Today is a beautiful day of many surprises. I’m still reeling from the exhilaration of the very distinguishing welcome, and I don’t know where to begin. It is not up to twenty-four hours ago when I talked about the generousity of my hosts, and now, with both hands full and head spinning as if in the clouds, I realize how blessed I am, and how blessed in return my hosts must be – for it holds true every time that givers never lack. Today was a welcome event for international scholars/students.
Here’s how it all started. I had woken up iin the morning feeling all dull and lethargic, and I didn’t feel like going out. I looked at my blog and found that I had made only one reflective post on the 19th. I thought of making some more posts on America’s awkward signs, London from above, the taste of strawberry, but I got lazy and played around the internet instead. Then I got an email from my secondary supervisor here, who is Nigerian, and he arranged for me to come over to school to meet up with him. Reluctantly, I got up and did so, and we went over a few of the things I needed to know as a faculty member. I went from there to my department (of Foreign Languages) and was hijacked by the Chair, Belinda, who invited me to lunch with other new and old members of the faculty. They were from Spain, McGraw Hill (the publishers), Germany, Mexico, France, and Nigeria (Me). It was a good lunch. I had to teach everyone how to correctly pronounce my name.
In the evening, Reham and I attended the International Welcome for foreign students/scholars where we were treated to a very large banqet. It was organised by the Internation Hospitality Programme people: the guys that gave me that spectacular fruity choclatey welcome. Along with plenty to eat, there was also plenty to take away. There was a hospitality stand where students could get cutleries, beddings, electronics and plenty many other things to take home, all for free. The most unique part of the evening was where students got to sign up with host familes for “adoption”. As a foreign student/scholar, your host family would be responsible for making you birthday cakes, taking you out to occasional dinners, calling you when you’re sick, and generally doing things your parents might do if they were here. It is a very responsible programme, and Sai says he was moved almost to tears by how caring these adoptive parents could be, and how seriously they took their “parenting” jobs. My adopted parents now include an Indian father and an American mother.
My second family has an African-American parent, both already almost of grandparenting age. Very nice. They’ve asked me for what I need, and I told them I’d make a list when I can. I can’t think of anything right now. I have their home addresses, and I will be visiting them soon, on my new bike. Yea, I finally got a bike, and in less than fourty-eight hours after I put it in my notes to self. Well, let me tell you about how I got it, but not before this report. Sometimes during this evening’s programme, our names were drawn in a lottery, and twelve lucky people out of about three hundred of us were picked out randomly to be given gifts. I was the second draw, and I was presented with a bag of even more stationeries: jotters, pens and pencils, and a branded SIUE t-shirt. Now what were the chances that I would make that list of twelve out of that large number? I was never a lucky person when it came to odds, and yet there I was with a bag of free gifts. Then came Papa Rudy.
I first met Rudy Wilson in Ibadan in 2003 while I was an undergraduate of Linguistics. He was one of a team of University professors on an exchange programme from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville to the University of Ibadan. He was in company of Ron Schaefer, Matt Emerson, Eugene Redmond and a few other scholars from SIUE working with the likes of Remi Raji, Francis Egbokhare, Samuel Asein (who ironically died here in Edwardsville a few years later). I was just a bloody undergraduate then, but I remembered him. We had some very nice time in Ibadan at the time, especially during a get-together celebration we had then for the then newly crowned Professor in Ibadan, Francis Egbokhare, who was at the time Ibadan’s youngest professor.
The programme featured poetry readings, small talk and food. I remembered Rudy as one of the hip, mischievous, but lively members of the SIUE crew, and his name stuck in my mind for a long time. I met him again today on the floor of the basketball court where the event took place. He didn’t remember me, but I reminded him of those times we had. We were taken to each other instantly, and we exchanged addresses. We talked a lot about some old stuff, and he told me lives in Edwardsville. I said I would come check him out when I got my bike, and that was when it came:
“I do have a bike I could give you.” He said.
“Really?” I asked, surprised.
“Yea. It’s pretty new. I haven’t used it a lot, but it’s just sitting at home idle.”
“That would be nice.” I said. “I would appreciate it. I have been meaning to get a very cheap one when my paycheck comes in.”
“No, don’t worry. I’ll give it to you. Do you want to come for it this evening, or tomorrow?”
“Today will be nice. I can ride it home from your house, if you don’t mind.”
“No, I’ll give it to you, and then drop you off back at Cougar Village. I won’t want something to happen to you on your first night in town. After all it’s getting dark. Can you ride a bike?”
“Of course I can ride one.”
“But you have to ride it with a helmet always.” He said.
I should have told him “It’s like sex: one never really forgets the techniques,” because later on the way to his beautiful house in town where I met his nice, beautiful wife and pets, and back to my apartment where my nice bike now rests, I found out the more how much of a nice, brilliant, mischievous and utterly down-to-earth person he is. If he had known that I would be coming, he said, he would have arranged that I stayed with him in Edwardsville rather than the Cougar Village apartment that I now have, and pay for. I explained to him my preference for the Cougar accomodation.
It would give me some insight into the students life here, and I would need that experience. Rudy also happened to be a very avid collector of art items, which was a good thing, since I had one of my Nigerian artworks with me to give him as a present in return. It was both our lucky day, but mostly for me it was super superb. And to top it all up, I finally met someone taller than me during the evening event. Yippie! Well, it’s not so surprising considering that the program was held on a basketball court. He is a student, who also plays basketball. His name – if you can imagine – is Nikola, but he’s from Serbia. Kola and Nikola. Hmm.
Over all, it was a fantastic evening, even luckier for me, and hopefully for Rudy and my new host families. Now I know why the folks at home think I might not want to return!