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Chronicle Of An African In India

Chronicle Of An African In India

August 19, 2010

Swapping Harare in Zimbabwe for Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh I begin my Indian adventure.

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!


27 Comments

  • Carol
    By
    Carol
    26.04.13 03:37 AM
    Even though not acceptable, we all have to understand that people follow traditions. Its a difficult thing to have one react usual when something out of the ordinary arises. Lets all have faith in each other and hope that EDUCATION changes how we see and perceive our world.
  • Khadija
    By
    Khadija
    19.04.13 11:11 AM
    Interesting. I once knew an African guy at university in the US who had an Indian grandmother. He visited India once and was treated so badly for being Black that he vowed to never bother with his Indian relatives there again.
  • Person
    By
    Person
    03.07.12 11:20 AM
    Sorry to hear about the difficulties you encountered, especially the ignorant racist slurs! I must say that the staring is relentless no matter what. I face it ALL the time, and I'm an Indian girl! Not all of us are insensitive, though. Hopefully you'll find that your experience gets better.
  • Atheist Indian
    By
    Atheist Indian
    09.04.12 03:26 PM
    You were either very brave or very naive, to choose to live in Jhansi, of all places in India. The BIMARU states (look up the term) are India's version of the redneck belt - chauvinist Hindi people who have never stepped outside their comfort zone and interacted with a person outside their immediate ethno-lingual-religious group, much less someone from a faraway land such as Zimbabwe. Hence, the prejudice and the stereotypes.
  • Charles Dlamini
    By
    Charles Dlamini
    02.05.11 12:38 AM
    i know exactly what u are talking about bro. i'm also having the problem of people starring at me and some touching my hair or busy calling their friends to come look at me whenever i'm passing anywhere. after my classes are over, i just have to go straight to my house to avoid people starring and pointing at me or asking me whether i've eaten or not. i live in Cuttack, orrisa. i'm from Swaziland
  • mojo
    By
    mojo
    25.04.11 01:31 AM
    IAM SORRY TO HEAR FROM U MATE....AS AN INDIAN I DONT SUGGEST UP FOR EDUCATION u better be choosen some other place eg hyd r mumb r banglre......i think ppl arround u are **** just ignore n at sametime dont assume that all the country is same ...there is more to explore in india than any country in world ..thanku n at last welcome
  • Sandy
    By
    Sandy
    22.11.10 02:22 PM
    Robert,

    Sorry to hear about this experience of yours. The place you went to is not a part of the more cosmopolitan version of India.
    Foreigners are better advised to stay put in the Tier-1 or Tier-2 cities, where facilities are better and people are more aware.
    Indians as a breed are obsessed with color of the skin...sadly and keep complaining about racism elsewhere.

    God, we need to something about it....
  • Keri
    By
    Keri
    22.11.10 04:38 AM
    Hi! I only discovered this site today, so I'm a little late coming to the party, but I just want to say, I wish the best for you in your endeavors in India. I know it can't be easy at all, as I was so ready to come home (to America) after spending just one month there earlier this year. The constant staring and talking behind-my-back in-front-of-my-face was unbearable at times. And that happened to me in both Delhi and Mumbai, so my experience wasn't as cool as yours.

    Actually, my first experience in the country kind of warped my thinking. I attended the wedding of a friend in a small village about an hour outside of Udaipur, Rajasthan. I was the first foreigner to ever visit their village, so all of the residents, young and old, came to my friend's house to greet me. They didn't care that I was Black, they were just thrilled that a foreigner had deemed them important enough to come visit. It was a great feeling! Pune was also cool too, for the most part. Especially after I would pull out my passport and they could see that I was American and not Nigerian (I'm sure you know THAT story). But then I got to Delhi, and it all went downhill for me (please read my post on "Multicultural Mayhem" to understand why).

    Anyway, good for you and hope it keeps getting better and better. You're a one-man ambassador to those Indians, to let them know that we're not ALL bad. :-)
  • Anon
    By
    Anon
    21.09.10 02:44 AM
    So all I heard (and seen on news channels) about sex in small towns is true! I hope life in India is not becoming overwhelmingly difficult for you dude! FYI: In the big cities the people are (relatively) modernized, but you'll face bad people of a different kind, and more sophisticated criminals there.
  • Rajiv
    By
    Rajiv
    24.08.10 08:48 PM
    Robert, I can endorse whatever you've said.
    I feel its a part of 'our psyche' that white is good and black is bad. Such stereotypes are a part of the world but surely changing.
    I live in the white world of G britain, though people in britain 'may seem' acceptable to the color difference, however for quite a lot of them, anything other than white is below par. Do I have that prejudice myself, perhaps! I can't change the people of Jhansi or G. Britain, however I can attempt to change my own view. Welcome aboard.
  • Sonia
    By
    Sonia
    24.08.10 03:37 PM
    I'm ashamed of the ignorance and lack of grace our country shows to it's visitors in spite of all the "aditi devo bhava" and all that crap they keep harping about. Even in the ads, the aditis are all whites.
    Unfortunately, India is obsessed with colour and whiter you are, the better you are treated. Heck! In India, Whites are given preference over Indians. So you can imagine!
    I do hope you're presence will bring a positive difference to their outlook. And I hope you're journey isn't all bad.
  • darrell
    By
    darrell
    21.08.10 07:55 PM
    Bro, i'm sorry about what you had experienced. But then again, we live in the Internet age, and you could've done a little research before stepping foot into the hillbilly side of India. Bangalore or Mumbai would be the best options, more so Bangalore, as people there are generally tolerant and even friendly towards outsiders. We are a city that loves to hear tales from the outside :), figure of speech of course.

