Out of Africa

Sitting at Philadelphia International airport waiting for my connecting flight to St. Louis and having a hard time believing that I am finally back in the USA, after 26 months. The layover in Brussels went smoothly. I parted ways with Laura who traveled with me from Yaoundé. We grabbed a Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks before boarding our respective flights. It felt very correct. I didn’t have the panic feelings that I encountered when landing in Paris last summer. This was a good sign, I thought. I’m ready for the “real world”.

Then, I landed in Philadelphia and that panicky feeling returned. While walking out of the terminal, I saw the multi-lane highways through the floor-to-ceiling glass window. Cars were going so fast! So much pavement. So strange. I went through customs, security check for the Nth time and finally hit the shopping  and food court area. I walked into the Gap and looked around – this is not the frip no more. Things were pricey. But it’s nice to see the same clothing in different sizes and shades. I took it all in and decided to hold off on the shopping for a bit. Stopped in Borders to buy a magazine. I forgot that it’s possible to buy the August issue when it’s still July. ah, America! With reading material in hand, I continued to the food court.

Oh boy, the food court. I walked around in circles feeling lost for at least 5 minutes before deciding on something – SO many choices! I went with Chic-filet for a nugget meal. The cashier took my order and asked me what kind of sauce I want… I asked him what the choices were, he rattled off 8 different kinds and I was overwhelmed. I went with bbq and pulled out my wallet to pay. Before he even gave me the change, my order was ready – that blew my mind! SO fast! After the meal, I walked around a bit more and decided to get a smoothie – same thing happened – my order was miraculously ready within the 3 minutes that I placed my order. I suppose they call it fast food for a reason!

I’m overwhelmed. America is strange. I can’t really describe how I feel – definitely more of an indifference than either very excited or sad. Just so strange – everything is so big. People are so big in a negative way. In Bamiléké land, the mamas were big, but in that beautiful big African way that’s muscular and not…. well, flabby.

Oh! I finally witnessed this infamous iPad that I’ve read about. People are lugging around this iPad in addition to their laptop. What is the point of that?! A gentleman sitting next to me on the flight had an iPad, an iPhone, and a Mac laptop. I couldn’t understand why it’s necessary to have ALL three… When the plane landed, everyone started turning on their iPhones, Blackberries and other scary looking gadgets that made lots of noises. People were texting away before reaching for their luggage in the overhead compartment. All this technology will take me a while to get used to. I think I’m in for an interesting journey to readapt to this culture. My life suddenly became very anonymous. People don’t yell, or look at me with interest when I walk by. I’m just another individual. For so long, I longed for this anonymity, but now that I have it, I’m not sure I feel about it. Every now and again, I panic and realized that this is the life that I will have to learn to live in. This is not a vacation. I am out of Africa, and into America.



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.