Right after submitting the final draft of my university dissertation in the year 2013, I left York, England and flew to Minneapolis, USA to visit my Uncle’s family who lived in nearby Menomonie, Wisconsin. This would be my first real travel and the beginning of an unquenchable, insatiable, bugging desire to see the whole world.
This post will be about my first stop in America, Wisconsin and the things I did, what I saw and how I felt there.
My first defining thoughts in America were – “everything is so big, even the people are bigger”. I got relatively stressed out transporting myself from one end of the massive airport I was changing flights at. American airports are HUGE. I was already at the verge of missing my flight mostly because I had underestimated how many miles I would have to travel within the airport. An interesting thing I saw as I rushed was people clapping for a group of soldiers who were walking by. I guess it was their way of showing respect. I have definitely never seen anyone clap for any soldiers in the UK.
Menomonie – I stayed for a few days with my Uncle and Aunt in their little town, Menomonie, before heading to Milwaukee for my cousin’s graduation. I remember us going to a Chinese buffet one evening and finding it difficult to believe “soda” had free refills. I was later to find out this is quite common in the States. Food portions are also much bigger and I spent my first few weeks back in the UK grumbling as everything was more expensive and portion sizes suddenly became a travesty.
Madison – There was a brief stop in Madison on our way to Milwaukee. I got to see the University of Wisconsin campus there and again was truly flabbergasted at the size of the University in comparison to its UK counterparts. It seemed limitless to me. The only comparison I had was probably the few Nigerian Universities I have visited which are also quite huge. I somehow found my self at the university reception and nearly choked with surprise when I saw iMacs dotted round the foyer for free access. My dear University of York immediately paled in comparison as I took a moment to appreciate my truly humble educational background – infrastructure-wise.
Milwaukee – We were here to attend my cousin’s graduation which took place in a gigantic stadium – again I experienced shock at the scale of the ceremony and also the liberal and informal atmosphere. A man kept blowing a Vuvuzela somewhere in the stadium.
The Harley Davidson Museum and Company was visited and the best word to use for that experience is… cool. Of course.
Milwaukee caused a bit of excitement for my Uncle and his family as I happened to get “lost” for a few hours. Really what happened was, everyone was exhausted after the graduation festivities and had fallen asleep in the hotel. I, on the other hand, was not exhausted but still very excited about being in the States and thought sleep was a waste of time so I left the hotel for a wander round downtown Milwaukee. When I returned I met my family in the foyer, my Uncle looking harried and worried. Apparently, there had been some gun firing a few hours ago at a Walgreens I walked past during my wandering. I did see the gunshot holes on the glass door of the shop but for some reason felt no sense of fear or clear understanding that someone had shot a gun, obviously quite recently, at the shop I was causally walking past. This had further worried my Uncle I believe.
I found it amusing that when describing me to the concierge, my Uncle apparently told the guy one of the distinguishing characteristics of mine was that i had a very “distinct accent”. My distinct accent was later going to be a consistent topic through out my American travels.
We found out that Bill Cosby was also a guest at the hotel we stayed in (not certain this is something to be proud of..)
I returned to Menomonie on my own, having stayed back in Milwaukee for a few extra days.At the bus station, as I was about to board the bus (unfortunately not a Greyhound), an Amish family suddenly appeared and also boarded the bus with me. A pair of young Amish men sat right next to me. Now , having been fascinated by the Amish for quite a while my first actual encounter with them was surreal to say the least. I even had the blessed opportunity to lend my phone to the Amish dad of the bunch. He kindly offered to pay me after using the phone!
Forever engraved in my mind, is the image of a little Amish toddler girl who was part of the group. She had the chubbiest cheeks which seemed even chubbier when squished into a little black bonnet tied quite snugly round her pudgy face.