My Father's Advice
One day when I called my friend, he could hear a siren in the background where I was. He was curious to know if it was the police or an ambulance. He wanted to know what was going on that was distracting us from our conversation. I told him to listen to me and not the sirens because "time is money." It is always interesting when I get the chance to talk to my relatives. I love the phone card.
When I call my father, he always wants to know what impresses me about America. When I explain how different things are here, he doesn't believe me sometimes. My father knows about the trains in Africa, but I had to use three different languages to try to explain to him what the subways are like in New York. I said, "The subway is a train that runs under the earth, and we board it underground, too." Then I told him that sometimes there are even skyscrapers that are built on top of the subway station. He asked me questions like, "What do the passengers do when it rains?" and "How do they get air to breathe?"
I like when my father asks me what impresses me about New York. I tell him about bridges, skyscrapers, calling 911 and how the roads are nice and smooth. But these things are just different to me. They are not what really impresses me. What impresses me about America is the lives of women, children and animals. I remember, when I was growing up in Guinea, my father always told me that if I wanted success in life, I must love, and never do wrong to women, children and animals. But he never gave me the reasons for this advice.
One day in Manhattan, I was at Madison Park, not far from the International Center, one of the places where I'm learning English now. I was sitting on a bench, eating my lunch, when suddenly a stupid, fat squirrel jumped on my leg, wanting my food. At first I was confused, and for a few seconds I was thinking that I was at home in my village. I said to the squirrel, "Are you crazy? You are food." I had forgotten the law that they are free to enjoy the park like me, and I started to laugh. I closed my food package, and I said, "Food, food, food," because that is how I think of squirrels. He thought I was encouraging him to have my food, but I was really saying that to me, he is food.
I used to go hunting with my father during the holidays. I was a good hunter; but I told my father that sometimes I did not have a good hunt because I only killed one squirrel. In New York, people do not hunt the animals. They make a life together. The wild animals here don't run from the people like they do in our village. Dogs are not guards at the homes as they are in Africa. When I found out that dogs are even allowed to sleep in a person's bedroom, I could not believe it. Here they love animals.
At my second apartment in Brooklyn, my roommate was an immigrant from Africa. He was there with his two children. One day, one of the children took the phone and dialed 911, and then hung up. Suddenly, five minutes later, we heard the policemen at our door. It was morning, and the noise woke me up. They used their force to break the door and get inside to see what was going on. In Africa, when children are bad like this, they are beaten. But these children were not. Since that day, I have known that you cannot beat children in America. It is forbidden. Two days later, I was talking about what happened with the child's mother, and she told me that when they were in Africa, her husband would beat her once a month, and she would be badly hurt. But since they got to New York three years ago, she has never been beaten. To sum it up, I found out that women, children and animals are protected by the laws in America.
What most impresses me though is that my father told me this useful advice 5 years ago. Did he know what my destiny was, that I might one day live in a country where you automatically go to jail if you beat a woman or child?
I like America because in Conakry, the city where I am from in Guinea, the kids in my village called me "fote," which means "white man," because I was always distributing candy when I came home from work. We were all very close, and I loved them. I'm educated, and I knew a long time ago that I must be nice to women, children and animals. So I have many things in common with New Yorkers.
"I have really enjoyed learning English over the past year. The International Rescue Committee's Literacy for Life program has helped me become more comfortable in America."
Soriba’s story was published in the The Literacy Review, volume 4, Spring 2006, a publication of the Gallatin Writing program, New York University.