So why exactly did I move from Zimbabwe in Africa to a small town in Uttar Pradesh in India? This is a question I have often asked myself and remains one on the lips of some my new found friends - and enemies! Coming from Zimbabwe to India was indeed a huge shock. Although the background is similar, the approach to life is completely different.
On 9 May 2009, I left for a college education India which I hoped would put me on the path to untold riches and success! The view I had of India was, I admit, probably an inaccurate stereotype - gorgeous women and great food (butter chicken, mmmm). However, had I known that the 14000km journey would change my life in the way it has, I would have sued the Press attache at the Indian Embassy in Harare for misrepresentation! I was initially drawn to India by the prospect of an affordable quality education. Whilst most of my childhood friends chose the US and UK, I chose Bharat. Before I made that decision, not one person ever told me about the extent of the heat. They said it was hot but to me that's 22C, not 42C! How India has developed such a powerful economy with such extreme temperatures still amazes me. I found it so hot that breathing alone made me lose weight.
Whilst in Delhi, everyone was friendly, welcoming and tolerant. I thought that if this was how the rest of the country would welcome me, I'm set. Ah. . . . . to be so naive! To say that coming to Jhansi was a shock to the system would be a massive understatement. The majority of the townsfolk had never seen a black man before. One kid actually screamed and ran away. And heaven knows how many people I've caused to fall of their bikes as they stared at me. If you want stay in India as a foreigner without everyone gawping at you every minute of the day, then restrict yourself to Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangalore and declare the rest off limits!
When I arrived I wanted to enroll on a Management related programme. I was heavily betting on the fact that all Indian colleges had to accept foreign students by virute of a quota, meaning admission would be a walk in the park. Well it may be theoretically true, but in reality not the case. The truth is that most colleges can accept foreign students but only if they speak one of the many local languages. Most lecturers cannot speak fluent English. On this principle I was denied and had my application rejected, so on a whim I chose a Tourism course.
At the department I now get along fairly OK with my fellow students. When I say fairly OK, what I mean is that we respect each other and every once in a while I have to "discourage" the occasional hero who wants to insult me to please his friends. It's an amicable truce, like the one between North Korea and South Korea. But when I first started attending classes it was a demoralising and humiliating experience. Classmates would ask the most ridiculous questions like if we ate spiders and dogs in Zimbabwe, or if I started wearing clothes and using mobile phones only after my arrival to India! But after a while I'd give them that 1000 yard look and sufficient threats to get my embassy to lodge a formal complaint with the Indian Government and things then started to change. Some of the racial slurs and intimidation continued - being called "kalu" amongst other colorful terms. However this was their downfall. Every foreigner who learns a new language almost always first learns all the swear words. It's practically international law. So all I did was ask a senior teacher what this and that meant and indicate which genius said it. Then the rest would play out on it's own. Pure bliss!
I was first offered a place in a hostel, but after observing students’ general level of hygiene I declined and rented a room instead. That was when the "best friend" phenomenon arose. Due to conservative Indian attitudes my male classmates feared to be seen in public with their girlfriends. So my place became a highly attractive and sought after venue for their romantic encounters. Being a foreigner my place could not be easily visited by a police officer of a rank lower than that of a station captain. Add to that, my landlord lived in Tamil Nadu, my room literally became a sexual paradise to my new best friends. Things then got crazy. They would bring their friends, who would then bring their girlfriends and in the end my place was taken over by complete strangers at all hours of the day and night. It was at that time I had to finally draw the line issuing a an outright ban. The first 6 months of my life in India has been a real eye opener if nothing else. But like everything else in life, it can only get better!