By Wadzanayi Maketiwa
The African eagle, in the shape of a meek, confused humanoid, landed at Chicago's
O'Hare Airport. Timidly, it went through the check-in processes, and in the same
manner, it quietly arrived at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology. Deep in its little
heart, it expected to come across many astounding surprises in the United States. It has
not been disappointed. I am that eagle.
My first shock came at the airport. Little girls, big mamas, and teens were all clad in
really skimpy attire. Tight after tight whizzed past my Zimbabwean eyes, and all I could
do was wonder how people could really put up with such dress patterns. My big shock
was yet to come. The woman who helped me get around the public transport system,
Lord bless her soul, was hardly dressed at all. With a sigh, I resolved to forget about the
conservative attire of Africa, and I have done well in this respect.
On the train, I noted that something was wrong. With great effort, I realized that it was
the absence of loud conversation and laughter that unnerved me. I stand to be corrected,
but a culture of silence and only quiet giggles and speech rules much of American public
places. Africa is the direct opposite, public places are noise places, and I terribly miss
that aspect of African life. To be heard, you had to shout!
My first trip on the train indeed revealed some cultural differences, but what I learnt
afterwards had more profound implications for me. The elections, for one thing, showed
me the true power of American democracy, or should I say a culture of democracy?
Zimbabwe held elections earlier this year, and a lot of violence and intimidation riddled
the whole process. The American elections shocked me with the absolute absence of
violence and intimidation. A new culture, a culture of peace and encouragement,
unraveled its glory before me. Even in the face of the post-election hitches, peace still
prevails, and the rule of law is upheld.
As I guess many other international bozos did, I switched on the television pretty soon
after my arrival, just to see what the geeks, wise ones and fools here are up to. Free
speech hit me in the face. Someone was pretending to be Clinton, doing a good job of it,
and also openly and grossly ridiculing the poor president. "Oh! The secret agents will
nab him pretty soon," I thought to myself. Three months later, he is still on the box,
doing his job. I have to admit that the culture of free speech is yet to fully sink into me.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to an American lady who I thought I now knew quite
well. Casually, I threw in the apparently abominable question: "Do you have kids?". She
looked at me in a very quizzical way, the look that simply says: "You shouldn't ask that".
Aloud, she said "No," but I had read the encrypted message. Back home, such a question
is no big deal.
An acceptance of individual preferences and values is one of America's key cultural
assets, and was also a pleasant shock to me. Same-sex couples, biracial couples and
many other fine exhibits of freedom of choice adorn the streets and homes of America.
Many nations, including my own, are a long way from adopting such fine cultural values.
The sad face of evils such as violence and racism counters the largely good cultural
aspects that have blown me off my feet. Violent crime is such a significant part of the
United States that it can be tied together with the culture of the nation. Together with the
hidden but strong undercurrents of racism, this negative part of the culture has been a
sobering surprise to me. I will only admit to the United States having a great culture
when these two evils are reduced.
On the whole, in only three months, the African eagle has become an African-American
eagle. With great care, he has kept a sharp eye on the culture of the Americans, and has
so far succeeded in understanding much of American culture. Eventually, the Americans
will be able to say, with great pride, "We have an eagle of our own," for the African
eagle is intrigued by American culture, and is sinking deeper and deeper into it.