"Are you okay?"
No Good Morning, nothing.
Her voice is earnest, startling. Her eyes urgent, fixed on mine. My eyes waver, and land on her glossy lips, they compliment her red sweater. Heavy women usually wear dark colors to the office. She never does. She flaunts her colorful busty body on a daily basis.
The entirety of her attention is focused on determining my state of mind.
"Is your family okay, honey? Are you okay?"
She's Mama Bear and I'm the cub.
Three thoughts float through my mind:
- Sometimes we have uncomfortable feelings and we project them onto others.
- I’ve been told many times, that I wear my heart on my sleeve, so I am used to occasional inquiry from coworkers whose misery finds company.
- My heart aches for the people of Haiti; have I internalized and projected my anguish to this extent, to elicit such compassion?
Mama Bear senses some confusion. "You are from Haiti, aren't you?"
Callous as it may seem, I am offended.
When she first joined the law firm, I corrected her assumption. She thought I was from Jamaica. She blamed my accent. I explained then that Kenya and Jamaica used to be British colonies hence immigrants from these two republics might have similar accents. I clarified then, that I was born and raised in Kenya and Tanzania, both countries located in East Africa.
Mama Bear is an American-educated African-American woman in her late fifties.
More thoughts float through my mind:
- She and I and others have engaged in small-talk in the office. On several occasions, my international, intercultural background has been the subject of discussion.
- Is a mass of black people who are suffering (as seen on TV) always in Africa? The impact of the images and enormity of the suffering of black people has historically been linked to countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan - all in Africa.
- Has Mama Bear concluded that Haiti is a borough in Africa?
"No, I am from Kenya, a country in Africa."
I should excuse her misapprehension, and blame her aging memory, because Mama Bear means well. We proceed together to the break room; we each prepare a cup of coffee and talk about what we can do to help. I mention our coworker, a young man from Haiti.
"I had no clue he was Haitian," Mama Bear admits.
***It is mid-morning. I am in the copy room.
“Hey, honey, are you okay? I was about to come see you, to check on you and your family!"
This! From my sometime lunch buddy, my sometime exercise buddy. One of a handful of coworkers I have invited to my home. She's attended a baby shower I hosted for a close friend (from Gambia, but I won't test her). She has seen all of the art plastered on the walls of my home. I've shared with her on numerous occasions about my childhood in Kenya. And during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I described as precisely as I could, his father’s home district in Kenya.
More shocked, floating thoughts:
- My savvy chica lived in New York City for several years.
- Where’s the residual education gleaned from the world renowned melting pot, the United Nations headquarters?
- Has my chica concluded that Haiti is in Africa?
I am at my desk, same day, the phone rings.
A pleasant surprise. It’s a former coworker.
"Hey sweetie? How are you doing honey? Listen, I was watching TV this morning and I thought I would call and check on you and your family. Are you okay?"
- She has forgotten that I traveled home to Kenya during the year she started.
- She has forgotten the office grapevine and its spin on my 'long story' about missing my flight and needing an additional weeks' vacation.
- She has forgotten the gifts I brought back: a calendar with half-naked Masai men for her coffee table, and the colorful waist beads for her diva self.
***Help me out. I am lost in America.
Copyright © Mama Shujaa 2010. All Rights Reserved.