That Sunday morning, I received my long-awaited boarding pass. Washington was getting closer! I was so excited to see DC, The White House, and that awesome statue of President Lincoln that I had been dreaming of seeing since watching the movie Night at the Museum… And especially to meet my friends from Kansas with whom I had taken the first steps in my new American life in the pretty little town of Lawrence earlier this year in pre-academic classes ahead of the Humphrey program.
It was so hard to part with those Kansas friends a few months ago. I still remember our last night before leaving. We hardly slept and enjoyed the last minutes together at 1835 Ousdahl Road, where we began to feel a little “at home” and made our first bonds away from our real homes. We were caught between the excitement of finally starting the Humphrey program we had left our families for and the apprehension of having to make new integration in our host cities.
For me, it meant going very far, more than 1900 km from Kansas to Phoenix, Arizona, and to be in a different time zone in the same country! It’s funny since even my home country of the Ivory Coast and its neighboring country Ghana share the same time zone.
I had been told a lot about Arizona, but one thing to remember beyond everything was the heat. Some people even said it will be “hot like at home in Africa.” Ok, I know what the heat means… But having landed in Phoenix in August, it seemed like I had put my head in the oven. This dry heat, day and even night! Yes, the city is beautiful, but can I get used to this heat?
After two weeks in a hotel, I moved into a small yellow house on 11th Avenue with my roommates. The house was very welcoming. As time went by, I unpacked my bags and got into certain habits. I got used to sitting on the bench on the porch even despite the heat because more than that I can’t stand being locked up all day.
Everybody promised us, it will be better by October, you will like it. I waited for October to come and indeed the temperatures started to drop. What a joy! I was enjoying Phoenix more and more. But October had even a better treat for us – the Global Leadership Forum in Washington and on top of that a trip to New York City.
What a beautiful city! With its large European-style buildings, Washington almost felt like being in Paris. In spite of the busy forum program, I could see the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and had the joy of meeting my friends from Kansas. Yes, it was an exciting time! But, unlike my usual habits, my suitcase was ready very early, and I left the hotel room without any regrets. Was it the excitement of going to New York? Maybe…
After a few hours by train, we arrived in New York, one of the most famous cities in the world. A city so famous that when I was younger I believed for a long time that it was the capital of the United States. The city that never sleeps.
Seeing the Great Green Lady with her torch lighting up the Port of New York, another of my dreams came true. The New York subway and its (very) strange creatures – those people giving lectures, singing, praying or preaching. Central Park in the most beautiful autumn colors, reminding us that it is sometimes good to take a break. Such a contrast with Times Square’s light and noise; here no night, no break.
The fabulous 5th avenue with its luxury stores. The mythical giant Atlas carrying the heavens in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. This one proudly draws up its gothic architecture in the middle of ultra-modern buildings.
The Top of Rock Observatory and its unique view of the city, the famous Empire State Building, the unavoidable Macy’s department store… So many things to see. And also hearing French at every street corner warmed my ears!
I went everywhere my time allowed. It was very exciting, but once again my suitcase was packed very early. No question of being late for the airport or missing the flight.
Little suspense at JFK… too many passengers for the flight, and some of them will not be able to board. But wow, we are boarding!
After a smooth flight, the plane lands. Usually, I prefer to sit quietly and wait for other passengers to leave before getting my luggage. This way I avoid the rush and standing in a long line. But this time, as soon as the seat belt sign went off, I was among the first to get my luggage, standing in the queue.
We drove to the town. What a difference coming from New York! Of course, the buildings are not as high, the traffic is not as dense, there are less, much less people in the streets. People walk quietly without being in a hurry. Phoenix seems so peaceful. And with its cool night weather, the city is so welcoming. We enter Adams Street. Adams, this name has become so familiar to me, as well as Washington and Monroe.
My feelings are mixed, is it peace of mind or joy? We cross 9th avenue, then the 10th and there it is, 11th avenue. Seeing it from afar, I want to give a burst of acceleration. The driver stops the vehicle and we get out.
Her yellow silhouette is taking shape in the half-light. Just where we left it, our little house is waiting for us… I missed it.
We pick up our luggage, thank the driver and walk down the alley. I take a break on the porch, sitting on the bench … my bench … My favorite place to read, talk on the phone or think. Yes, it is my bench.
At what point did it stop being “the” bench and become “my”? I don’t know when exactly that switch happened… But I understand one thing: I am at home.
In the coming months, I’m ready to discover as many places as possible in this country, but one thing has changed: I no longer feel like a passer-by. I have a real home base. I am a resident of Phoenix!