"How Africa Changed Me" Chapters · Lifestyle · Travel

“How Africa Changed Me” – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I Can’t Do This

It was so funny when amidst the sea of Zimbabweans flooding toward me, I saw Patrick’s nan (so named Gogo, meaning grandmother in Shona) rushing with open arms, saying “Siana, I love you!” She by-passed her own daughter and grandchildren in order to embrace me! How great is that! She suddenly remembered that she doesn’t know much English, though, before drifting off away from me. Ah well, I got the best greeting so I still win.

We unpacked the car and even though my heart was violently trying to break free from my chest like something from the Alien movie, I went inside the house. The journey there had been fine compared to arriving. The journey is simply a means to an end. There’s still the unknown and anticipation and perhaps even excitement, for normal people anyway. But the arrival is all too…final. “I’m here. I now know what I’m in for and…I feel unsettled.” Was I disappointed? Shocked? Anxious as per usual for no real reason.

The word I settled on in the end was ‘overwhelmed’.

Overwhelmed by the thirty-plus members of Patrick’s family squished into the living room.

Overwhelmed by the smell of food being cooked that I was afraid to eat as a socially anxious, “fussy” eater who was used to British food.

Overwhelmed by the longest journey of my life that I had just endured with little to no rest.

Overwhelmed by the multitude of thoughts swarming my head.

The number of introductions we had to do.

The loud sound of people talking over one another drumming in my ears.

The look of the house that was to be my home.

The idea of sharing a room with Patrick’s nan and sister but not him.

The language I did not know.

The knowledge that this discomfort was going to last two weeks, and I had no control over my situation at all…

Maybe you’re normal and you’re thinking, “Whoa, buddy, chill. You’re in Africa, just enjoy it.” Well if you’re that person, then shut up. I can’t think that way, OK? I just have a literal inability to do so. If you’re abnormal, like me, then hopefully you’re nodding your head and feeling my pain. It’s the latter kind of person who will benefit most from this book, by the way, because if you think like me, you’ll feel like me and hopefully my experiences will touch and inspire you in the same way that they did me.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I didn’t sit there screaming and crying and ignoring people – I was respectful enough to do that in private. Instead, I smiled and hugged people and tried to remember their names, whilst suppressing the need to throw up from anxiety-overload.

There’s something you should understand about Zimbabweans – they don’t go by their birth names if they have children. Instead, they are called Baba Such-and-Such or Amai Such-and-Such, which translates to Father INSERT FIRST BORN’S NAME HERE and Mother INSERT FIRST BORN’S NAME HERE. So, Patrick’s mom is called Amai Patrick and his dad is Baba Patrick. The uncle that we were living with was called Baba Precious because his eldest child was his daughter, Precious.

At first it was very confusing, but then I realised it kind of helped me to know who was tied to who and how. I sort of wished I knew their real names as well, though, because it proved difficult to find them on Facebook afterwards. Shame. When we first arrived, everyone was stuffed into the living room and Patrick’s mom introduced EVERYONE and how they were related. Funny, I was introduced as Patrick’s “friend”. Yeah, 3 years of being just “close friends”, sure…

I was literally falling asleep from exhaustion as Baba Precious then went on and on about sleeping arrangements and…something else. I couldn’t concentrate properly, though; I’m sorry, Baba Precious. It was too much after everything that was going on inside of my head. I just kept thinking, ‘can we talk about this later?’

At the first chance I got, I slipped into the back room to figure out how to contact my mom. Yes, I hadn’t spoken to her or even breathed yet. Oh, and did I mention that we were told there was Wi-Fi…but there was NOT!

World ended.

Lives lost.

Total anarchy and annihilation.

This was definitely the shock of a lifetime for Diana, Patrick’s sister, but all I worried about was having no easy, free way to contact my mom and my family like I’d thought. I had assured all of them that there was Wi-Fi, so I’d be able to message them on WhatsApp whenever I was home – but suddenly it felt as if my leg had been cut off. Patrick’s mom said they’d get Wi-Fi tomorrow and I said I needed to tell my mom that I was safe and they were like “oh yeah” as if it wasn’t a big deal. After a lot of fuss and distractions that did not help to calm me at all, I ended up borrowing one of his cousin’s phones to call my mom on WhatsApp using her data.

The call didn’t work several times and I was on the brink of tears. How could the universe do this to me? I just needed my mom, was that so much to ask for? Finally, I heard my mom’s voice. It’d only been a day and a bit, but already I missed her so much. It seems we take our mothers for granted more than we realise. When they’re no longer easily accessible, we can crumble – no matter our age.

And crumble I did.

Piece by piece, I feel apart in that small back room in South Africa, worrying my boyfriend so much that he grabbed hold of me in an attempt at savouring my broken exterior. I tried not to, I swear. Of course, I didn’t want to worry my mom when we both knew full-well that there was nothing she could do to “save me.” It’s crazy but somehow, I wanted her to say that it was OK to do what I was thinking of doing.

Go home.

I know you’re screaming at the page, incredulous that I’d even consider running home after I’d gone all that way. Or maybe you’re like me and you completely understand my thinking.

However, my mom did not allow me to come home. She did say these things, though:

That she should have warned me about the conditions and she was so sorry.

That I needed to breathe and recognise that it was just “arrival panic.”

That I had Patrick and so I’d be OK.

That I could go to a hotel if I needed to.

And that I needed to do at least a week, otherwise I’d hate myself.

Little did she know that I hated myself already. Deeply. I didn’t tell her this, though; instead I said:

What was I thinking?

I was so stupid to come here.

Why did I come here?

I’ve tried so goddamn hard so why do I still have to feel this way?

I hate this.

I’m not cut out for this.

I’m overwhelmed. It’s too much.

I can’t do this…

Now, before you judge me or stop reading because you hate whiny, foolish narrators – let me refer you back to the start of the book. I said I was:

  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Introverted
  • A loser
  • In my early twenties

And so in case you didn’t know, that means:

  • I lack confidence in myself
  • I have a darkened view of myself and the world
  • I feel like a misfit
  • I hate social situations
  • I do not thrive in social situations
  • I am so used to failure that I feel it’s imminent
  • I lack life experience

This isn’t my excuse for all my whining, instead an explanation – yes, they’re different. And I truly believe that a lot of people reading this are the same as me, and therefore it’d be an injustice to pretend that the events of that moment had gone any other way.

So yes, I broke down because a lot of who I am caused me to panic in that situation. Funny, though, I did stay. I cried and still shook when I hung up that phone but I stayed. I didn’t retreat to any of the “safety” ideas that my mom proposed or my mind conjured up, instead I stayed. It was still hard and I kept counting down the days until I would return home (at first) but I stayed.

I stayed. I stayed.

It turns out I could do this. Despite my list of personal inabilities… I freakin’ did it.

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