Richard describes his experiences coming from Nigeria as a mature student…
The take off from Lagos and the landing at Cape Town did not take long as I expected. I slept throughout the five hour flight except on three occasions when there was food, drink and turbulence. The husky voice of the pilot woke me ten minutes to landing but I missed out the information on the weather. We landed safely and the plane taxied on a tarmac that was full of directional signs and symbols known to the pilot alone. We kept moving in the direction of a particular yellow colour line until we finally stopped and disembarked.
I called Pastor Iddowu who was on his way. It was winter and Capetonian weather was bitterly cold. I had on a silky summer attire and palm sandals without socks. I was cold already and goose pimples were all over my body. Meanwhile, I suspected everyone knew I was a foreigner by the manner people kept looking at my Agbada (robe).
A couple also emerged from the Arrival lounge and were smoking near me while their daughter who was dressed like an Eskimo watched. I moved a little away from them looking up to locate the rising sun. The undulating chains of mountain first caught my attention, then the movement of the clouds that were forming different shapes which once in a while covered the sun. It started drizzling and within minutes I felt water droplets coming out of my drenched clothing.
How will I survive this weather? I wondered. And I also knew that people here hated foreigners.
The rain ceased after about ten minutes and the sun was out again. Iddowu’s arrival was taking longer than I expected so I went back into the left wing of airport arrival lounge to enjoy the warmth.
My phone rang. He must be around now. I saw men holding placards with names written on it and taxi drivers seeking for my patronage. Among them was Pastor Iddowu waving and laughing apparently at the manner I was shivering. I held my wet trousers with one hand and my bag with the other and quickly moved towards his direction.
‘Welcome to South Africa!’
I had a severe flu attack the first night. That was the second day of the legendary eight days of non-stop Capetonian rain. I went shopping for jackets and blanket the second day. I was going to be prepared!
I was in the library. My secondhand laptop just would not connect to the library internet after many attempts. The documents I downloaded the previous weeks were all corrupted by a virus and all the programmes were hanging. When I did a virus scan, the virus scan results indicated volubly that the system was at risk of crashing. The group of students near me burst out laughing each time a the virus alert was voiced, chatting to each other in a language with so many clicks.
In the midst of this frustration the library alarm rang. I thought it was an emergency warning and was trying to locate the emergency exit. Then I saw students packing and unplugging their laptops. Nothing to wory about, just the end of a long day.
It was drizzling outside and I was in a haste to go and pack the clothes I left on the line. As I was descending the winding stairs of the Library in a bid to catch a train to Belhar and to avoid the rush hour, I saw a pretty, slender lady pacing slowly down the stairs and preventing me from moving fast. I past her then turned back to steal another look. I tripped and almost fell.
The lady smiled. “Sorry I almost tripped here also the other day,” she said. “This Nike bag of yours is good.”
“Thank you – my name is Richard from Nigeria.”
“I am reading Linguistics, and you?”
“Education. But wait… did you say you are a Nigerian?”
I could see on her face the reaction like so many others: Nigerians equals drug dealers. It quickly registered on my mind that I had messed up.
“Do you mind if I walk you to your residence?”
She shrugged. “Why not?”
A phone rang, a Nokia ring tune like mine. My hand went to my phone, but it was not my call. Busisizwe started conversing with the caller all through the walk. We were now close to her residence. She just walked in and left me in the cold.
I tried severally to locate Busisizwe but all my attempts failed. On many occasions I would sit in the ground floor of the Library to see if I could see her again. The semester ended. A new session began and students were registering for the new semester of the session. Finally I found her in the queue.
“Bosoziwe….eeh is that you?” I could see from her face that Busisizwe did not find that funny. A student who stood next to me laughed and repeated what I said thereby attracting more comments from other students.
“Please the name is Busisizwe not Bososwe -have I met you before?”
I did not want to go into a long introduction and in the process reveal my identity. So I just quickly noted her student number which she was dictating and left for lectures. Immediately after the class, I sent a mail to her reminding her of our first encounter. I waited for weeks without getting a reply.
I however did not give up sending emails until one day I remembered one of our high school love tricks. I composed a one stanza poem with some plagiarised lines from John Keats Ode to the Grecian Urn and another from his Ode to the Nightingale and forwarded it to her. In the subject field I wrote AN ODE TO A BLISSFUL AFRICAN MAID.
The reply was quick but brief. It contained only Thanks and a cell phone contact. But soon she had agreed to come on an outing with me.
We went by train, a first experience for me. When the train started moving, I felt like I was in the being belly of an anaconda. Busisizwe was seated next to me as the train snaked through the beautiful city. There were fewer passengers in the train and my mind was engrossed by the information and drawings and posters on the train – adverts for abortion, and stickers that said things like BORN FREE BUT TAXED TO DEATH.
