Once people find out that you are not from ‘here’ — wherever ‘here’ is for you — there are a few ways they react. The most pleasurable reaction starts with curiosity, increased interest, and a barrage of questions that leave you feeling wanted.
It’s almost like that first conversation with a crush.
She actually is interested in me! She wants to know what I do when I’m not in school. He loves books too!
If you are an introvert — like me — with time, you get better at it. You frame your story more, you manage the suspense better, you anticipate questions. The more time you spend and experience ‘here’, you have more data points to compare ‘here’ and ‘there’.
For me, ‘here’ is the United States of America. ‘There’ is Cameroon — where I was born and raised for the past 28 years. I moved to join my fiancee, got married three months ago. We’ve applied for permanent residency and I enjoy high-speed internet, food, and the affection of my in-laws and my wife’s 12 years of experience and relationships living ‘here’.
But this is not about the great parts of my immigrant experience. This may come off as mildly salty. That’s how I feel today.
When I talk to Americans (and others here) about Cameroon, I am proud of the differences in culture. Simply because at that moment, I become a part of their story. I provide value in a way that I know may never be replicated.
I might be the first Cameroonian they ever meet. I might be the only Cameroonian born human they ever come across.
Therefore, many of my talks center around sharing what I experience with the eyes of my birth country.
These conversations, I have come to realize, were only half of the narrative.
By the end of the talk, they leave refreshed. I leave feeling valued.
Like I said earlier, this is one type of the conversations immigrants have. The ‘how-is-here-compared-to-there’.
The one that has incapacitated me for the past few months, is the one I have with myself after trying to explain to someone — anyone — that I am having a hard time here.
Not out of spite. Not out of homesickness. Not sadness.
It just is what it is.
I feel out of place. I feel misunderstood. I can’t work because I don’t have a work permit, so I feel like I am simply taking from everyone around me and not contributing. I can’t drive, so I feel dependent on everyone. I can’t go anywhere to let steam off because I don’t know anyone who isn’t friends with my wife or her family( and I can’t drive). I can’t buy stuff I want because we have a budget I haven’t contributed to and can’t because of permits. Also, we both can’t work. I need to walk around with photocopies of my passport and social security because I don’t have a valid ID. I don’t know what I can or can’t do because it’s a new country with rules I may be completely oblivious to.
Did I mention I was black, introverted, in love with books, technology, and probably on the spectrum?
This particular conversation, I like to call it ‘I understand how you feel but…” because that’s the most common version of the responses; where people who care — genuinely so — want you to feel better so badly that they skip the listening.
Where because they don’t understand what’s going on and how to help, they switch to panic mode and want me to feel understood.
Sadly, I don’t. Here’s the good part: that’s okay.
The past few months came with their own challenges and necessary shifts. I wasn’t even able to write about them. I found myself getting better in a few aspects and losing ground in others. As a new husband, in a new country, with new thoughts about the future, challenges, and obligations, I feel my entire being is always under the pressure the evolve to fit the ever-changing needs of my immediate or future environment.
There are moments when it is a beautiful observation. Where I look at the world with new eyes and see patterns full of nuggets and life. I get to apply constructs from — literally — another country. I get to have conversations, share mundane facts and elicit the laughter, surprise and joy of strangers about a land they may never visit.
Some days, it’s just me. Alone with my thoughts. With the fear that I don’t even know how to express what it is that my mind is bubbling with. Looking for words, birthing the wrong ones. Dying to be understood but unaware of the truth.
Then there are the in-between days. Where I can see how lucky I am, how much work I need to apply and how life has a way of binding miracles with curses.
And that’s okay too.
I guess because of all what is happening to me, and for me, there are conversations that only people like me can understand. Not just new husbands in new countries where the color of their skin have new meaning they have to acknowledge, but for everyone in a new country or place, they have to adapt, adjust and live in.
We are adaptive beings. These salty thoughts don’t negate the gratitude I feel for my wife and all the people I have met. Strangers who offer to give me rides when I tell them about my driving situation, others who offer me coffee and a conversation.
Some — like my writers’ group members — who give me a home of sorts, a place where I get to be nerdy and smart. Where my contributions matter and the events of my week get heard.
If that isn’t therapy, what is?
In the end, after a month-long hiatus from writing, I have come to the conclusion that the only way left for me is through.
I am no longer ‘there’. I am ‘here’. There is there.
I am here.
That’s okay too.
If you liked this, you might like these(they’re also less salty) 😊: