The whole point of this blog was to document my journey as an Arabic Fulbright TA at Jackson State University in Mississippi. But I keep getting distracted from telling that story! So let me back track a little and tell you more about my first days in the Deep South and about my flatmate, T.Y.
First, I got a little taste of The South on the plane, talking to Uncle Jim. When I landed, Sheila picked me and took me to
a torture cell, my apartment. I woke up the next morning, still feeling crushed and depressed. The sunlight pouring through the windows did make things a little better but it also highlighted the dark stains on the beige carpet. I also noticed a few dead bugs here and there. I was jet-lagged and hungry having dined on a bag of (salty) Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish Crackers. I kept mumbling to myself, “welcome to Mississippi, welcome to Mississippi.” I took the shortest shower in my life to avoid unpleasant encounters with roaches and reintroduced myself to flatmate, T.Y. – who was already dressed and ready to head to campus. I had met T.Y. briefly at Brown University during our Fulbright Orientation.
T.Y. was a thirty year-old married woman from Hangzhou, China. She arrived a day or so before me and snagged the biggest room in the apartment. She was the Chinese TA at Jackson State University and at first I fantasized about us bonding like real flatmates. You know, movies nights on Tuesdays with Chinese food (the real deal!), quiet Sundays where we would stroll around campus; I imagined she would teach me Chinese and I would teach her Arabic. I thought we would decorate the apartment together and maybe even get a pet (ok, that was stretching it a bit). I assumed I’d make coffee for two people every morning and we would sit and discuss our lesson plans… Those fantasies were short-lived.
I must point out that at no point in time was she disagreeable or vicious, but we were as different as night and day. In retrospect, I can only describe her as a meek and naïve introvert. She scurried about in a cartoon-like manner, drawing her shoulders in and trying to compress herself as though to take up even less space on the planet. She never drank coffee, hardly spent any time in the common space of our apartment and had almost no interest in learning Arabic. Everything was ‘new’ to T.Y., everything made her eyes widen and her jaw drop. She was an early bird and I was a night owl, she mainly hung out with other Chinese students and teachers and wasn’t keen on the idea of movie nights or sit-down dinners. She pointed out where her food was in the fridge and showed me where I can put mine. She had no interest in decorating the apartment and of course she hurried away every time I ventured into the kitchen.
My fantasies shattered and by the end of the first day, I knew that we were not going to be BFFs.