CARDIGAN IN 90 DEGREES
“We eventually landed at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on August
17th 2002 and all I could think of was only Nigerians would do such a thing,
but now that I was in America, everything would be sanitary, golden, and
everyone would be proper. What seemed to have been my presumption of the GREAT
America was lying ahead of me to explore. Boy, was I wrong. I must have been
delusional to have ever thought that. Everywhere in this world has its areas of
poverty, wealth and those who could be categorized as comfortable or in
between. I was moving to the world of the ‘comfortable’ and I did not mind
because America was all upper class at the moment. I was comfortable being
Before we left Ikorodu, I was advised to keep a cardigan handy because of
the infamous American cold weather. Once we stepped out of the John F. Kennedy
airport, into the blazing 90 degree summer heat; I began to perspire. Amidst my
confusion as to why I was instructed to keep a cardigan with me, I was
beginning to think I was supposed to be cold. I left it on until my aunt told
me to take if off halfway home. She said I must be hot in this blazing summer
heat. Go figure.
Unfortunately, the airline lost our luggage, and I was trying to get used
to the environment and our hosts. We went shopping in Elizabeth, a close by
city, so we would have a change of clothes in the meantime. While waiting for
our luggage to arrive, we visited local attractions and went to the
“American” style fast food restaurants. We took pictures, and they
shared some of their earlier memories with us. It seemed to be the lovely
beginning of a fabulous vacation. I could not have asked for anything more in
the moment. The next couple of weeks were a transitioning process of me trying
to change my Nigerian accent into an American one. Along the line, I was told
multiple times that my Nigerian accent was unidentifiable; my practices in
front of the television paid off. I changed my mindset about the
way I dressed, the way I ate, even how I walked. In my head, it was a complete
makeover and I did not mind losing myself in the transition process, as long as
I would blend in. I was ready to conform without asking a question.
Days went by and it turned to weeks; I cannot remember how many weeks went
by but eventually, she left. My stepmother left me. I felt as if I was not
wanted. I was abandoned for people I did not know. I was never fully
aware that I would not be returning home to see my family. Imagine being told
that everyone you knew, who said they cared about you and loved you, vanished
with someone telling you it was all a lie. Well, as a fragile nine years old
girl. It felt worse than that. Her last words to me were “Oyinda, make
sure you stay where they put you. Do not go where you do not belong. Goodbye
and be a good girl”. The best thing I could do at the moment was to go
back to that happy place and time when I thought I was the coolest girl in my
previous Nigerian class just because I was in America. I treated it
like an extended vacation that would end before I became a teenager. That
vacation- the one I am still living in- has not ended yet; I am still waiting.”
Satisfied Victim. Suliat Olusanya. 2012.
Ope. Jimi. Me
During my first weeks in Newark, Jimi showed me how to use a scooter. I borrowed his, and we went riding around the neighborhood in this picture.
As a 9 year old, being so willing to lose myself just to blend in, I did not realize I was paying a high price for something I did not know the value of. I understand where my sudden shift to becoming agreeable and passive comes from. It has taken 8 years of therapy and constantly expressing myself, no matter how uncomfortable I get, to undo the decision I made as a 9 year old. In a way, I am grateful I had this experience because it forced me to aggressively seek out the opposite when I saw how it was bleeding into my work and personal relationships.
On a lighter note, I now understand why I had the cardigan. Airplanes are cold, and I would have been worse off on the plan without one. I was hesitant to take off the cardigan until I was given permission to because I was uncomfortable in a new situation and did not know what was appropriate. If I could go back to this time and say something to young me, it would be, “Stand your ground, and speak up. You are loved, and you are loving. There is no harm in loving honesty”.