiting my uncles in Staten Island, New York. Of course, we have high rise buildings in Ghana, and I have them in movies, but I was excited at the thought of seeing skyscrapers! Unfortunately, we didn’t see them because we didn’t go to New York city, but there was a lot to see and take in.
I was happy to see my uncles and cousins! From there we went up state New York to visit my best friend. An interesting thing happened while we were visiting my friend. We were hungry and decided to grab a bite before setting off for Columbus, so we decided to go to Wendy’s, one of the fast food places in America. Poor Gingy tasted the burger we had ordered and spat it out, she looked up at me and said, “mummy, I want banku and okro”! The adults burst out laughing, but she didn’t find it amusing at all. Fortunately, sh was able to eat some of the chicken and fries.
We arrived in Columbus, Ohio, the dawn of August 12, after an eight hour drive from New York to Ohio. My fiance had to go to work that morning, so Gingy and I were left alone in our new home! That first week went by quickly, but there was so much to do. Getting our social security numbers, legalizing my marriage, meeting my new daughter and getting used to the newness of everything! Fortunately, language was not a barrier for me – though my accent was/is very noticeable – everything went quite smooth for me.
What amazed me most about America was and still is, the fast track life! Ahem…the “abrokyire abrabo” earlier mentioned! 🙂 Everybody and everything seem to be in a hurry. Almost everything has fast, instant, big or smart prefixed to it! Fast food, instant noodles, smart phones and cars, big whopper (a burger at McDonald’s, I think…). The meal portions were large, too salty, too sweet, or too fatty. They still are, but now I know better!
The one thing we were totally not ready for was the cold! We arrived just before the end of summer, so we were able to see the beauty and chill of fall, and I thought, “that wasn’t bad”! It was winter, however, that completely threw me off! The freezing winds, frost bites, icy roads, blizzards, snow storms and below zero temperatures, had me longing for the beautiful shores of Ghana!
Another thing I learned, in those first few months, was the order in which things needed to be done. You needed a work permit to work, a green card to stay and documents were pretty much required to do almost everything. It’s still the same. Health and auto insurances are a necessity, which can cost you thousands of dollars if you don’t have them, and fall sick or get involved in an accident!
Five years after that first day in New Jersey / New York, I realize that it didn’t take me long to adapt. It will take me a while to assimilate though, as I am still learning. I am happy to report that Gingy and I, are no longer JJCs, we have graduated to Permanent Residents (PRs)!
I’ll end here, and look forward to reading about your experiences of or in a different country, town or place.