#UmurundiInAmerica (Part II)

hollywoodYou know what? I had serious second and third thoughts about writing and posting #UmurundiInAmerica because, you know, “kariko karatwishimako!”.

When I wrote Part I, it felt okay because I mostly talked about the bad stuff that happened, so it really didn’t feel like bragging… But then a friend told me, “You can’t be ashamed to talk about the good in your life. Good things happen sometimes too!”
Hama rero it’s not like I wasn’t bragging all along the trip with my posts on Instagram… Therefore, please allow me to put the bragging in writing… People who are sensitive to such behaviour are advised to read this post with a bucket nearby so that they may throw up without making a mess, when the bragging becomes too much :-p

Hahaha, Nah! Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about all the amazing places I visited or about the awesome things I did – when my cousin wasn’t getting arrested, or I wasn’t getting robbed (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Part I). This second part is really just about some of the things I noticed about America and Americans, and about how I felt being ‘Umurundi in America’.

Here we go…

1. America is not so different

Well, to be honest I had fun in America. Proof is that I returned home with extra kilos.

But I also saw poverty and homelessness… so many homeless people it had me think we should set up a Charity to help the homeless people of America.
I saw a very expensive cost of living I realised life in Burundi is pretty cheap (but hey, who am I to say this if I can afford a leisure trip to the States?)… I saw people who are so busy ‘hustling’ some of them even forgot to enjoy life, to have friends… It almost felt like having fun was a luxury over there.
I saw people who count everything by the cent, it opened my eyes to how generous people back home are, despite the “poverty”. #UbukeneNiMumutima

When I told people back home about the bad experiences they were like “Ivyo birabaho muri America?!” Birabaho nyene! In fact I believe these nasty behaviours, and many others, were imported from there. Nivyo! Ratcheness was imported from there en tous cas!

So really, America is pretty, it has fun things to do, but it isn’t paradise. Just like any other place in the world really… I think.

2. Tips lost their meaning in America.

I was taught that you tip someone (i.e. a waiter at a restaurant) when they’ve served you extra well. I know tips don’t really exist in our culture (they may be assimilated with bribes), as good service is often considered as “the person doing what they are paid for”, but since good service is so rare in Burundi, it’s hard to resist to reward it when it happens.

Tipping is mandatory in America, and my first experience with this was with the cab driver who drove me from the airport to the hotel when I arrived. I paid him cash and he gave me back my change minus his tip, without even asking me. Well, I was going to tip him anyway (he was a nice chap), and to be honest, he took less than I was prepared to give him… but I was shocked that he literally tipped himself.

An American friend tried to explain why tips are “expected”, regardless of the quality of the service (it is rarely bad, by the way) saying that most employees of the service industry are paid so little that they can they can barely survive on their salaries, after taxes, so they rely on the tips they get to makes ends meet. I guess that’s why they’re extra nice with customers.

3. Americans are too nice.

Not only are waiters, cab drivers and shop attendants nice, everybody in America is nice! Sometimes loud, but they are nice. Too nice in fact it had me doubting how genuine those people are!
Well, I’m pretty sure waiters and shop attendants fake it for the tips, but when a policeman is nice while arresting you, acting like they’re all sorry about it when they’re clearly not, then something is wrong! At least ab’iwacu are honest about their feelings by not hiding their joy when they catch you in trouble…

It felt weird meeting people for the first time and them wanting to know all about my life. Or maybe it’s just the insecure Burundian in me being paranoid? This whole being nice thing is creepy America!

4. The West Coast (California) is the most foreign-man friendly.

If anybody has tried to make you believe that racism is history in America, please allow yourself a minute to laugh at them. It is very much alive, but I felt it less the West than in the East. People who live in the South told me it’s worse over there though (and had me wondering what they are still doing there).

California not only has awesome weather, but it’s also full of non-white folks I sometimes wondered whether I was still in America, especially with everything named after a Spanish Saint.
I’ve heard some Latin Americans can be quite discriminative when they want to, but the fact that the West Coast is so full of “recent immigrants” – as opposed to “veteran immigrants” (almost everyone is an immigrant in America) – makes it easier to feel less like a stranger over there.

Speaking of races and racism, let me mention that I spent about a week in a place where I saw no other black man apart from my reflection in the mirror. Actually, I didn’t see Asians or Latin Americans either over there. I’ll have to be honest and say that going there I was a little bit afraid of how I’d be treated, but to my very pleasant surprise, everybody I met there was nice… sometimes too nice (see point number 3). I did catch a few “not expecting to see you here” types of looks here and there, but then again, this was in Montana. Nobody goes to Montana. People who come from Montana tend to leave Montana. This is what I was told.

5. It’s hard to be a patriot abroad

Not because America is too pretty and cool (see point number 1), but because the news you get about Burundi when you’re out of the country are just sad!

I was in America when the rumour about the Central Bank going down in flames hit the Interwebs. You have no idea how shocked I was when I opened my Facebook to see ‘cries of despair’ and photos of random burning buildings being spread by people, some of which my friends. I believed it was happening for a good minute yo, until a friend back home (who got out of his bed and took a taxi to go see what was really happening before posting anything online) told me those were just rumours.

But WHY?! Why do people do that?! Aho rero, none of these people had shared the GOOD news about our team making it to the Final of the (Ex) Street kids (football) World Cup in Brazil. It was happening at the same time! Why do people only like spreading bad news, alafu without even verifying it. SMH!

Mon pays ne vas pas mal; ce sont les gens qui ne savent parler que du mauvais temps qui sont malades!

6. Many other (strange) things.

I could go on and tell you about the too-much-food, the deceptive price tags, Americans’ obsession with their flag, and the weird toilets, but I found an article somebody else had already written about these and many other funny things about America and Americans. You can read it here.

P.S: I just got my passport back! 🙂

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