Give me a book or give me a journey…

I have been in the United Kingdom for three weeks now and it is too soon for me to give a fair assessment of what it is like.

Although I readily admit that the food is unimaginative, plain and uninspiring – I do not wish to conclude that this is a reflection of the people themselves.

Those who have pestered me with questions on how it is like ‘over there’ will attest that my responses have been unsatisfactory in lacking both detail and enthusiasm – to be frank, I’ve warded off such inquiries thinking it would be unfair to peddle a half-baked impression of what has so far been a splendid looking country.

I have however not shown similar hesitation in my disgruntlement about how bland the food is and again; those who have asked how I am faring will readily testify that I was quite clear on my dislike for the English dishes that I have savored thus far.

But this blog is not about food per se, it is a bit about impressions and mostly about how meeting new people and encountering new cultures can become a transforming, fulfilling and exciting experience.

I must apologize and make this disclaimer: if you find this post lacks the usual finesse that you have come to associate with my writing (I do hope you consider my work to be indicative of some level of finesse on my part) please bear with me as I am typing this as I go…so its a raw and unedited copy written from a place that lies between the heart and mind (you’re free to speculate as to which organ that could be,lol!)

My first week was spent mostly in my room in Stanmer Court along Lewes Road at the University of Sussex campus; I preferred the quiet of my room to the bustling noise of the students that swarmed the campus for Freshers and Induction week.

I am not an easily intimidated person so I will not say I was intimidated during my first week there…the word I would happily use is – overwhelmed. Yes that sounds appropriate.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of strangers surrounding me; overwhelmed by the reality that my dark skin suddenly rendered me an instant minority in a sea of white and asian faces; overwhelmed by the fact that I had actually left my son alone and overwhelmed by the unexpected feelings of guilt that I am still failing to shake off.

Anyway, I write this blog entry from Bournemouth having been a guest at my sister-in-law’s house for the weekend and what inspired it is an incident that took place on my journey here by train from Brighton to Southampton Central station.

I boarded the train armed with a novel and secure in the knowledge that familiar faces where just a click away on my Blackberry and I would not want for company if I felt the need to converse with anyone.

In short, I did not expect to talk to anyone and I went in with the resolve to barely glance at the other passengers if I could help it. This resolve came as a result of my experience of the culture of hostility that characterizes New York subway rides where passengers meet your glance with a glare and your gaze with suspicion.

So I was not going to talk to anyone and I was going to do my best to not look at anyone and I grabbed a window seat to make sure I could always stare out the window if my eyes craved something to gaze upon.

If I had had an invisibility clock I’d have worn it for the occasion – that is how wary I was of traveling in that train surrounded by people I thought would (in typical New-York subway-style) maintain a sustained atmosphere of hostility for the duration of that 3 hour journey.

Trisha...the stranger on the train who bestowed me with a gift - unexpected and much appreciated!

Several stops from Brighton (I cannot recall the name of that station) a lady got on board and took a seat across from me.

My very brief glance registered that she was white, chubby and… that was the extent of my visual data capture.

I returned to my online perusal of twitter, facebook and my favorite bloggers, thinking how purchasing that smartphone was a smart move on my part.

The intrusion was sudden and I was uncertain as to how to respond to the abruptness with which the lady sitting across from me had made it impossible for me to follow the two guidelines I had resolved to adhere to without seeming incredibly rude.

Because she had spoken to me I now had to speak her too, and because I had to speak to her I would now have to look at her. Not only had she spoken to me she had done so in a loud manner, drawing attention to me as the other passengers suddenly glanced at me probably curious about my looks because she’d said;

“S’cuse me Miss, could I jus say you’re a very pretty lady, you remind me of this pop star called Sonic, your hair is just like hers. But you too young probably don’t know her, you’re what? 18?”

I looked up to encounter the warm smile, friendly face and cheerful voice of a woman I later learned was called Trisha.

In a conversation that lasted about 10 minutes, that one woman changed my perception about train rides (well British ones anyway); about the disposition of Britons and what I now believe to be their general inclination to being open, welcoming and charming.

She gave me jewellery, complimented me on the eloquence with which I speak the Queen’s language; expressed a desire to see Africa one day and made suggestions as to what other foodstuff I might want to try in order to enjoy British meals.

I don’t know her last name; she got of the train and I stayed on it. I probably will never see her again but I will not forget her.

It is people like her and experiences like these that help me appreciate that there is so much we can teach each other and so much we can learn from others when we are prepared to confront new places and new people with an open mind.

I am a very strong advocate for education as a tool for transformation and empowerment and in recent years as I have had the opportunity to travel – I’ve come to appreciate the lessons I have gleaned through traveling.

I am glad I am where I am at this time in my life; I will make the most of it because I might not pass by this way again.

One thing I am certain of though is that whether one gives me a book or one gives me a journey – either way that person has given the means to experience the world in a special way and the potential to be transformed forever.

Give me a book or give me a journey – either way I will be transformed!


2 thoughts on “Give me a book or give me a journey…

  1. Lynette Lindani Manabela says:

    What I can say is “wow”,this is interesting. The fact that we as Africans we have a great effect on people and I believe that it is because of that unique “something” about us ” that brings out or if I may say that “attract” the spirit of UBUNTU from within the people we meet from all over the world. No one can resist the beauty of an “African princess”, you are the mirror of where you come from and your beauty and deeds represent all of us “African Sisters”.

  2. This is very true. Everyone and everything ought to be taken on a case by case basis. Train rides, I have found, largely tend to be very uncomfortably quiet – the person sitting next to you would like to speak but cannot, for their socialisation and ‘Englishness’ find the entry point into discussion. They are not unfriendly, I don’t think. They just don’t know how to open up. So it’s great when you find one who can be that way.

    Next stop – try the London underground. Horrible. I was once on and this guy fell asleep on the journey. Imagine if someone fell asleep in a kombi – after a while, someone would shake him or her up to make sure they hadn’t missed their stop – but there we all were and no one bothered. Eventually, I couldn’t handle it and had to do something. He was sitting opposite me and oh goodness, just reaching out my hand to his knee felt like I was molesting him. All this zone of personal space stuff you feel. People are just sooooooo reserved. Well, just as well I woke him because his was the next stop. But surely, this country just lacks that personable spirit, that ubuntu that you can only get in Afrique.

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