This last Friday, I was invited to attend a dinner hosted by two of our African friends (one from Ghana, the other from Cameroon) and one of the Americans here who used to live in Africa. I was told the food was typical for people in Ghana. We were served Tilapia, banku (cornmeal in largely-shaped balls), and yams. Both the meal and conversation were out of the ordinary.
The fish came straight out of the oven with head attached. Each plate had a fish. Before we sat down, we were told to put some banku and yams on our plates as well as sauce. When I sat down, I noticed that we had no silverware. "No matter," I thought. "They will bring the silverware." On the contrary, when someone asked, we were told we should eat with our hands. Isaac, the man from Ghana, explained that we should first grab banku and make it into the shape of a bowl resting on the index and middle fingers. Then we should dip this into the sauce and then grab pieces of fish. I was glad that I only ate with one hand and kept a clean mess, which seemed to be how the Africans were eating. My hands weren't any more dirty than if I were eating hot wings or even pizza.
After dinner, I had the chance to speak with one of them, Samuel, who was from Cameroon. In the larger group of about ten, he was reluctant to speak. Though English is an official language in Cameroon, his native language was French. He could speak English conversationally but, naturally, was hesitant in doing so with a group of natives.
I learned about his coming to Slovakia. He studies auto engineering at a local university. However, before taking these classes, he had to take two years of Slovak because this was the language that his classes were taught in. He said he spoke Slovak well, but many of the technical words he could not understand. I asked him how often he returns home. He said he has not returned home since he left four years ago. He explained that returning home is a big deal and he needs to have his bachelor's degree to return home. His parents would welcome him, but since they would have a celebration, he wants to bring something he is proud of.
During our conversation, he lamented over the fact that he studies were more difficult than they could be because of the language barrier. Many of the students have a head start: they know the language. Samuel not only must know the material, but also must know the language that the material is in. After briefly explaining some of these difficulties, Samuel wanted to affirm his positive attitude toward his studies and life. He said, "It's like in life: If you don't think that you can do it in here (pointing to his head), then you can't do it no matter how easy it is."
This positive attitude is a survival tactic at times in a foreign society. One has to be convinced that one can survive or that person must return home. This positive attitude doesn't come from nowhere, out of thin air.
There are numerous people like Samuel who exist in every society, people who have come from another country or society looking for an opportunity. These opportunities pose roadblocks: knowing the language, knowing the ins and outs, knowing the people. Living in another society myself, I can only begin to understand his hardships. I have a school that has welcomed me with a job and a place to live, friends who have integrated me into life here, and supporters who encourage me.
Understanding that we are dependent upon each other and others depend upon us, I can only encourage, hope for, and support these Samuels so that they remain positive and hardworking. Furthermore, I must thank those whom I am dependent upon: family, friends, and strangers.
To finish this post, I want to leave with a quote from a sermon by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whom I am dependent upon as well.
"And don’t forget in doing something for others that you have what you have because of others. (Yes, sir) Don’t forget that. We are tied together in life and in the world. (Preach, preach) And you may think you got all you got by yourself. (Not all of it) But you know, before you got out here to church this morning, you were dependent on more than half of the world. (That’s right) You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom, and you reach over for a bar of soap, and that’s handed to you by a Frenchman. You reach over for a sponge, and that’s given to you by a Turk. You reach over for a towel, and that comes to your hand from the hands of a Pacific Islander. And then you go on to the kitchen to get your breakfast. You reach on over to get a little coffee, and that’s poured in your cup by a South American. (That’s right) Or maybe you decide that you want a little tea this morning, only to discover that that’s poured in your cup by a Chinese. (Yes) Or maybe you want a little cocoa, that’s poured in your cup by a West African. (Yes) Then you want a little bread and you reach over to get it, and that’s given to you by the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. (That’s right) Before you get through eating breakfast in the morning, you’re dependent on more than half the world. (That’s right) That’s the way God structured it; that’s the way God structured this world. So let us be concerned about others because we are dependent on others" (from "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" by Martin Luther King, Jr.).