Discovering America

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Farragut Square from Southeast. Washington D.C. downtown.
Wikimedia Commons. By Erifnam

After our short excursion with our hosts, the Chaavas in Irving Washington D.C., where we had the first opportunity to wonder at America’s landscape, environment, architecture and large stores like Target, we headed for Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. It would be a shame if I did not talk about our first experiences in an American home.

The Chaava’s treated us to an amazing breakfast the first morning at their house. With all three of their kids, husband and wife got busy in the kitchen preparing a breakfast that until then, we had not seen people have at home.  I vaguely remember scrambled egg, pancakes, pancake syrup and a whole lot of food that literally filled the table.  We ate our fill and we could not ask for more. After the meal, I walked into the kitchen to help and then of course saw how differently American kitchens are designed. There was the sink with the disposal and the other sink with the normal outlet. Then, there was the dishwasher in which I was told we could put the dishes and we did not need to wash them manually (it was that easy). Then of course as we cleaned the kitchen, I noticed the microwave oven, the toaster, coffee pot, and a lot more gadgets that I had dreamed of filling my kitchen with but that were pretty expensive to own back home. Coming into a new place and interacting with new things is not always as easy as one would think it should i.e. using the toilet should be that easy. Toilets are the same everywhere, isn’t it? No, wrong! American toilets are adventure themselves.

The evening we arrived at the Chaava’s we were shown the bathroom and later I took the liberty to go in and use it. The toilet bowl was almost oval in shape and a lot lower than the high businesses I was accustomed to in Zambia. I noticed also that there was more water sitting in the toilet bowl than usual, but I unwittingly went ahead and used it without taking time to find out if what I suspected was true i.e. that the system was a little blocked so there was some kind of reflux going on.  Instead, I just sat dwon and did my business. When I was done, I threw in the softer than normal tissue that was gracefully available in the bathroom (it was a while since I had seen a whole roll of such quality tissue hanging in the house. In Zambia, we bought such tissue when we were expecting visitors because it was really expensive) and flushed. I stood aside and watched with horror as the water bubbled and began to fill the toilet bowl, with all the business I had done floating at the top of it. I was panicking as I imagined how the water would flood the floor and all my business litter that beautiful clean bathroom.

“Dear God,” I prayed, “I just arrived in America barely an hour ago and now I am about to mess this perfectly clean apartment that our hosts have so graciously received us in, they will regret having received us in their house. Please make this problem go away.”

I watched still bewildered, as the water swirled in the bowl, then the midsection began to be sucked downwards and soon it was all gone, the toilet was clean and the water back to its former high level. I was very relieved but vowed not to do any other funny business in that bowl again without letting my husband know what a horrible experience I had in the bathroom.  Needless to say, my nerves were raw for most of that evening and I jitterbugged around almost everything till our hefty breakfast the following morning.

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The Central Business District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as seen from Mt Washington.

Our drive from Irving Texas to Pittsburgh was a fun one. I do not remember much from that ride because I was still very anxious about how things would eventually turn out in this country where we had come foremost as visitors but with work underway for us all to get into school eventually and see how our lives would eventually turn out.  What I remember well was the clean, organized and meticulously designed road system. The Highway was an amazing long stretch of beautiful countryside and landscape. I realized very quickly that as opposed to popular belief where I came from, this country did not lack for land, there was way too much unoccupied land and so many trees even if the whole vegetation was totally different from what I was accustomed to. American forests are way too thick, to the point of being impenetrable. My mind was screaming all the while, “wild animals!”

We arrived in Pittsburgh long after sunset. My husband had not told us that Pittsburgh is hilly, that we would be doing a lot of up and down traveling whether on foot or driving. As we drove into the Baldwin area of Allegheny County, rows upon rows of brick red buildings began to emerge on hills and hillsides, standing shoulder to shoulder with one another. These were curious looking buildings. Bright lights graced the night from these dwellings in a way that reminded me of a Christmas Postcard that may have passed through my fingers at one time or another. My husband drove our hired minivan down the neighborhood’s streets. That was when I saw them. A lot of vehicles parked along the stretch of the road close to the buildings.

“Wow, everybody is out here for a party,” I said.

“No, it is not a party. This is how people park their vehicles here.”

“You mean they park their vehicles on the road for the night?” I was bewildered.

“Yes. And they are safe, no worries. This is the only space we have to park in because the car parks are not enough for all the people living in the apartments and apartment homes.”

Along the way, we met a few of my husband’s friends, part of the community that had been looking after him ever since he had been in the country. They were mostly folks from his church, a Zambian church.

Later the following afternoon, we drove to Herzt car hire to return the minivan my husband had hired. Hertz Car Hire was located at part of the city that was less than flattering to the eye. Across from the Hertz offices were an empty lot that was overgrown and the part of the road that side looked disused and littered with indescribable pieces of dirt. That part of the city was a little rundown. I began to worry about what this would do to my kids who thought so highly of America. And true to my fears, one of my kids was not too quiet about her feelings. She looked around sadly and then with bitter disappointment, declared,

“Is this what they call America?”

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