On the day that Nqobile left for college, her mother hugged her. Nqobile’s mother—a petite woman with a stern face, aimed straight at her daughter’s petite body, with arms wide open. It was an awkward but special moment; awkward because her mother had never hugged her before, but special because Nqobile knew that such an affectionate gesture from her mother was preciously rare. Most Swazi adults in her family do not hug, they simply prefer to shake hands.
Nqobile is reminiscing about this as she gathers her shopping bags to get down the skytrain. “This train has reached Peterstate University,” says the apathetic, female voice. She still remembers how surprised she was, when she learned that the skytrain was automatically driven.
“There is no driver, but the trains are monitored," explained one of the Zimbabwean students who was the leader of her orientation group. She had thought it interesting too, the idea that a four-year college experience could be condensed into a three day orientation event.
She now exits the skytrain and advertently heads for the escalators. In a few seconds, she has reached the main floor. She leaves the station. She is just in time for the bus.
PeterState University is inconveniently located on a beautiful mountain. One can enjoy the crude, vast view of nature from the top on a good sunny day or in most days, stay in bed and devote themselves to watching endless youtube videos because temperatures have plunged to -10 degrees. Fortunately, today is one of those blessed, sunny days and Nqobile has taken the opportunity to buy groceries at the nearest shopping centre. Nqobile buys her groceries at Walmart. Walmart reminds her of Shoprite because their products are relatively affordable. However, Walmart is even better than Shoprite because it has everything; from shoes and cosmetics, to home appliances and electronics.
Today, she bought instant Teriyaki chicken noodles, a new favorite. She unpacks her grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She presses the finger-print stained button on the microwave to open it and slumps her ready- to go-meal on the transparent, Frisbee like plate. She sets the timer to three minutes and starts the microwave.
She is now thinking how mentally exhausting her move to Vancouver has been. From the long weeks of consistent insomnia to the random, yet intense moments of emotional instability —she can’t help but feel empty. This is the psychological cost of moving from Swaziland, her home country, to Vancouver, she thinks to herself.
She wished someone would have warned her that studying abroad in a foreign country wouldn’t be so palatable. That jet lag is a real thing and isn’t as divine as it sounds. That though she was studying in the most multicultural place in the world, she would suddenly be aware of her race, and that even though it had been months since she’d physically arrived in Vancouver, she would feel like her soul was still stuck somewhere in the buzzing, bright, developing corners of Mbabane.
At first, she liked this feeling; feeling new, unaccustomed, and unique. She recalls how people would give her a queer look when she introduced herself. "I am from the Kingdom of Swaziland," she would proudly say, as if the King himself had appointed her as ambassador. She would follow with a succinct geography lesson about how Swaziland was the small country nested between South Africa and Mozambique and that it wasn’t Lesotho.
But soon, she felt exhausted, fed up of the geography lessons, and frustrated. She no longer was keen on introductions. She longed to be habituated, to be assimilated, and to be a part of this foreign country.
She wanted to settle in promptly. She wanted the process to be swift and instant just like her ready- to-go microwave meals.