Immigrants’ perspectives on life in the U.S.

One question I like to ask people who have come to live in the U.S. is in regards to what surprised them the most about living here. Something they did not expect to find– or something they didn’t think about before moving here. The surprises could be sensory based, as in, what sights did you not expect? Sounds? I leave the question open just to see the variety of responses.

The question comes from my own quick impressions from my experiences living overseas. Often, as been my impression when one passes though a country quickly, certain nuances are missed, or we have one or two experiences that are hard to make a definite comment about–unless one is paying close attention as Neil did with his series on North Korea. Because Matthew is living in Japan, there are things that he picks up on that many folks in Japan for just a week, as I was when I traveled there, would not find out about as easily.

The results of my question are as diverse as the people who gave the answers. Although this is about the U.S., the question “What has surprised you the most?” can work in whatever country you happen to be living in. Let’s call it a conversation starter.

Here is a sampling of what was said one morning this week. Keep in mind this is from immigrants who are living in Columbus, Ohio, a city with large populations of people from a variety of places. Recently Somalians are tipping the immigrant scale.

Two or three students talked about how people in the U.S. always have time to help. If you ask people for help, you’ll get it. This came from one Somalian man and also from one man from Ghana. The man from Ghana said that in his country, that’s not the case. (Again, remember this is his experience and his impression.) I asked him if, as an American, or at least as a foreigner, if I were in Ghana, would people help me? He thought they would.

His sister, also from Ghana, talked about the school system here. How everyone can get educated and how education is free. She also talked about how girls in her country don’t have much of a chance to go to school.

The person from Morocco lamented that she can’t find clothes she likes here. She is a lovely dresser and quite sweet and pretty. I told her that I bet if she were living in NYC she could find such clothes. I have a hard time finding clothes in Columbus that get me all excited. Let’s just say this is not an in fashion hot spot.

A man from Eritrea mentioned how much people work here. He said the work culture has been an adjustment. Let’s just say that his impression of work in Eritrea is “laid back.” He used another word, but I rephrased it.

One woman from Guinea thought the health care system is better. She said in Guinea you had to pay before you get treated at the hospital, even if you have a stab wound. This detail is from a story she recounted where she paid for someone else’s care since it looked like the guy would bleed to death if she didn’t help.

Other Somalian man commented about the interstate highway system–you can go from state to state easily and this is simply marvelous.

A man from Mauritania said that in the U.S. you can get business done by going to a place once with papers filled out and not have to keep going back to talk with several different people over several days. He did not find this to be the case in his country.

In the past another person was surprised to see wooden houses. In this person’s mind, wooden houses look awful.

Almost all of them talked about how much more expensive life is in the U.S. and how complex day to day life is. None of this was said in a whiny way, but matter of fact. Being able to save money is a real problem. If you listen to the news, they have company.

In general, all felt that moving to Columbus, Ohio was a good move. Some were living elsewhere before coming here. The move to Columbus came because they heard it was safer, cheaper, an easy place to get around, and had good schools. Now, if they say this when they are in their own home, I don’t know. An interesting study, I would think, is feelings of well-being of people who are enrolled in English classes compared to people who are not.

Dakar Rally, another victim of terrorism

On our way from Portugal to Madrid last week, we saw a lot of trucks on their way to Lisbon for the annual Dakar Rally (previously Paris-Dakar). Unfortunately, the next day, they got the sad news that the Dakar Rally was canceled for the first time ever, because of terrorism.

Four French tourists were murdered in Mauritania on December 24 and nine of the Dakar Rally stages happen to go through Mauritania. The organizers feared they couldn’t provide sufficient security.

As an alternative, Dakar Rally organizers are considering a race through central Europe this spring. Czechs are big fans of the rally so I am sure they would be psyched, but replacing a race through the Sahara desert with a race through some “bad roads of Europe” is kind of a stretch, isn’t it?

Independence days and elephants

I’ve whipped out my International Calendar to see what might be left to tell about November before it slips away from Eastern Standard Time in a few hours. What I see is a whole lot of independence days and a slew of other politically geared occasions.

  • Nov. 1–Antigua-Barbuda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.
  • Nov. 3–Dominica gained independence from the UK in 1978. Panama gained Independence from Colombia in 1903 and Micronesia gained independence from the U.S. in 1980.
  • Nov. 9–Cambodia gained independence from France in 1953.
  • Nov. 11–Poland gained independence in 1918; Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
  • Nov. 18–Latvia gained independence from Russia in 1918; Morocco from France in 1956.
  • Nov. 25–Suriname gained independence
  • Nov. 28–Mauritania gained Independence from France in 1968 and Albania gained Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, Panama gained independence from Spain in 1821 and East Timor gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
  • Nov. 30-Barbados gained independence from the U.K. in 1966

Other than these, Tonga has had Constitution Day (Nov. 4); Russia, Revolution Day (Nov. 7); Brazil, Republic Day (Nov. 15); and Vanuatu has had National Unity Day, (Nov. 29)

My favorite happening of the bunch of events that occurred this month, though, is the Surin Elephant Round-Up in Thailand.

Running the Sahara

How’s this for ballsy (I filed this one under “hiking”, tho that seems to be an understatement). A couple of guys decide to do their part to help the world, in this case to bring better water conditions to Africa and Africans, and look for what would seem an impossible goal. One that would capture the attention of the world, or at least of the good folks at National Geographic, who can then help them get noticed.

Well, Kevin Lin, Ray Zahab, and Charlie Engle set out late last year to run…that’s right to RUN across the entire expanse, west to east, of the Sahara Desert. Never mind that they had a big film crew with them and gobs of support, that is still a massive and jaw-dropping undertaking.

Charlie, Ray and Kevin touched the Red Sea, back in February, bringing the epic trip to an end. It lasted 111 days and took them through 6 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. By their own GPS log, they covered over 4,300 miles. Yow.

Of course, all these guys are hard core mega-endurance types. Engle himself, the team leader is said to be one of the best ultra distance marathon runners in the world today, And as you might expect (and as I mentioned above) there will be a film on the effort (Narrated by Matt Damon), and the Web site had got gobs of lovely info including pictures, bios and an overview of the effort. What would Lawrence of Arabia have said?

Mega, as in the Biggest Ever, African Adventure Trip

Suppose you have time-lots of it. Let’s say you have 44 weeks. Perhaps you’d like to go overland from Morocco to South Africa by way of Egypt. Here’s a travel adventure that will take you through 10 game parks, various cultural and historical landmarks, and enough thrills like rafting and tandem sky diving that you’ll have stories to tell for years. Countries not typical as tourist hot spots are included in the mix. Angola, for example, has only allowed tourists in since 2004.

In Angola you’ll see Portuguese influenced architecture and gorgeous beaches besides the 3rd largest statue of Jesus in the world. The other countries in this multi-stop, pack-in-variety approach are: Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, DRCongo Zaire, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

The highlights of this tour calledTrans Africa. Europe–CapeTown-Nairobi-Istanbul read like a cross between an outdoor wilderness experience, a cultural bonanza and a journey through an African history book. Read the itinerary and you might find yourself chomping to take this trip on. I sure am. R&R opportunities and the chance to luxuriate are built in. Africa Travel Center also offers shorter version African adventures where only parts of this trip are included.

* photo taken in Benguela, Angola by zokete.