My readers would wonder why I chose to call you my friend when you’re supposed to be a stranger to me. They might not understand, but I bet you are smiling at the term, for we both know what it means and why it was my ‘endearment’ of choice.
Exactly three years ago, I came into your country in pursuit of a first degree. Yours was a place I would rarely think of and so the prospects of spending at least three years here never flashed through my mind. When I was offered the scholarship and told I was headed for your kingdom, I was hesitant, for I had other plans and none were remotely connected to you. Circumstance led to acceptance and together with thirteen other determined young people, I landed at your grand airport. I still remember the long ride to our new city, where we took great joy in comparing the landscape to similar places back in The Gambia. At our destination, however, we were quite impressed by the many differences ranging from the infrastructure to the late-night markets.
As the days went by, slowly turning into months and years, I’ve noticed you watching us. You’ve got different faces and moods and so, three years later, I still find it difficult to understand and relate to you. Some days, you would look at me and shout ‘Mon Amie’. Other days, the tone would change and I would get an ‘Azia‘. Before leaving home, I was told to expect the latter and probably accept it. It has been the subject of arguments in class, when we tried to understand the reasons why anyone would refer to us as ‘slaves’ because our skin tone was different. Your friends, my classmates and Professors, tried convincing me that the translation was inapt, but I had spoken to enough people to know and believe otherwise. I have friends who get angered to no end because of your words and actions, but I have learnt to ignore them and it has helped me grow.
In my growth, I have seen things in a different light. You called me Azia and got me thinking about the many times I had referred to certain immigrants in my country as ‘Nyak’. You tell me that the term is not demeaning in your books and I remember equally explaining to these people that I meant neither harm nor insult. I refused to accept your explanation and then thought about those same people refusing my explanation. I tried syncing my feelings and thoughts with theirs, and for once, I was grateful for that term you use so nonchalantly. I wish you would stop using it and have also learnt to stop using my term. Having the best of both worlds, you call it. To me, it was education… outside the walls of the classroom.
Mon ami, you know this past year has not been the best for me and my kind, especially with the crackdown on those who are here illegally. We’ve mourned the ones who couldn’t make it through and have prayed for ourselves, hoping the God that we all serve will keep us safe and guide us back to our homes and loved ones. However, I shall not rant. I choose to let the anger fade away and focus on the good. I choose to appreciate you for the many lessons I’ve received from you. I thank you for forcing me to grow faster than I would have, if I hadn’t met you. I am grateful for the increased tolerance and the je ne sais quoi attitude you’ve taught me to adapt for difficult times. I still have you to thank for making my resume more attractive with the diversity in language, even as I struggle to gargle my Rs and deepen my Zs. When I finally don that blue gown and walk up the stage to receive my degree, I shall remember you and be glad that our paths crossed. When I finally leave, you will come with me. Though you stood back, watched and never said a word, I have noticed you.
Dear stranger, you’ve still got two years to do as you have always done. I have never been brave enough to approach you, but today I ask of only one thing. Accept me as I am, for only then shall you discover what I am worth. Misjudgment clouds the prospects of great relationships, you will agree. When I eventually get to think of you again, I hope you stop seeing me as the stranger. When I set my eyes on you again, I hope to share a smile and wave to you, knowing we are one and have been delivered of all strange things. Then, I shall look back at you, no longer a stranger, and call you Mon Ami!
P.S The Ex-Boyfriend gets it tomorrow.