Busisizwe called my attention. “Hey look over there.” I followed the direction of her index finger. “This is Langa station. Here you can have all sorts of Nigerian food stuffs.”
“Of course. Lots of Egusi, Cray fish, Oogbono and garri.”
She turned back to me. “By the way are you Oroba?”
“Do you mean Igbo?”
“Whatever you call it.”
“I am Jukun Kona from Janbanibu village in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria.”
The train moved on and Busisizwe carried on showing me things. “We are in Vasco, that that mountain up there is called the Signal Hill.”
I was turning my head left and right like traffic officer to locate the mountain as the number of passengers had now increased and it was hard to see out. Busisizwe forced opened the window that seems to have not been greased for long. I felt relieved. It smelt like rotten eggs on the train.
“There is another mountain coming up. It is called Table Mountain. It has more than one thousand species of plant.”
“Yeah, and that area is called Parklands.”
“Woa it looks very beautiful and serene.”
“Yah and guess what?… that is where your Nigerian brothers who sell tik live.”
I was ruffled by that comment. It reminded me of the day we met. I turned to see who also must have heard what she said. I was quiet for about ten minutes, and I never bothered to look up when the train stopped on three occasions.
I suspected that we had reached another station by the blaring horn of the train and the forward and backward movement of the standing passengers. This was followed by a sudden exit of many. There were less passengers standing now so I could see Salt River Station boldly written when the train stopped.
“This is Salt River station.” I pretended I did not hear her.
“The three stations we passed were Goodwood, Wortemade and Thornton.” I ignored her and concentrated on the paper. I was quiet until we reached Cape Town and were relaxing at a café.
“Please Busisizwe make your order, I do not feel like eating now.”
“Neither do I, sorry about the comment I made. I regret it.”
“Busisizwe Mahola, so every Nigerian a drug peddler right?”
“I aaaaaaaaaam soooooorry!”
“I hope so.” I handed to her the day’s Cape Argus which carried the story of the alien plant that was said to be responsible for the wild fire in Cape Town.
“Every problem in your country is attributed to foreigners. Funny enough even natural occurrences like a wild fire.” Laughing and shaking my head, I remembered a popular Nigerian proverb that a cockroach is never innocent in the gathering of chickens.
I cheered up, and was enjoying my meal and the African karaoke rhythm blaring in the café next to where we were. I was looking at her and could not just tell her what I felt about her.
It was half past four o’clock and I felt we had to go home because I hate keeping late nights. But she wanted us to stay for while to get a feel for the legendary city that never sleeps.
We took a taxi this time around and ended in a black township called Nyanga. When we arrived in the terminus I felt I was in one of the townships described in one of Peter Abraham’s novels. A reggae music in Jamaican patois interjected with some Afrikaans and Kaaps from one of the old sound tracks of Prophets of the City was playing in one of the shebeens. A man in dreadlocks was dancing such that his trousers were falling off. He was surrounded by an excited crowd mostly children who were also dancing to the popular music common in most townships. The children were repeating only the chorus of the music:
‘Kick it the way we do it in the Township’
‘Kick it the way we do it in the Township’
The other part of the stanza was in isiXhosa so I could not figure it out. By the sidewalks were women vendors selling all sorts of foodstuffs. There were lots of half naked children running bare footed and crossing the road without looking. I saw countless shift shacks, storage containers and body parts of cars serving as living rooms. A woman was drying some clothes on the cemetery fence, and sanitary pads, used condoms and faeces littered the streets. I was however comfortable with the setting because it was like home.
How do they know I am a foreigner here, I thought to myself. Everyone looks like me here. This was a good hideout, man! I could even come here once in a while to enjoy the local liquor in one of the shebeens. I was still basking in the euphoria of a new found home until I came across graffiti which reminded me of the 2008 xenophobic attack on foreigners and the seriousness of the hatred for foreigners in the townships. It read: MADIBA IS DEAD SOMALIS, NIGERIANS, MALAWIS AND ZIMBABWEANS: FIND YOUR WAY + YOUR ROOTS +YOUR PASSPORTS OR ELSE
Close to the graffiti was a poorly drawn image of a dagger and a skull with crossed bones. I looked back to see whether Busisizwe was within reach. I asked her to go home because it was getting dark. As she waved to me from her taxi I took a photo on my phone, then pretended as if I was making a call. I took a taxi home, sad crestfallen, wondering why I came to South Africa for studies. From then on, I included in my litany of selfish prayer requests that God in his infinite mercy should spare the life of Madiba.
Long Live Madiba, Live Long Mandla, Live Forever Mandela
Have you had any similar experiences? Tell us what you think.