When I left Nigeria last week, I was convinced that my sister was right, that I was finally leaving a place where my height always stood me out.
“Oh, you’re really tall”, I would always hear. “How tall are you?” It was almost always followed by “So do you play basketball? You should really consider it as a career choice, you know…” as if basketball skills develop only from a mere fact of height advantage.
The last time I played basketball in Jos during my NYSC, the guy who gave me the most trouble on the court was someone far shorter than me, but with enormous skill in dribbling and throwing.
And so, when I took off from Lagos, I congratulated myself for finally heading towards where I will finally blend into the crowd of equally tall people since, “Americans are tall people.”
But here I am in Providence, Rhode Island, America, and I have not found one singular person – not one – who is taller than me. Stalemate!
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some really tall people here, and if I am to be fair, I’d say that both America and Nigeria have tall men in different numbers, not just as tall as we have been made to believe. I haven’t however met anyone of my height. Not here at least.
When a few students from Brown came to welcome us at the airport a few days ago, I remember checking out the average height range, and finding discouragement. Maybe after a few days, and we are all gathered, there would be someone, at least, who could look down at me or at least see me eye to eye. I have realized now that hope is indeed lost. The conversation that put an end to that hope was between me and another FLTA from Turkey which went somewhat like this, beginning like the many others that I had heard since I got here:
Person: Oh Kola, you really are taaaaall.
Person: Yea. I don’t think I’ve seen someone so tall as you.
Me: No, I think you have.
Person: No, I’m serious. Everyone in my country is like this. [Gestures with her hand to indicate shortness] In some places, I’m even considered tall.
Person: Is everyone from Nigeria as tall as you?
Me: Eerm… No.
I know I should have lied when she asked that last question because the glint in her eyes showed an eagerness to hear the affirmative. In Nigeria, even she would be considered tall, being almost a foot taller than some people I know. (No, I won’t mention names 😉 !)
And so did I find out that I was not as short as I always thought I was, and that America would never provide any safe hiding place for what I should accept as a positively defining feature. I have no doubt that this country has it’s own tall population. Only that it’s not likely to be in Rhode Island. Maybe Illinois. I guess I’ll find out soon enough, for in less than twenty-four hours, the travula is opening a new chapter in this American experience in the MidWest. Destination St. Louis. Destination Edwardsville. There is always an upside to the height advantage, besides attention and all the autographs you get from people thinking you are a famous basketball star.
On the bright side, I count it quite positive that I can be sure to see myself immediately in any group photograph, regardless of where I choose to stand.