I was sitting in a lavishly decorated hall. An empty glass and a plate of duck, which was glazed with some fancy sounding thing, sat in front of me. There were various glasses, various utensils: various little things each with various little purposes- purposes which I only knew of in the most general of senses. Spoons and forks are used to eat foods, knives are used to cut foods and glasses are used to drink liquids.
The time to eat eventually came. I watched my duck. I watched my utensils. I watched the neatly folded napkin, the pitcher of wine, the butter, the ceramic cup and plates, the glass cups, the little cup with cubed substances, the shakers, the bowl with different breads, the little chocolate coin and I became confused…. What do I do next?
I looked at the guy across the table from me.
—Can’t stare too long at him Kalifa–
I looked at the guy next to me.
–Can’t stare too long at him either Kalifa. Find someone else to observe!–
I looked at the girl next to me.
I looked at the guy opposite her.
People were talking, smiling, and doing things with all the shiny metallic, glass and ceramic pieces as though it were second nature.
–Ok, I think I know what I’m to do next…I have to use this particular knife, this particular fork, this particular glass, none of the spoons and the napkin goes on my lap–
I breathed. I had passed phase one… the duck was about to be eaten-appropriately!
“So, what university did you attend previously?” asked one guy to another.
Hesitatingly and with a hint of shame, the other guy responded, “It’s no big university, it’s ONLY ranked as number xxx”
I listened to the conversation and I thought to myself…
–Kalifa, UWI isn’t even ranked!! If he sounds so pessimistic about his past education, how should I feel?–
How should I feel? That thought, and various similar others, stuck with me for the entire term. I didn’t know whether it would be right to feel like I could cope here…because I didn’t know if I could. Everywhere I went I felt like was surrounded by brilliance…who did what, who went to where, who could answer this, talk about that, make veiled jokes about which theory, story, book, statistic, event. I’d go through each week thinking that maybe I don’t stand a chance…maybe I hadn’t learnt as much, seen as much, and experienced as much at UWI. Maybe I’m not at their level, maybe I can’t compete. I wrote about how I felt…based on my frustration at not being quick enough to grasp everything in class at times, about not knowing or remembering all the names, theory, facts and what they meant…and I saved my notes: Users/Kalifa/Documents. (I couldn’t share that note on Facebook… it would be like unloading 100statuses*Emo^4 on the world)
How should I feel? I didn’t know how I should feel, but I knew how I did feel. I felt fearful.
The end of the term was drawing nearer; we would have been getting our essay results soon. I didn’t want to think about it.
— Kalifa, let’s hope you didn’t mess things up–
I walked past the building containing the people who I knew would have my results. My heart began to race. I felt it in my chest…*thump, thump, thump*, breathe, *thump*
–What manner of sorcery is this? Get a hold of yourself Kalifa!–
I passed the building and began to feel alright again. I didn’t want to know, but I wanted to know- did I do well enough?
Days passed and the last day of the term came: A Friday. I was feeling alright, a bit confused by what was being taught, but alright. The class was made up of students from different departments. It was a training course…and sitting behind me was the guy who had said glumly, “It’s no big university, it’s ONLY ranked as number xxx”. He wasn’t from my department. I looked across the room and a few other students from my course were standing around and talking about something. One of them motioned to me to come. I got up, walked across and someone said, “Results are out”. I can’t remember how I felt in that moment…slightly excited, slightly scared-maybe.
–I’m a UWI alumni: not ranked, not known–
I walked back to my computer to check my e-mail. My results weren’t out as yet. I waited…they came. I clicked…message opened. I smiled…eyes watered; But I didn’t cry.
I had done alright. I had done alright.
–Kalifa, you did alright–
One marker gave me a distinction, the other gave me a high pass… I’d done relatively well. That unranked university that I went to, the one that didn’t have ‘a name’, had produced someone who was capable enough to write a decent essay at Cambridge.
–Kalifa, you’re alright. Your friends back home are alright. UWI is alright… Don’t ever think that you’re not good enough to stand equally amongst the greats. You don’t have to be ashamed of where you came from–
*Yes, I know that that’s not duck on the plate*