    Cheers
  • keerthana
    By
    keerthana
    21.08.10 05:27 PM
    The only reason why people in Jhansi behaved that way is because they have actually really never seen a black man, I'm sure they'd react in some other weird way if they see a white man. But that does not mean what you put up with is fair. Its not
  • Anu
    By
    Anu
    21.08.10 12:23 PM
    Thanks for sharing this...and sorry you go through all that!!!

    Hyderabad is one more city you can add to your list of good cities for non Indian students...
  • Avneesh
    By
    Avneesh
    21.08.10 11:33 AM
    It was a nice read..
    but its natural that people will stare at u if are different by any means..
    regarding hygiene I can say that u are right, but still thats not a very much developed state..
  • Nilesh
    By
    Nilesh
    21.08.10 09:52 AM
    Funny in some parts, but sad to hear the treatment you get in remote places of India. I was under the impression that though city crowd doesn't bother, they don't care. Villages and samll towns of india are supposed to be warm and caring. Very wrong treatment you got, but good that you are fitting in the groove. BEst of luck to you, and hope that you shift to major city..
  • Priyanka
    By
    Priyanka
    20.08.10 11:35 AM
    There are a lot of cities other than the 4 metros where you would have fared better like Pune, Hyderabad, Mysore etc.. Jhansi must be a very small town thats why the problems.
  • Abhishek Neel
    By
    Abhishek Neel
    20.08.10 11:20 AM
    Hey .. welcome to India dear. It was nice reading the Uttar Pradesh experience of someone from Zimbabwe ;-)
  • Hari
    By
    Hari
    20.08.10 03:54 AM
    Very nice article. When you decide to leave would you mind taking Uttar Pradesh back with you? It will save us a lot of trouble!!
  • S.R.Ayyangar
    By
    S.R.Ayyangar
    19.08.10 07:56 PM
    Its really a sad tale but over a period of time you will get used to!
  • Vijay
    By
    Vijay
    19.08.10 04:06 PM
    I read it with a sense of 'what else can you expect?' but not at all negatively.
    In the 80's a friend of mine from Gwelo, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) lived in New Delhi. Some of his experiences we can see in your blog too, though he lived in a posh area. People used to stare at him too, and on occasions there were some unpleasant moments too. But the most loved part for him was when in a bus a little girl asked him in broken English if she could touch his hair.
    But we must agree that people hardly see the others unless they are different. It is a universal fact. Outsiders attract attention.
    About your friends using your accommodation to suit their affairs, well this is not related to your being an outsider or your colour. You need to take precautions, just like anyone else.
    There is a general perception related to drugs and crime, that makes a lot of people wary of outsiders. Ask around, ... even in smaller cities like Chandigarh too and you can confirm.
    regards
    Vijay
  • Chandrima Pal
    By
    Chandrima Pal
    19.08.10 01:27 PM
    Very well written and after living 10 years outside India I can completely understand your experiences. Really India is globalizing but it urgently needs to take care about its attitude towards foreigners and personal hygiene level. But anyway, welcome to India and I am thankful to you for being so understanding and patient towards my country.
  • Puneet
    By
    Puneet
    19.08.10 12:09 PM
    My best with you mate... What made you choose Jhansi :) .. Enjoy the journey.. Hope some Indian makes you feel at home..
  • Joseph
    By
    Joseph
    19.08.10 07:58 AM
    Hey..nice read..
    But bro...rural up and bihar are one of the least developed states in the country...
    I'd say it was a blunder for you to join any university in such areas if you were looking for urban lifestyle.
    There are many other cities than the one you mentioned where you could live the way you want...
    if not tier1, try atleast a tier2 or tier3 city..and i assure you...you won't be disappointed!
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    By
    Jayanth Tadinada
    19.08.10 07:48 AM
    What can I say? Welcome to India :)
  • Gori Girl
    By
    Gori Girl
    19.08.10 07:02 AM
    LOL! Your last paragraph reminded me of a Bollywood film I've recently seen -- right down to classmates practically strong-arming the flat-keeper into letting them use his place for trysts, while he was stuck walking the streets.

    I'll just make a mental note regarding that particular bit of Indian culture in the films being entirely accurate.

    You're a pioneer in the brave new globalized world. Try to remember that with pride when being an outsider is painful for you.
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    19.08.10 06:37 AM
    Hmmmm..sadly you are right...people always have a way of isolating an outsider. I do hope it gets better! which I am sure it will :D Your experience was a refreshing read! We usually get to hear about the occasional 'gora' stepping into India and an African's experience was an eye-opener :)

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