“Are you sure you don’t need to take more food stuff?” My mum asked for the third time that morning.
“No Mum. My luggage will be over weighed.” I countered. She retreated and hurried me to get ready for the airport.
I closed my bag as feelings of excitement and worry gushed through me. It was my first time away from Nigeria, and abroad.
It worried me that I had given up my well paying job to become better educated. But I wanted to experience a new culture and see new places – these were the thoughts that got me excited.
Twenty three hours later, I was standing by the baggage carousel at Milan Malpensa Airport. I could hardly recognize my bag when it wheeled past me. The only thing holding it together was a transparent plastic bag.
I sighed in frustration, got it off the carousel and dragged it towards the exit. I watched family reunite. So much laughter and glee filled the air. And for a moment I wished I had someone waiting for me.
I shoved off the lonely thoughts, got into a taxi and handed the driver the address of the hostel I had booked. On our way, he tried to make a conversation but I politely told him I don’t speak Italian, so we rode the rest of the trip in silence.
It was a warm September morning, the sun shone bright and the sky was deep blue. I rolled down the window to enjoy the wind whoosh through my hair. The buildings were medieval and elegant – I loved them. I leaned my head slightly out the window, smiling for the first time since I left home.
My stomach grumbled as I put away my last piece of clothing on the hanger. Using my map, I found a supermarket 15 minutes away by foot. I couldn’t identify a single product on the supermarket shelf. All labels were in Italian. I brought out my dictionary and started searching for meanings – soap, toothpaste and the list went on.
After 3 hours, I had successfully added only nine items to my cart. “What I have to pay for language illiteracy”, I thought to myself.
“Sachetto” the cashier asked in a cold tone. “Sorry I don’t understand, English?” She looked at me with a subtle scorn, dropped a shopper on my items and proceeded to total my bills.
I stepped out of the supermarket and instinctively turned right. Thirty minutes went by before I realized I was lost. There was no point asking anyone for directions now, we wouldn’t understand each other anyway.
My map nicely pointed me to the nearest bus stop. Two stops from my destination, three uniformed men came on the bus and started speaking with passengers.
The tallest of the men approached me and I noticed the ATM sign close to his lapel. I looked up with a smile, expecting what he had to say. “Biglietti” he asked. I smiled even more broadly and replied in a friendly tone, “English”. “Ticket” he said impatiently. The smile drained from my face. I had no ticket. What now? I need to talk my way out of this – tell him I got lost, I wasn’t expecting to catch the bus. It’s only my first day here! Well, I was ticketed €36.46.
That night, I curled up in my bed, brooding over my unfortunate first day experience. I became depressed and homesick. I stayed indoors for days, safe from the unknown horrible experiences to come. My mum had reassured me time would make everything better – and it had.