Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Life Planning Skills Made in America: An immigrant figuring out America (Part I)

You are 16 years old and you want to start a life of your own. Or you are an immigrant and have access to internet and are reading this note. Or you are a newly-settled American. You do need a navigation console. You know, a mother board on which are these hair-thin size capacitors with different directional purposes. Or a solid dash board on which are buttons to press to satisfy a given need.
Needs! Talking of needs! What would be the greatest single most satisfaction one needs to get immediately as a person wishing to strike out on their own? Some would say shelter. Others would say food. Yet others would say clothes and food. I would say all three. I would also quickly add: friends, people or a welcoming unit of persons who are willing to share a space in their home. A home is crucial. It is a launch-pad for many to think straight and figuring out America.
As a person living with others, you need to know or develop people-to-people skills: These are very core, dependable and soft skills: You may be living with persons who have perhaps lived their life following a certain pattern. Study it and also engage them in a conversation. Using the same space, ask about your hosts plans for the next day. Share with them what you intend to do. Also using this same opportunity, inquire whether they have something they want you to do around the house or home or hostel. If they say they have nothing they have thought about, tell them you are ready to do something once there is any opportunity for a helping hand.
If you do have opportunities to jog, walk or do exercises get to understand your environment outside the home. Be like the territorial animal that marks boundaries. But, in your case it will be marking out land-marks. This will help you know the area even batter.
Get to know what other things are based on to lead a life. I have a list for you. This list will inform the way you perceive America or plan to lead your life in America:
Insurance: to cover your health needs. There is need for you to be immunized. Without insurance and with the long list of what America requires one to be immunized against, it cost me USD 500 (March 2013). One thing you have to note is; avoid the so called soliciting agents claiming to represent an insurance company. Look for credible insurance companies for services.
Wireless/Internet: This may be a combined service with TV, Phone and internet. But, you may have one package you need to pay for regularly to avoid being cut off. Beware of the internet and telephone-based scam in form of letters and deals promising you gifts but “that before you get the gift you need to send money.”
Mortgage: Get to learn about mortgage and owning a house of your own. Read the literature and ask around. Be inquisitive and learn how the real estate performs. This may help you know trends.
Education: You may be a graduate or educated up to a certain level from your country. There is a facility in America that grades the qualifications from other countries. The best place to start with is a university of high school near you that you feel you want to join. Most American cities have community support centers where they give counselling and advice in these matters. Visit such places as part of your learning America. Many universities have on-line courses. Register for them. Most are free. Those that require a fee will inform you about it. Beware there are also scams here. Many on-line High School Diploma internet based services are suspect. Be very cautious. They are called “Diploma mills”!
The Library: Register and be a member of a library near you.
Hair cut: Make friends and get to know which hair cut would do a good job with your face, nails and general grooming.
In-door sports: There gymnasiums that require a membership fee to be paid. Try them and enrol. It is good (in fact, imperative) to exercise.
Clothes: Dress to preserve dignity but also as a code of good conduct. Get to know where particular clothes you need are sold.
Energy/Weatherization: Get to know the weather in America. Conserve energy and life.
Gas and Water: Do you know that there are bills as a result of use of water and gas? Adopt a conservative and judicious approach to their use.
Entertainment: The books, radio at home or TV may be the first source of entertainment. Or your source of entertainment could be the conversation at table during dinner or a meal.  Share your expectations with your hosts. Share your likes and dislikes of various films, novels and plays (drama). Ask and learn if you do not know the different genres. Do you know that there is Rock, rumba, salsa, Cuban, blues, oldies, country, thrillers, opera, tragedies....I could go on and on. Get to learn the genres. You could be adept at the instruments or story-telling. Show off your talents. Get to enjoy the home you are living in.
Groceries: Do you know the different kinds of groceries you use at home? Do you know how they are prepared? Get to learn and explore.
Membership: There are must be things that connect you to a given community. Is it the way you stand at the side of the road as the car passes you on a narrow road? Is it the wave at the next door person? Do something about how you are perceived once you are out of the home. This American homes with large windows; this is what they say about them. An American’s house is his watch tower as much as an Englishman’s house is his castle.
Miscellaneous/unbudgeted: Have you ever gone shopping and realized you needed something but it was not budgeted for? Or have you ever gone out and never planned on helping a stray cat get back to its owner, yet you have that bus to catch? That is how tricky life is. Expect surprises and no mercy.
Connections: Get connected, make friends, keep friends, join a church or mosque or temple group or some form of social group (you may be atheist for all I know and am not pointing a figure. That is between you and you). Do you know that I watched my parents die and at a very tender age was left to become the child -head of a house-hold of 13 people? Do you also know I struggled to get them to school and I only read their notes and asked them to be my teachers to compensate for my education? Do you know that now am at Harvard University? Okay if you ask me I shall tell you the story. But for now, be well.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Immigrant’s wish

The messenger on wheels,
Bringer of hope
Satiety in an envelope,
I have a wish.

The ever jolly deliverer,
A sense of purpose,
If only you stayed longer,
To share in the excitement.

That is the next delivery,
I can tell from my window,
A letter in hand
Make me firm in this land.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

From ‘Othering’ to ‘midsting’

“I am lucky I did not get HIV,” said a very excited young man giving testimony before over 500 gathered people. “I am lucky I did not die,” said a woman who had survived an accident involving a bus and a train in which 39 people were killed. These are a few of the many statements we hear or are ready to engage in when we thinking about ourselves and shutting out the feelings of others. To some this kind of talk is utter insensitivity. This insensitivity is also called ‘othering’ today. This is the transfer of blame or guilt or judgement to others and making ourselves blameless, pure or superior.

A long time ago all animals were supposed to keep the fires burning once a year. This was a ritual they had to keep to drive the night away for one day in a year. The night would slip in slowly and spoil the ritual. They had to choose an animal that would hear the night coming. The animal that would be able to hear the night coming would be awarded the coveted position of sitting amidst the gathering during all meetings. It was called midsting.  The elephant stood up and so loudly proclaimed he was the best of listeners because he had very large ears. He looked down upon the bat, the other only contender. The elephant in its self-righteous stance despised the bat.

The Bible has two parables: Luke 18:9-14 (Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector) and Luke 15: 11-32 (Parable of the Prodigal Son). We meet the tax collector brought into the fold even if he was distancing himself due to his mortification.  We also meet a father, who filled with compassion runs towards his long lost son, embraces him, brings him back to the house amidst all other members and gives him a special place at the table.

 The HIV world has raised two polarized contexts. Those who are negative tend to call themselves “lucky” and those not negative are thought of as “unlucky.” Some religions and cultures have tended to look at death as a punishment and those who are alive to be fortunate. This has influenced the way we speak about disease, death and challenges. Life is a basic gift. It is a source of joy, fulfillment and hope no doubt. It would be meaningless if we did not do all in our power to make joy, fulfillment and reduce a sense of hopelessness for others. Life is an opportunity for bringing about hope in hopeless situations.