Her First Day in America

The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google

The U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) ©2013 TomDispatch ©Google

Monkoki rolls up the apartment blinds and sunlight rushes into the square studio apartment, forming bright rectangular patterns on the beige carpet. Although she is still lethargic from last night’s long flight from Botswana, Monkoki feels somewhat refreshed, anticipatory really, to wake up bathed in the newness that waking up in a foreign city creates. This new city is, after all, in the United States of America, a country where prosperity is rumored to rain down on hungry immigrants like a dream. Monkoki muses on Kitsano’s stories of Real America and wonders about losses endured in pursuit of the American Dream. For comfort, she presses her nose to the warm coffee mug that she is holding in her right hand. Through the tall window, she looks high at the blue and blithe sky and begins to blinks too fast: she left Botswana without telling  most of her relatives, fearing that they would pull down her airplane from the sky with jealous medicinal herbs – how else should they react to talk of golden-paved streets of America when they themselves are stuck to the dusty streets of Mahalapye?

But as she now stands at this too-tall American window, with her nose pressed against the mouth of the coffee mug, Monkoki feels a sharp longing for the same jealous relatives: Uncle Barobi whose sonorous voice is incapable of whispering particularly after a few fingers of scotch; Cousin Raymond who is always jumping from one prosperity-preaching Pentecostal church to the next in search of “matrimonial miracle,” Cousin David who is divorced and has been not-so-secretly having sex with Cousin Raymond; Uncle  Dikgopiso whose dutiful wife, Mma Betty,  always treated Monkoki like her own daughter; Grandmother Mma Gabanthate whose deeply sunken eyes always told the story of bitterness living as a woman in Botswana.

Monkoki wipes a tear and takes a sip of her coffee which has now become too cool. She presses her nose to the window gauze and, for comfort, hums a Tswana hymn she learnt from Mma Betty as a child.

As she hums, it strikes her that the wind in Anaheim is too warm, too unclean and it smells of old rust. It is that clumsy grit which leads Monkoki to conclude that Anaheim, although in California, must be far from Hollywood where the wind must surely be cool and dreamy. Below, on Ball Road, blue dumpsters sit randomly along the street, their wide mouths foul and agape with bags of assorted  rubbish, usable furniture and usable television sets. The minty but skunk-like smell of marijuana seems to permeate the entire street, brazenly. Pudgy teenage boys of Latino extraction swagger up and down the street dressed in oversized grey tracksuit pants and tight white vests, screaming unintelligible sounds into their cellphones. A homeless man is beating his tiny dog –

“Good morning, ratu.,” Kitsano whispers and turns in the bed to face her. His eyes are still half-closed. As he smiles, his perfect set of white teeth is revealed behind beautiful, thick and dark lips.

“Morning. O robetse sente?” Monkoki asks as she turns away from the window and sits on the bed next to him.

Even after five years of seeing each other, Monkoki’s elegant beauty still sometimes surprises Kitsano. Kitsano always tells his American friends that unlike the rest of the world, Monkoki does not wake up looking uglily startled. Rather, like this morning, she wakes up already looking like a mermaid.

He looks up at her and smiles, “Very well. And you, how did you sleep?”

Sente, very well, Monkoki rubs Kitsano’s forehead. “Are you going to show me the town today, Kits?”

“Yes, ratu. I thought that since it is your first day in the US we might do something American like walk down to Disneyland. It is only ten minutes away, you know.”

Monkoki silently returns to the window, realizing with a tightness in her chest that she is indeed in the US. She says too loudly, “For such hot weather I wonder why these boys wear heavy tracksuit pants. I mean, vests I can understand but as for – ”

Kitsano lapses into rapturous laughter. His chest heaves up and down as he laughs lying on the bed face-up, like a baby. Finally he catches his breath: “Dang it, ratu, I have not heard those words in such a long time. Here they call them sweatpants. And the vests are called wife-beaters.

Gatwe wife-beater?” Monkoki stares out of the window, and points at the boys as though she is talking to them: “How American to reduce a real word to a cheap popular phrase!”

Kitsano laughs again, a robust open-mouthed laughter that almost sounds like a series of hiccups: a Motswana man’s laughter. He emerges out of bed and stands there topless, laughing. His pajama pants are bulging with a mild morning erection which, to her amusement, seems to intensify with his laughter. She laughs at Kitsano’s laughter-triggered erection. He, unaware of his own erection, laughs at her use of Botswana English. In those peals of laughter she hears only his laughter because hearing Kitsano’s very Motswana laughter echo throughout the tiny American apartment assuages Monkoki’s anxieties like a firm hand to a sore muscle. She finishes her coffee and allows the coffee mug to hang from her hand and hover over the window sill.