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by Lesley Nyirenda, Stanford University (2013) Lesley

I’ve decided to write a little bit about my experiences living in the US. You can imagine the possible experiences when a Zimbabwean public high school student is suddenly catapulted into Stanford University, California…I’m kicking off with an article on kindness. It was the kindness of a few special Americans that ensured a successful transition for me in the US.

When I finally reached my dorm room, I dragged myself in and threw myself onto the carpet. I was exhausted because I had been travelling for over forty hours. I already missed home and I felt so nostalgic that for the first time I understood the saying, ‘I wish the earth would just open up and swallow me.’ I was very scared. But there was no turning back now. I was now at Stanford University and I could be there for four years without ever setting my foot home during that time. I tried to collect myself and make peace with my new surroundings.

My room had three beds, three desks and three chairs. I picked the bed that was closest to the door and began unpacking, savoring every piece of home that I had brought with me. One of those pieces was a blanket – a thin, brown, patterned blanket with a big hole near one of the edges. I grabbed it, jumped onto my bed and tried to fool myself into a trance. The 10-hour jet-lag did not help me. But, when nightfall did eventually come, I fell asleep for a few hours – wrestling with my small blanket the whole night. That is how I went to bed the next several days, before my roommates arrived.

They arrived in a week. Welly*, a budding superstar athlete, had only travelled a staggering 5 minutes to get to campus. Liam*, a nerdy, science-crazed guy, had come from Cambridge, MA. Being Americans, the two kicked it off easily. In fact, they were already discussing how to furnish our room only a few minutes after meeting! I only had a $20 note that I had brought from home, and so I had no part in that discussion. (I felt sad that I had accepted the $20 from my parents. Even though it would have been enough to sustain them for over a week in Zimbabwe, it was virtually useless for me at Stanford. Out of strong emotion, I decided to hold on to it and didn’t spend it for nearly a year).

During the move-in, I met Welly’s parents. They were both quite friendly. At one point, his mom had noticed that my bed was not covered. I had folded my little blanket and placed it at one end of the bed, leaving it exposed. She didn’t say anything about it. She just asked me what my favorite color was. “Blue,” I said, puzzled but excited to be speaking with Americans. White Americans, at that! (I’d only spoken with two white people before, one of them being the person who interviewed me for my US visa). Soon after, they all left.
When I came back to the dorm room from class a couple of days later, I found my bed covered. I cannot really describe how well it had been covered, but forgive me because I will try. There was a blue-white striped duvet, two light blue bed covers, two pillows – one matching the duvet and the other matching the covers, and a blue, thin blanket. Beneath everything was an elaborate THING with a thin sponge, all covered by a light blue sheet. BLUE. All my time at Stanford, I did not see a better bed set (save for a few by deco-crazed girls…uhm…ladies).

When I returned from class on another day that week, I found Welly’s mom back at the dorm room. She had a friend with her, and together they had brought me some warm clothes. (It doesn’t get too cold in September at Stanford, but it gets chilly when it rains). I was amazed by the kindness that they showed me. They promised to bring more – and they did. On another day, Welly’s mom took me shopping at a high-end clothing store. She told me to pick anything I wanted. I reluctantly obliged, picking only a pair of jeans and a T-shirt (I felt like she had done more than enough for me). But she was having none of it – by the time we left, we had bought $350 worth of clothes! And, after that, whenever Welly’s mom bought Welly something, such as a pair of shoes, she bought me something similar.

Her kindness, in terms of material provisions, was nothing short of amazing. But she went beyond that – she made sure that I felt comfortable and at-home on my first long-term stay in a country outside of Zimbabwe. Hers was the first home I ever visited in the US. And, unlike most people I met at Stanford, she was genuinely interested in hearing about Zimbabwe (she even got a book!). All these things – which for me constituted one act – helped me transition into this vastly different world that was Stanford/California/USA.

I can never forget that act of kindness. And it’s hard to capture in words.

*pseudonym

This post originally appeared on May 28, 2014 on http://ezimbabwe.wordpress.com

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