Three minutes to three. The lecture hall fills up around me. Iâ€™m fidgeting, pretending Iâ€™m too busy to notice the empty seats next to mine. Neon- pink felt like a good idea this morning, now I wish I had worn something less conspicuous. Something blue, so I could blend in.
A tall, balding man adjusts his microphone. Heâ€™s wearing a purple waistcoat, a peach shirt, a red polka dot tie and camel brown trousers. So maybe my blouse wasnâ€™t so loud, it is summer after all. Strange things happen when the sun decides to shine on the northern hemisphere. Pale mimes with their frowns and monochrome suits become bright, cheerful clowns, smiling at strangers and saying â€˜thank youâ€™ when someone bumps into them. The lecture is about sexually transmitted diseases. Not the gory pictures of warts in private parts, just a series of graphs and statistics. My mind is already shutting down in anticipation of a life-sapping, post-prandial power point. He is one of those â€˜audience-participationâ€™ lecturers. I spend the whole hour avoiding eye contact.
Somewhere in the series of graphs and stats was a whole set of slides dedicated to how the Black minority ethnic group accounts for most STIs in the UK. In a nutshell: Blacks and gays and drug users. However, African migrants, particularly women, are the disease harboring pests plaguing this great country.
He went on to emphasise, and I quote, how Sub-Saharan Africans come to the UK with â€˜THEIRâ€™ HIVâ€¦
I used to read about people with identity disorders. How they could completely dissociate from the present and â€˜watch from the outsideâ€™ as if they donâ€™t exist in their bodies anymore. Thatâ€™s how I felt. There I was, a black, African girl in a neon-pink blouse sat alone at the corner of the lecture theatre. Close enough to the podium that people could put a face to this sickly, black ethnic minority.
Shame is an emotional state I have become well acquainted with ever since I moved to England to study. It is the extra gravity that causes my head to hang low when I pass a particularly rowdy group of black boys on a crowded street. It is the sinking hurt when the only faces like mine in a high-end store are those on the Oxfam and WaterAid donation containers at the counter. It is a heavy load I carry around and momentarily put down on the rare occasion an African publicly accomplishes something like becoming the president of America or winning an Oscar. In that moment, sitting in that lecture theatre, my load was ten times heavier.
â€˜Be a scientistâ€™ I kept telling myself. This was not some vicious, subjective attack based on malice or racism, these were cold, hard facts. Numbers. Yet there I was, feeling judged, guiltyâ€¦
I felt guilty on behalf of the woman who contracted HIV from her unfaithful husband, for the child born with the virus, for the condom that broke. The kind of irrational guilt I feel when Iâ€™m walking past the sensors in a supermarket, carrying bags full of purchased groceries, but it is as if I expect myself to have stolen.
Two rows below me was a boy. I recognised his small, round afro. It was either Keith or Kevin, we cross paths every once in a while. We have mutual acquaintances, travelled on the same bus to the same hospital placement. He even sent me a friend request on Facebook, yet we have never spoken. There have been several opportunities for us to introduce ourselves and have that rehearsed â€˜where are you from, how are you finding second yearâ€™ chat but Itâ€™s never happened. Every time I think to blame myself for not being friendly enough, I remember how many people in my class I have never spoken to. Am I expected to speak to this particular one because we are both black? Why doesnâ€™t he speak to me firstâ€¦
What of the solidarity of familiarity, surely he is my African brother? Perhaps I am his mirror, and he is mine. When we see each other, we are reminded of the things the world hates about us, of all the things we hate about ourselves. How do you even begin to talk to someone who knows nothing about your life, yet knows so much about you?
I wondered what he was thinking, if he too was humiliated. In that uncomfortable, awkward moment, we were connected in a profound wayâ€¦
Then again, perhaps he wasnâ€™t even listening. Perhaps the whole time, he was busy texting sweet nothings to some girl as I sank in my chair, over-thinking a lecture about STDs.
By Nyakomi Adwok | email@example.com. Nyakomi is a 3rd-year Medical student at a UK university and originally from Kenya.