Charlene Kwamboka Chronicles Part 2: A Strange Welcome to Life in Anaheim, California

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By Charles Chanchori

I have been trying to write this chapter for about a month now. I have so much to write about but I never know how to start. So many times I have written the first paragraph only to delete it after reading it for the third time and realizing that it makes no sense whatsoever. Like it would have only come from a brain made of overcooked cabbages and mashed potatoes instead of cells. I can’t believe I studied English Literature at the University. And attained a second class upper, yet for the love of me, I can’t generate a paragraph. I am Charlene Kwamboka, created with a mastery of languages and… ah, screw it.

If you missed Part 1, read it HERE

I want to write about how my life has been this last month but I just don’t know how. I want to write about my first week in America and how detached I feel from myself but I can’t find the words. I want to write about how I miss Githeri which I have always hated, but the words! I can’t find the words!

  1. Maybe I should quit the bleeding heart act and just roll with whatever nonsense that comes to mind. And, here goes nothing.

The name of the school where I am teaching English to kids who can’t say “English” is “Anderson Gray Institute”. I hate this name because it sound like the name of a laboratory out of which zombies could one day come crawling out and bring the Armageddon with them. It is not “High School” or “Middle School” or “Elementary School” but “Institute”.

Let’s cut back to my first day at this school.

I wake up at 06:00h and I can’t remember where I am. But for only a couple of seconds. There are strange sounds filtering into my room through the curtains. Sounds and a thin layer of light and dust particles. First thing that comes to my mind is a book I once read. I can’t remember the name of the book or the author thereof but I will try really hard to think about it till something comes to mind.

The first line of the book reads something like, “I am seated with three strangers in a restaurant and they have two legs between them…”

I don’t know why that comes to mind. Maybe it is to massage the feelings of anxiety and excitement pounding their way through every capillary in my body.

There is the sound of sirens lifting from a distant street in California’s Anaheim City in Orange County and right into my ears. I wonder if the sirens are from a fire truck. In which case I wonder what type of stupid decided to smoke a cigarette at the petrol station. Maybe I should stop saying petrol station now and start saying “Gas Station” like everyone else in this neck of the woods.

Where I come from, we say “boot” not to refer to a certain kind of shoes but to what Americans refer to as a “trunk.” That’s going to take some time getting used to. I can’t help but chuckle when I think of what would happen if I someone to “pop the trunk” in Nairobi. My friends would crack their ribs laughing at me, kill me and then bring me back to life just to have another week long laugh.

Yes. I miss home.

07:00h find me queuing for a cup of coffee at a Starbucks down the street as I check my emails. Because that is what everyone else is doing. I will have to start remembering the name of these streets real soon. But thank God for Google Maps. While a total stranger thinks that I am listening to music using my earphones, I am busy listening to “take the next left and drive on for 800 meters…”

No. I am not driving. I don’t even have a license. Besides, the streets here are all wrong. Well, maybe not wrong but they are different. Where you would drive on the left lane in Nairobi, you drive on the right in Anaheim which is my home for the next I don’t know how long. Whoa, that is so Kenyan of me isn’t it? That “for the next I don’t know how long…” bit? Well, old habits die hard and thing is, I am not in a hurry to drop some of these habits because if I do, who will I be? So I will keep calling a boot ‘boot’ not ‘trunk’, petrol ‘petrol’ not ‘gas’, slippers ‘slippers’ not ‘flip-flops’ and sweets ‘sweets’ not ‘candy’ for as long as I am in America

The streets have a quiet sense of order and the faces around here are mostly white. You never know the color of your face until you are in a room full of people whose faces look different. And my problem is I stare. A lot. I look people in the eye longer than I should and though I don’t know this for sure, I think it makes people uncomfortable. Why else would they flash courteous smiles that fail to reach the eyes and then look away faster than is necessary? I really need to quit staring. Mama didn’t tell me it’s rude, but then mamas don’t teach their children everything. Apparently there is something called common sense. I should look it up.

The head at Anderson Gray Institute (hereinafter referred to as “the Institute”) is an elderly white female who reminds me of Miss Trunchbull. I don’t know why she does that when she is of a small frame and big blue eyes. I have never done that in my life. I have never described anyone as white or black or brown or whatever. There is so much going on in my head, I think I am going to lose it. And I have been here for only a couple of days. Maybe instead of “white” I should start saying “Caucasian” and instead of “Black” I should say what? African American? I’m just African. Oh shoot. I will have to have an American friend to take me through some of these complications. When did I start acting like such a diplomat?

There are sixteen kids in my class. Most of them are Hispanics, though there are a few Asians, Black kids like me and a couple of Europeans who suddenly feel the need to learn English because like everyone in the class, they just had to come to America to get a new direction in their lives.

First thing I do when I get to class is write my name on the board. “Ms. Charlene Kwamboka.”

I don’t know why I do that. No teacher in any school I have ever attended ever wrote their name on the board. A new teacher would simply walk in class, yell “good morning” drop their name carelessly and get right on to asking every student to introduce themselves. This whole writing your name on the board thing, I must have borrowed it from the Vampire Diaries. Specifically that episode where they introduce Alaric Saltzman as a teacher at Mystic High.

THIS PICTURE OF AFRICAN PRESIDENT SHOCKING THE WORLD

That is what my life has been reduced to. A copy paste from various movies and TV shows. Nkt. I really need that friend.

Since I made it to class about fifteen minutes ahead of everyone, the first thing the kids do when they enter the class noisily is try to read my name out loud.

“Charlene Kam… Kam” Why are they squinting so hard as they try to read it? “Kam…Kamboukeh?”

“Kwamboka. Charlene Kwamboka.”

“What the fuck kind of a name is that?”

Did a kid just curse at me? A twelve years old Mexican kid, who can’t say the word “English” without developing a painful looking vein on his forehead, just said “fuck” at a teacher. Suddenly I miss the good old days when corporal punishment was a thing. And I miss Davis’s couch.

“Today we’ll talk about…” That is me. The person whose common denominator in life will be that “today we will talk about…” phrase till further notice…

Part 3: Next week….

PS: Make sure you are subscribed to this blog so that you don’t miss any of the upcoming twists and turns….

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