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AMERICAN STORIES - Lost and Found in Los Angeles

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Now, the VOA Special English program -- AMERICAN STORIES.

Our story today is called "Lost and Found in Los Angeles". It was written by Doreen Baingana. Here is Gwen Outen with the story.

I arrived in America one sunny morning. But I did not feel I was here yet. Flying on an airplane from Lagos, Nigeria to New York City, to Los Angeles California did not carry my mind with me right away. I had to catch up with my body. The United States is where I had wanted to live for a long time. Now here I was. Driving through the desert of Los Angeles. The land was cut

through with long wide roads that were too smooth and flat to seem real. The roads had no holes or other blocks that I was used to at home. Outside my car window, the high, hard, grave rocks did not welcome me. Would this really be home?

During my first month, I liked to drive through well-known costly areas of Los Angeles such as Sunset Boulevard, Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. The buildings there were tall, shiny and in strange shapes. The stores were filled with clothes and other costly things I could not imagine buying or wearing. On my way home, I drove through poor areas of Los Angeles. People sat in the street asking for money. The buildings were dirty and their windows had no glass. The area filled me with fear.

Which side of America would I end up in, the rich or the poor? I came to this country with nothing. But I believed I had a chance here. In America, anyone could become rich, right? I was very lonely. I had left all my family behind in Nigeria. When I got tired of staying inside the house, I took walks up some hills near my house. I wanna to feel the sun, touch the warm earth and see the blue sky that was the same as the one at home. There were no huge trees with thick spreading branches and heavy green leaves to protect me from the sun. The soil was not dark, brown and rich. It was like brown and dry like sand. There were small stones everywhere and small brown bushes covered the hillsides

Again, I had to face the fact that this was not home which was all I had known. Only the strong steady shine of the sun was the same. That at least made me happy. The sun was my first friend.

I decided to join a walking group that I read about in a local newspaper. I had been brave enough to leave my home thousands of miles away. Surely I could meet new people and force myself to talk to them. One late Saturday, we gathered at the bottom of the Altadena hills, east of Los Angeles. It was slowly growing dark. Every one was wearing blue jeans and T-shirts except me. It was as if someone had told them what to wear. Instead I wore a dress and walked alone behind family groups. The children spoke in high American voices. I kept waiting for them to speak normally, that is, without an American accent. To me, normal meant Nigerian. Would my voice become American like theirs?

The leader of the walking group was a man who knew all about plants that grew in the Semi Desert. He talked about burrowed,Chaparral and other plants. He kept on talking. Suddenly in the dark, fireflies appeared turning on and off like little lights. The small lights shone like stars floating among us. All of us were silenced, including the group leader and the children. Then the children tried to catch the moving lights, laughing and running around. The parents smile.

Suddenly I said: "We have lots of fireflies at home."

My voice sounded strange even to me. I do not know what made me talk.

The others turned and asked, "Where is home"?

I answered, "Nigeria".

They were surprised and asked me the more questions.

One boy shouted, "Africa. Do you have lions in your homes?

Another child asked, "Do you eat zebra meat? And please take me back with you."

Everyone laughed and I did too. They asked more questions as we returned back down the hill. They were very friendly. What a difference it makes to talk to people? This warmed my heart and I drove home smiling.

I got a job as an administrative assistant at an oil company. I was paid twelve dollars an hour. It was more money than I'd ever been paid in my life. I had a college degree. In Nigeria, I had worked for the government but I had trouble paying all my expenses. So now in Los Angeles, I felt rich even if I was poor compared to other Americans. What could I do but spend the money? I was too excited to save it

I bought a car which I could pay for for over six years. That would be easy. I bought a wide new bed with shiny gold designs on it. It was a large queen size bed just for me. I bought clothes too, of course. Clothes for the office and clothes for church. Clothes for night parties and afternoon parties even though I had not been invited to any parties yet. Now I needed shoes to match all those dresses, blouses and pants. At home I had one black pair of shoes for work and another for church and parties. Now I could buy high heels, boots, open toed shoes, leather and suede shoes, shoes in blue, red, green and white. I, too, would wear new shoes only.

I bought a television, radio, computer, a music system and new things for my kitchen. For once all these things were mine and they were all new. I would not have to share them with ten other people. All I had to do was give the salesperson my credit card and she let me take what ever I wanted. It was as if no real money was involved. She also said I did not have to pay right away. Imagine that!!

My smaller apartment became full, boxes of all sizes now sat in my living room. They did not move or talk to me. Shopping and unpacking and reorganizing my apartment took up all my time. But what else did I have to do? Things instead of people filled my life

Most of the people I worked with were much younger than I was. They had just finished college. They all hoped to get other jobs doing what they really wanted to do. Michael wrote screenplays for movies, but he had not sold any of his screenplays yet. John, Lily and Tuwana took acting classes. They said someday they would act in movies or at least in television. And what about me, they asked. Why did I come to Los Angeles? I said I was looking for a better life, to make more money and be independent. "And of course you have found it." Lily said. "That's great!" Michael added, "You are very lucky to be in the United States". Everybody wants to come here.

Later that evening, I was having dinner alone with my boxes. I asked myself, "Had I found a better life?" I realized that I had never eaten a meal by myself before I came to America. My coworkers got used to me, and I got used to them. They often invited me to eat and drink with them after work. Lily, Michael and Peter talked about their big plans for the future most of the time. They kept asking me, "What do you really want?" "You mean if I had a choice." I asked. They laughed. "Of course you have a choice." Lily said. "It’s your life." They all said together. To tell the truth, I had not really thought about my life that way. I had always done what was necessary, not what I wanted. Now I had nothing to stop me. What did I really want? I could go back to school and study nursing, teaching, business management, or art. I could read my secret poems in coffee shops all over the city. I could get alone to open a business for African hairstyling. I could start dreaming of a future that I could design. Imagine that...

You have just heard the American Story "Lost and Found in Los Angeles". Your storyteller was Gwen Outen. This story was written and adapted for Special English by Doreen Baingana.

Listen again next week at this time for another American Story in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Doug Johnson.

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