When I arrived in the United States barely a month ago, I envisaged that things will either go the way I knew and this is what I call “the African way” or go “the American way”, but these thoughts were to be proven either way.
On January 29th 2014, three days following my arrival at my new host organization (AMIR), I disembarked from the bus I had traveled on from my rented room away from Oakland downtown and begin to walk into my office couples of blocks away from where I alighted on 8th Street. Just after crossing one block, I almost fell into trouble when I saw and imagined what I would have done the African style.
The problem which had almost landed me into trouble was as a result of an old blind man who was attempting to cross the road from the direction where I was heading to. And I was on the other side of the road where he was destined to too, but both of us were on the opposite side of the road, but to be precise, we were crossing under the Broadway pedestrian crossing pavement. My African style emerged from my sense that, once a young man like me saw an old person or person with disability, one ought to help that individual at any difficult movement and as such I crossed very fast to the other side of the road in order to help him cross to the other side, because of his inability to see and do what others are doing, I thought my sympathy would help him.
But the old blind man surprised me by doing the American style, by being angry with me and asked me “Who I was? And my answer was, I am Yach Gabriel, I am Atlas Corps Fellow from South Sudan, and he also continued and said what do you want to do? I said I want to help you cross the road. He asked again why? I replied that I consider myself as your son though I am from South Sudan and I pity your situation. His final answer was “Leave me alone”. From the above conclusion from the old blind man. I left him immediately and followed my own way and forgot the African style of helping the old blind man. Base on the above conversation I had become nervous and so many questions arise and some of them were;
What was he thinking of me?, in my view he thought I was a robber and had he yelled to the public that this folk or stranger want to rob me, I was going to be in trouble and my honeymoon in the United State would have been short-lived by thinking the African way to help the old blind man. What were the imaginations of on-lookers patiently stranded in the traffic jam allowing us to cross? Some have been thinking that I was doing the right thing by helping the vulnerable individual while others were blaming me for not minding my own business because this is the slogan I have just understood and witnessed here in the United States whereby one only concentrates on what brings him/her into town.
What would have been the thoughts of my supervisor for not reporting to work very early as required by the staff codes of conducts? His imagination would have been that I overslept due to the cold weather I have encountered in San Francisco, but all these thoughts came as a result of my African style of helping the blind old man. Ideally, the concept of cross-culture would have been blamed for this attempt. I was in Washington DC for one day of my two weeks orientation and professor Gary Weaver from American University have given us a lecture on the American culture and how non-Americans go astray when they arrived into United States. May be I was wrong to judge the American style before I would have tried to ask some few questions into how I would have helped the old blind man. This instance could have been to ask him, can I help you cross the road? And I guessed he would have still asked the question who I was? And what I am doing to him? This proves my African style worthy working too. But nevertheless, we learned from one mistake and perfect the next one and I am sure I will not try to vigor help someone to do what he/she believe is capable and mind my own business.
Last but not the least, I also did something which I consider to be African style but it was in contrary to the American approach. I was almost approaching my disembark bus station, but I didn’t knew that you press the “stop request” bell or pull the string. I stood up and walked toward the exit door knowing that when the next stop station approaches, the bus will stop and one alight, but I was wrong and the bus didn’t stop and it went ahead just staring back at the station I would have alighted. This was what I used to do when I was in Kenya when the station approaches, one would stand toward the exit door and the driver will stop if you had not pressed the stop request once you call the conductor and I thought this will work for me here in the United States.
But the understanding of standing passenger here in the United States is that there could be no space to sit or one would prefer to stand in a moving bus than to sit, hence the driver was right to by-passed the station as I didn’t do what she expected from me. All these summed up my first one week in San Francisco, Oakland and I came up with this thought “American way, not the African way” and as of now I follow the American way not the African way.
The reason as I narrated these scenarios, is that some of us if not all of us have went through these strange encounters but we tend to blame the surrounding circumstances which led to them. But in reality, these are things which are ought to happen to an individual or group of persons, but the degree of their occurrences differed from individual(s) to vicinity. But I considered them as they happened in the way the title had generated them. Each of us has a different perspective of the above scenarios but I termed them as such. Let continue to avoid precedents that would generated such sentiments.