When I left Nigeria last week, I was convinced that my sister was right, that I was finally leaving a place where my height always stood me out, and everybody always asked “Oh, you’re really tall. How tall are you?” And the second most common question asked was almost always “So do you play basketball? You should really consider it as a career choice.” as if basketball skills develop only from a mere fact of height advantage. I could tell you different. The last time I played basketball in Jos during my NYSC, the guy who gave me the most trouble on the court was someone far shorter than me, but with enormous skill with the ball.
And so, when I took of from Lagos, I congratulated myself for finally heading to where I will blend into the crowd and no one will notice me because, as the ubiquitous knowledge in Nigeria is, “Americans are tall people.”. So here I am in Providence, Rhode Island, America, and I have not found one singular person – not one – who is taller than me. Stalemate! Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some really tall people here, and if I am to be fair, I’d say that both America and Nigeria have tall men in different numbers, not just as tall as we have been made to believe. I haven’t however met anyone of my height. Not here at least.
When I first landed here, and I met the few American students from Brown who came to welcome us at the airport, I had already begun to check out the average height range, and what I found wasn’t so encouraging. So I waited. Maybe after a few days, and we are all gathered, there would be someone, at least, who could look down at me or at least see me eye to eye. After a few days, I realized that hope was indeed lost. The conversation that put an end to that hope was between me and another FLTA from Turkey, I think. It went somewhat like this, beginning like the many others that I had heard since I got here:
Person: Oh Kola, you really are taaaaall.
Person: Yea. I don’t think I’ve seen someone so tall as you.
Me: No, I think you have.
Person: No, I’m serious. Everyone in my country is like this. In some places, I’m even considered tall.
Person: Is everyone from your country tall like you?
I know I should have lied when she asked that last question because the glint in her eyes showed an eagerness to hear the affirmative, and that we are all tall people. It wouldn’t be nice to have her find out later that in my country, even she would be considered tall, being almost a foot taller than some people I know. (No, I won’t mention names 😉 !)
And so did I find out that I was not as short as I always thought I was, and that America would never provide any safe hiding place for what I should accept as a positively defining feature. I have no doubt that this country has it’s own tall population. Only that it’s not likely to be in Rhode Island. Maybe Illinois. I guess I’ll find out soon pretty enough, for in less than twenty-four hours, the travula is opening a new chapter in this American experience in the MidWest. Destination St. Louis. Destination Edwardsville. There is always an upside to the height advantage, besides attention and all the autographs you get from people thinking you are a famous basketball star. On the bright side, I count it very prominent that I can be sure to see myself in any group photograph, regardless of where I choose to stand.