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My Single Story (Part 2): Weathering Storms and an Awareness of Silver Linings

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We arrived in Cleveland, Ohio and to my surprise another snowstorm awaited us. Slightly less snow, slightly less wind chill factor, but still cold as I don’t know what. Not exactly the warm welcome I had anticipated on the first day of the rest of our college lives.

 

We were directed to on campus parking, assigned our dorm rooms on the 11th floor, and began the arduous task of moving bin bags to bedrooms. We settled in to a smaller and less glamorous space than in Iowa and went in search of food. We were tired, but we had made it so therefore the worst was over. Stepping into the dark not knowing where one’s feet will land is always the hard part. Now our feet had landed, and while we were unsure of our footing at least we had not fallen flat on our faces – we had finally made the move! The optimist within me assured us both that there was solid ground somewhere afoot and we would find it soon.

 

 

Pizza Party and Planning Ahead

The next afternoon we ended up at a café about half a mile from our dorm room that served supersized greasy yummy pizza slices. Zaza treated me to all the pizza and soda I could eat, and thus commenced our celebration – it was my birthday. By the end of our meal, bar a few interesting interruptions, we were filled with junk food and optimism at what was to be our new life.

 

We decided it was probably best to go grocery shopping as we could hardly commit to a life of pizza slices and sodas. Besides, the one big plus was our new dorm room had a kitchen attached to it. We lazily trudged through the old snow from the café to the campus parking lot. However when we arrived in the parking lot something was amiss. We had walked past the spot where Zaza’s car had been parked since we arrived three times now but there was nothing there. The space was worryingly empty. We combed the entire lot to find to our dismay – Delilah was missing!!

 

 

The Kidnapping of Delilah

The grey faithful vehicle that had transported us from our place of dread into our dream location, more fondly known as Delilah, was nowhere to be found. We walked up and down the lot, stopping in front of each car, unable to find her. We nervously laughed it off – we were two days old, perhaps we had gotten the location wrong. I looked at my oldest friend, the one I had known from the age of 2 with caution and dread in the pit of my stomach, she had always been excellent with directions and finding our bearings, there is no way we were in the wrong lot.

 

Nonetheless we trudged to the other three car lots along the same street and performed a similar ritual. Row by row, vehicle by vehicle, we eliminated all the snow covered cars that could have been hers – none were. There wasn’t even another Iowa license plate out of the bunch.

 

Eventually we went back to the dorms and were advised to make a report to the Campus Police. Coming from a place where car keys were left in the ignition, homes were left unlocked with doors ajar if weather permitted, and the only crime seemed to be ‘driving while black,’ this was a rude awakening. Of course we had not left the key in the ignition or the door unlocked, yet somehow Delilah was still gone. It hit us like an avalanche of snow – we had been robbed! Zaza’s car was missing!

 

It was really hard to wrap our minds around this welcome hazing, while staying calm and focusing on getting situated – but somehow we did. We signed up for the campus meal plan because…no choice, and settled in the best we could. Three days later we started classes and noticed our landscape had surely changed. We had gone from cornfields to skyscrapers, and our classrooms had gone from whitewashed to wildly diverse. We were no longer the exception, however we had fewer similarities than we initially anticipated.

 

 

Accents and Questions Asked Out Loud

From Subway (the sandwich store), to the security desk going in to Fenn Tower where we lived, we were bombarded with questions that left us scrambling for answers:

Why do you talk funny?

Why do you talk white?

Why you sound so proper?

How you learn to talk like that?

Where you from anyway?

You dress different.

 

I could barely buy a foot long sandwich without an onslaught of the above questions. I was unsure of what to say when confronted about the way I sounded. It was ironic that the more I said the more I ‘sounded.’ I recalled with fondness the old lady at the Iowa church who would loudly enunciate every word she spoke as she frayed my nerves. At least she expected nothing in return and simply commended my command of the English language. I was used to people making assumptions, not asking these direct and confusing questions.

 

I developed a strategy. I would mumble something, laugh it off, pay as quickly as they would take the money and dash out of Subway (insert lots of other locations), before I was presented with any other puzzling questions.

 

 

Lessons Learned 864.9 Miles Later

The coldness of Iowa and the foreigner code we had established – nod, smile, say hello – now earned us lots of friendships in slightly warmer Ohio. We engaged with lots of people. We had lots of instant connections, as the landscape was so diverse there were many options on who to nod, smile and say hello to. It was a winning formula that worked, both in the classrooms and out of them.

 

My international business courses finally held a lot of the internationals too. I was no longer a skin-deep minority. I began to learn and relearn that people are people. No matter how alike or different we look or sound, we are all unique with enough similarities to form cordial connections. Categorizations based on aforementioned snap judgments no longer worked. Every case was unique. I found kinship in Angola, sisterhood in Russia, solace in Senegal, similarities in Ghana, inspiration in Eastern Europe, heartbreak in Nigeria (with the shocking passing of my darling god-siblings C & U), and lessons in Midwest America. Somewhere between the cornfields and Cleveland and surviving an experience I didn’t know I was signing up for my life had changed and my perspective was enriched by experience.

 

I learned to appreciate the vocal nature of the natives and welcome their questions. very vocal. I decided it was a refreshing change from Iowa where it was all blank stares, muttering and sideways glances from most of our peers. Here people got all up in your face and said what was on their mind. That was okay too. I was gritting my teeth and going through Iowa. It was not until I arrived in Cleveland and encountered some unforeseen challenges that I realized I was also growing through it too.  I had grown, and the new me was stronger and more resilient. She was also more resourceful and less intimidated by opposition.

 

 

Change is the Only Constant

All of a sudden nothing could get me down. Not the stolen car, the campus job interviews with no call backs or the frustrating accommodation issues that led to us finally being released from our lease and moving off campus. Now if I didn’t like something I didn’t sit back and endure it till infinity and beyond, I figured out how to make it better – application to move off campus. Now if I couldn’t find what I wanted I created or recreated it – helped to revive the African student and Caribbean association. Now opportunities were meant to be taken – student government association senator. Now if one door didn’t open, I tried to knock on a bigger one – internship and part time associate business analyst job with the amazing energy company that is Dominion.

 

Iowa taught me to take Cleveland and every other subsequent city by storm. It taught me to become the natural phenomenon I wanted to see and create my own weather forecast. It taught me to see the silver lining around the grey clouds, to make the best of every situation, and to always work towards what season I wanted to step into next. It taught me never to wait for the snow to stop falling or the wind to stop blowing to step out and achieve what was in my heart. It taught me to focus on the prize – the degree – and not be distracted by the snowstorms of life. It taught me that the weather will never be ideal; you must simply make the move and trust you will find your footing. It taught me connections are priceless and now I have more hearts all over the world.

 

 

Happy Endings

 

A few months after we moved to Cleveland the police found Delilah. Badly bruised and stripped of her sound system and GPS, but intact nonetheless. After some TLC at the autoshop she was back and ready to take us within Ohio, to New York, to Florida and beyond. All is well that ends well they say, Cleveland ended well. Objective achieved: got that first class degree! And since the achievement of any major goal is always a comma and never a full stop, we set new goals and relocated to achieve them. We left Cleveland ready to take on our next city armed with the knowledge we had gained there, a more positive forecast and a stronger tolerance for bad weather – both literal and figurative.

Zeni St. John

  • Raymond Wize

    You are simply awesome! Your 1st class intelligence is obvious in your voice and I have enjoyed this personal piece and its parallels to general life a lot more than I anticipated to!!! Keep the flag flying Zeni..Greatness Beckons!!!!

    April 15, 2017 at 10:09 pm Reply

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