Ayanda’s American Adventure
“How are you doing, Ayanda?” the flight attendant in charge of an entirely different section of our plane came over to check on the ecstatic and terrified young woman sitting next to me. Ayanda has that magnetic effect on people.
“Good, good!” she beamed from ear to ear while catching her breaths.
“What do you think so far?” he asked in a language similar to SiSwati to give Ayanda a sense of comfort.
“I thought we were gonna die,” she said honestly. During takeoff, Ayanda was so scared that she grabbed not only my hand but also the hand of the stranger sitting next to her. She didn’t ask, but the stranger didn’t seem to mind Ayanda squeezing the life out of her hand. Ayanda has that charm.
“We should try to sleep now,” I tell Ayanda, as I’m already putting my watch ahead to match American time.
“Okay,” she closes her eyes. Not more than 30 seconds later she opens them again. “Nah, I’m too excited!”
I smile at the miracle sitting next to me. Really it’s a miracle. A rags to riches type. A rural girl from a tiny unknown country that sometimes doesn’t even make it on the map of Africa decides to dream for something everyone told her was impossible. And here we are, on a huge plane together, experiencing a life above clouds she’s never dreamt of. A life for her I never imagined.
On our second flight (from Dubai to Chicago), we got split up and couldn’t get seats next to each other. I tried to ask the flight attendants to switch us around so we could sit together but the flight was full and we couldn’t. I was so worried about her sitting with strangers many rows ahead of me and out sight. But soon I could hear her laughter rolling back towards my row and I knew she’d be fine. Of course she’d make friends with the two strange men sitting in her window section. She has that charisma.
Once we landed in Chicago and went through customs, Ayanda and I got separated again as she had to go through an entirely different process in entering my country than I did, of course. It seemed like hours, though, as I waited and waited on the other side of the glass booths. I had so much time that I was able to go the bathroom multiple times and collect all our luggage, and worry worry worry about a million scenarios if Ayanda didn’t walk through customs.
FINALLY, I saw her and she nearly ran to me.
“I thought this was America?!” she exclaimed. “No one around me spoke any English! I think the lady directing us was speaking in Korean or something. I didn’t understand a thing until someone finally noticed my panic and explained in English!”
Diversity of cultures was not the only culture shock for Ayanda. When she was asked what was the greatest culture shock she answered, “All the short shorts!” In Swaziland, it is publicly inappropriate to wear short clothing. “I could basically see that girl’s butt!” she explained how she covered her eyes with her hand and then realized she was in public and people would think she’s the crazy one. One more culture shock was after she was at college for a couple weeks. She said, “I can’t believe how some people really hate God. One guy was bashing the Bible, and he was so aggressive about it that I was afraid to say anything.” This from the girl who has faith to cure blindness of a multitude.
There were many firsts I got to experience with Ayanda. My favorite was her first brat. That’s all she could talk about for the first three weeks of America. “I need to make sure I can have brats in my dorm room!” Another favorite was her first time in the lake and first time wearing a life jacket. She had no confidence that it would keep her floating. She was terrified and nearly drowned my brother because she couldn’t trust the life jacket.
Ayanda met a million people with me the first weeks together. She was such a champ. If I were in her shoes, I would’ve wanted to crawl into a hole and tell everyone to leave me alone for a week so I could catch my breath. But day after day, she took in new sights, new sounds, new air, and lots of new people. Somehow, she never complained. But that’s just Ayanda for you.
After Ayanda moved in on campus, she immediately asked about on-campus jobs. One of her childhood dreams was to be an actress, so when she found out she could apply for a job working in the theatre, she was thrilled. We tried to help her prepare for her very first interview. She was hardly nervous, though. I envied her. Thirty minutes after the start of her interview she returned.
“Oh, did they reschedule?” I assumed she didn’t get the interview.
“No, I just finished,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Oh. What did they say about when you can find out if you got the job?”
“I already got it!” she exclaimed.
“What?! How?” But I didn’t need to ask. After all, it’s Ayanda. And she has “it”—whatever it is that sets people apart on first glance, first impression, first anything. “What questions did they ask you?”
“Oh, he just said, ‘Tell me a little bit about yourself,’ so I basically talked about that the whole time. Then after awhile he said, ‘I’m hiring you.’”
But all the fun and excitement couldn’t last. Ayanda and I were both dreading when it was time for me to head back to Swazi. It ripped my heart to have to leave her and to know she was terrified of my absence. I knew the homesickness she was already experiencing and I knew the intensity it would increase to over the next couple weeks. I knew how much money she still had left to raise and now it was all in her hands and not mine. There was no way her part time campus job would get her any more than some spending money for clothes, books, and other necessities. How in the world would she finish paying tuition, let alone raise enough for the next semester?
Ayanda met many people her first couple weeks, but one significant meeting was with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. They awarded her a last minute scholarship (after she had tried multiple times to get scholarships – and received none) which finished her first semester payment and even added a downpayment on semester two! She still has funds left to raise, but now she can sleep at night knowing she doesn’t have to worry about finding sponsors for first semester on top of working part time, being a full time student, and learning full time about how to survive in this American culture.
A month or so after I had left her in America, she called me many times in tears and in desire to come home. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t fit in, couldn’t understand her professors, couldn’t figure out all the online documents and submissions that the professors required. She was gravely lonely and feared failing. She was worried about letting her sponsors down – disappointing all the hundred + people who have or currently are supporting her financially or otherwise. She was worried about her family in Swazi and missing the girls at the girls home. “I just want to come home,” she kept saying. I didn’t need to tell her no; she knew she would stay. All I could do was tell her how proud I am of her and how I don’t know one other person in this world who can do what she is doing right now. She cried at her first F and was stressed about her midterms. She was lonely as she felt like the only one left in the dorm while her neighbors went out to parties (to which she kindly and consistently declined invitations).
But recently, her phone calls are different. Her smile is genuine. She still sheds some tears in the ache of missing home and feeling alone, but she is shining. Really shining. She showed me her scores on her midterms and her papers and my heart soared. Her hardest class she was able to increase her scores to 80% and 90% on her papers! She meets with professors, the college counselor, a mentor Sister, tutors, work friends and school friends, and still has time to call me. J I am amazed. If you want proof of God, proof of miracles, proof that Hope can give life, simply spend five minutes with this girl.
I’m not exaggerating when I say This Girl is Destined to Change the World.
For supporting Ayanda, please visit: https://hoseasheart.org/support-type/sponsorships/