You see in this abroad, we are all being cooked. The concept of Greenhouses is to provide an environment that is constantly heated up to encourage the growth of plants within the houses. Awesome! They are cooking the plants. Do not argue with me. Thus, when you are within the typical abroad system, you may not know it but you are being set up for ultra-growth. Whether you like it or not, that growth will happen to you and you may or may not like it.
Before you think too far, I am referring to physical growth, either vertical or horizontal. By the time I was arriving in the US, there was no vertical growth potential in me. All that was left was supplementing it with stilettos, pumps and wedges. Eunice being Eunice though, that was going to take some spiritual interference. So, I was left with horizontal growth.
Have you seen my family? Have you? We have such a restricted horizontal growth potential that no matter how much food is eaten, the increase is often, negligible and sometimes, it seems things are even moving in the opposite direction and you are losing weight. At least, that is what obtains for others. Me? I had it the easiest when it came to gaining weight. And losing it. Put me in a stressful phase and I would start shrinking like an abandoned potato. But, you see, the moment I smell freedom from the stressful phase, I start swelling. Like puff-puff.
So, the abroad is green. I mean the greenery. We will return to the Greenhouses in a minute.
There are trees just about everywhere. New in the abroad, the Spring season was newly coming in and some trees had not recovered from the Fall. Their branches were bare and they looked ripe for firewood for hot moi-moi with nine lives. But, even in that nakedness, they were greatly contributing to the purity of the air I was breathing in, the clear skies and the sun-kissed, no-filter selfies I was getting with my Huawei Y9 whose camera I delved into mobile photography with. You see, those bare trees reminded me that nakedness is not to be undermined. Not in any aspect. That being said, one would expect that there would be people (in this case, students) milling around the campus, under the shade of leaf-clothed trees, on the lush green grass, walking the cool paths and forming reading groups in the open.
If not that Genesis can only be Genesis once to be Genesis, I would have said I was in Genesis again. What did the Bible say again? Genesis 1:2. Open your Bible. Do not have coconut head.
“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…”
This campus was not formless, but, you see that emptiness? Yes, it was present. We are not touching on the darkness part today but suffice to say the grid over here was not having seizures and was not needing resuscitation every market day. As I was saying, emptiness was the word of the day. I would walk from my dormitory to the cafeteria, which is like walking from Tech to Zik if you walk through Indy hall on the University of Ibadan main campus, and meet maybe one person. Sometimes a little more than five and nearing ten.
This was with the school two weeks into the session. Of course, COVID-19 was playing a huge role in this. Many domestic students had opted to go stay with their parents and continue schooling from there. Those who remained on campus had mostly virtual classes, so, many were indoors. I consoled myself. If not that woman must chop, what would I be finding in this outside too? Mind you, this time was cold! Actually, for Eunice coming from the Nigeria, it was freezing. But, trust my abroad people to be in shorts and tank tops.
Ladies and gentlemen, in my mind, I had excused the emptiness of the campus for these reasons; COVID-19 and extreme weather. But you see, the first time I stepped foot in the cafeteria, I was in shock!
This is the Greenhouseeeeeee!!! See everybody!!! My My My!!!
The place was teeming. Tables filled. Chairs warmed by behinds and food warming various bellies. There were students from all races and ages spread across the room in various eating stages. They were leaving and coming in, standing and sitting, picking up plates and cutlery and dropping them off. You know what happens in movies where the new student steps into a full room, the camera does this fast zoom away to the farthest part of the room and then zooms back on the bewildered, near-panicked face of the student? That was me. Where did they bring ALL OF YOU from?!?!?!
I stood for some seconds at the entrance after swiping my card to gain legal entrance and the go-ahead for what I would learn was the never-ending buffet.
There were several food collection points and I was not sure what to do with myself. Save the time I tripped in the chemistry lab and was involved in those unending cycles of falling and gaining your balance before finally ending splat on the floor, I had avoided embarrassing moments in my adult life. What happened in my childhood… bygones. I was ready for any help I could get but, my people, the plants in this Greenhouse were busy tapping heat and growing. Who had my time?
I summoned courage and momentum because my feet were ready to become planted. I approached this African American and asked him for the modus operandi. Of course, he knew I was new and he took his time to educate me. He said I needed to go get weighed so that I would know what my baseline is before I started on this supposed journey of no return. According to this nice man, once I am inside the Greenhouse, all food collection points were open to me. I could get nutrients, water and ‘sunlight’ from any of them. I could stay and eat as much as I desired. I could choose to take food from all of them in a to-go pack and go eat outside. But, I could not do both, that is, eat-in and still take out.
All the food.
I walked around, unsure what would be agreeable with my sensitive, African gastrointestinal system. I was hungry but I was not that hungry. Make I no go chop wetin go land me for emergency. I ended up with a sandwich, some chips and a slice of pickle.
I sent a message to our family chat, “Omo. They said I can eat anything.”
Debby was already sending wailing emojis and talking about coming over.
“Tell them, what about ewedu and gbegiri with amala”, my Daddy chipped in.
I’m like, I do not even like amala, and so, even if by some weird algorithm they do have it, I would still not eat it. But, for real, where was the ewedu??? For the love of all things spicy and peppery, where?!?!
“Omo, remain small to start packing my plates to take to the kitchen.”
I kept updating my family, hoping they would either save me from doing something weird or share in the awkwardness in the inevitability of it.
By the time I observed the others, I realized we were meant to carry the plates to the kitchen area. That’s how ‘home-training’ saved me.
The next day, I told them, “I mean, I only eat once a day for now”, because what that nice African American said the other day was ringing loudly in my head, I was watching my weight.
Dad’s reply was, “Not yet o o o”.
His wife backed him up. “First fill the Nigerian vacuum before watching weight oh. “
I was reminded that missed meals were not going to be subtracted from the feeding bills. Tres important point, mes parents!
Mummy’s conclusion was the story of a traveler on a ship who starved till the last day of the trip, living on bread and water only. He learnt on the last day that the ticket he boarded covered all the meals he missed.
With those encouraging words from family, I embraced the plant life of this peculiar Greenhouse. I would eat. I would eat to my fill. Their menu was not always easy to work with but I would not starve. I was paying. I would enjoy all the benefits.
For the days I would go all the way just for ice cream and pizza and other pastries. For the days of mashed potatoes, veggies and salty-fried chicken, which was the closest to a Nigerian meal. For the numerous cups of soda and juice. I was not going to miss them. I would go a few times with my pretty, petite friend from Eastern Nigeria and we would laugh at each other’s awkwardness and food choices which either turned out good or horrible. I would go even if it meant often sitting alone at a table while other tables struggled to hold the students crammed around them. I would go even if I had to ask the servers what the food being served was and have to repeat myself several times to be heard and understood. I would go.
This was an Up. And till I chose to let it go, no one was taking it from me. No one. It was my Greenhouse too.