Column: Reflection on coming to America: part one

Kehinde Abiodun, Staff Reporter

It is exactly a year since I arrived in America in the cold wind of winter, after nearly 9000 miles of traveling. My journey was inspired by a mix of curiosity, a desire for an American education and a longing to try the world for myself.

I feared that as the years went by, I might lose the verve for traveling and the adventure it holds, and settle to my regular life in downtown Lagos– not a bad one. In fact, I was already establishing myself as a part of the rising middle class until I decided to veer course.

So when I resigned my job in a bank and broke the news of my travel to my folks back home, my old man thought I had lost my mind. He could not come to grips with my decision. But I had my mind set on the journey to America, the so-called land of dreams and opportunities.

In coming to America, I had no illusions. I had heard and read of the shootings and racial discrimination,  about the homeless and beggars on the streets, about psychopaths prowling the streets and sometimes opening fire on random people. But the appeal of living in America was still too strong. After all, it is by far more advanced, better governed than many other countries. The only way I could overcome the pull was to yield.

On arriving at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago, I made an acquaintance with a young man while I was awaiting the arrival of the bus to my destination.  He gave his name simply as Nick. He was bound for Kankakee, while I was heading to Mattoon via the same bus.

Unfortunately, that night, we both missed the bus. We had been waiting at the wrong end of the station.

He asked “what you gonna do,” his breath reeking of tobacco. I shrugged. I would have to wait till morning for the next bus. He reached deep into his hand luggage and offered me a handful of chocolate, as if to console me. I declined and thanked him, but he insisted.

He did his best to be friendly. He regaled me with stories of his life: how he had gone to jail twice, and how he was now putting bits of his life together. For the next hour or so, we talked about school, weather, girls and other things.

Our conversation was punctuated by the buzz of his phone. It was his girlfriend. She had driven down pick him up. As he stood to leave, I shook his hand and thanked him for his kindness. I watched him swagger away in the typical fashion I had seen in American movies.

Earlier that day, on the flight to Chicago, I had sat beside another American man in his mid-thirties. He introduced himself as Tunistra, an engineer with a printer-manufacturing company.

He was fascinated to learn I was from the African continent. He told me he was just returning from Ethiopia, where he had gone to meet his fiancée, who he met online. I remarked that I find Ethiopian women very attractive. He agreed with a smile. I contemplated asking why he had decided to go all the way to Ethiopia, when he could easily have found equally attractive or good women in his country. But I decided to hold my tongue.

I arrived in Mattoon at noon the following day. The Greyhound bus station there was closed. I needed to find a cab to Charleston, but none seemed to be forthcoming. I could feel my face going numb in the chilly gust of wind.

Luckily, I saw a man driving slowly towards me. I thought at last I had found a good Samaritan. I told him I just arrived in America, and needed to find my way to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. He replied that that he would be happy to help me: “Just give me 10 bucks for gas, I’ll get you there in no time.” I was amazed. I said I had only five. He asked me to hop in. In no time, I was in Charleston

Charleston was different; the hustling and bustling of the city had no place here. I found it serene but slow-paced. A few days after the euphoria of coming to the states had waned, the coming days were long, lonely and cold.


Kehinde Abiodun is an economics graduate student. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].