A Cultural Experience

Jane Nededog

studio art

I was looking around one of the clothes stores in Northbrook Mall when a man came walking towards me. Feeling a tap on my shoulder, I turned to look at him. He had a suit on and hanging on his broad shoulders was a very colorful scarf of differing patterns. He was black, very tall, very elegant. Standing there, a distraught look crossed his face. He spoke in an accent that was familiar to me; he was from Africa. It seemed he came here recently because his accent was thick, very strong.

e asked me if this was a hotel. I said no, that this was a shopping mall. His large palm found his forehead and then he looked at me strangely. It was obvious that he was upset and he soon started babbling. I asked him to calm down and tell me exactly what happened.

e had just gotten off a plane from Africa. A friend he was to meet the next day sent him a letter with a plane ticket and hotel reservations enclosed, compliments from that person. He didn’t know where anything was but saw a cab outside the airport. Not knowing what to expect, he got in. With the heat of anger growing in my face, I looked at him as he told me the rest of his story. The cab driver dropped him off in front of this building, told him this was his hotel, and charged him 125 dollars for the ride. Not suspecting he was being ripped off, he paid the driver the money.

e looked at me and asked if everyone in America did this to visiting foreigners. He then offered me ten dollars to help him. I didn’t say anything. How could I? When he mentioned money for me to help him, I felt even worse. I felt hurt that my country would and did cause this person suffering.

e told me about how he used to look forward to this day, how he longed to step foot on American soil at least once before he died. I was ashamed because I always thought better of the United States. With the last bit of dignity and pride in my soul, I looked him in the eyes and told him that not everybody is like that.

I took his hand in my hand; it seemed to have shrunk and gotten lost in his immense fingers. I searched desperately for a phone. This being my first visit to the mall, I was hopelessly lost, but luck was with me. We reached the phone, and I called the police. I smiled weakly at the stranger, who seemed to be relaxed now.

When the police arrived, I explained the whole situation. They took down all the information and offered to take the stranger home, at last. The man looked at me and said, “You are correct. Not everybody is like that. Thank you.” He smiled at me then followed the policemen. I watched him walk away.

My friends came looking for me at that time and asked what had happened. I told them everything. I felt mixed emotions, shame for my country, anger for the cab driver. At the same moment, I kept thinking of that man, asking myself, what if that was me. I also felt proud that I was able to help and heal slightly that terrible wound America had inflicted on that man that day.