Arriving from Africa, students make a home in India

By Rahul Vaishnavi, IANS,

New Delhi : Two years ago, an apprehensive Joseph Gitonga arrived in India from Kenya to study to become a teacher. Now, he has one refrain – India is incredible.

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Every year, Delhi is thronged by students from the African continent in pursuit of better opportunity for higher studies.

There are around 1,500 students in the Indian capital from various countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Congo and Liberia – some come here through student exchange programmes while others come on their own.

“India is incredible. In the last two years I’ve gained a lot of experience from the new culture here. I consider myself to be just like any other Indian now,” Gitonga told IANS. He has completed his Bachelor of Education from Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and is returning to his country this week.

He initially had trouble adjusting to Indian food and only ate at international fast food joints, McDonald’s and KFC. “The food here is so spicy and so much different from what we eat back home. But gradually I adjusted with the food culture here,” he said.

Similar was the case with Aminu Jabbi, who came from Nigeria in 2008 to study to become a paramedic.

The 31-year-old found the food spicy and survived on biscuits, wafers and sodas in the beginning. But a few months down the line, Jabbi was blissfully savouring Hyderabadi biryani while listening to Indian folk singer Falguni Pathak. “Her voice is sweet and melodious tones are just so good,” he said.

Indian music and films are also part of Gitonga’s daily listening. “The first song I heard when I came to Delhi was ‘Jee Karda’ (from ‘Singh is Kinng’) and I immediately fell in love with it,” he said, adding that he was an ardent fan of Bollywood blockbuster “3 Idiots” and has seen it several times.

But Daylue Goah, who is from Liberia and has been in India only for two weeks, has developed a liking for Hindi songs. They are like lullabies for him which helps him in dozing off easily.

“I just lie in my bed, put on some soft Hindi music and sleep peacefully,” said the 25-year-old journalism student at a media institute in Noida.

Sierra Diengey, a 26-year-old from Congo pursuing her Masters in Philosophy from Delhi University, feels John Abraham is “hot” and loves his “style and body” – just like any other Indian girl. “He is handsome and acts well,” gushes Diengey.

Visit any college in Delhi and the African students there are known to have a style statement of their own. Baggy pants, loose fitted t-shirts, stylish caps and shoes. Many of them are trend setters among their peers.

“I prefer shopping in places like New Friends Colony, Karol Bagh and Sarojini Nagar. I wear what is comfortable yet stylish. I am not excited by brands,” Gitonga told IANS.

Diengey feels that looking good is of utmost importance. She regularly visits Sarojini Nagar and Palika Bazar to shop and keep herself updated with the latest trends.

“SN is a good place to shop for clothes but if you want some funky shoes and bling accessories there is no other place like Palika,” she said.

The sector-18 market in Noida is also quite popular with the African students. Goah for instance throngs the market place for everything from fruits to clothes.

“Thanks to Delhi, I have learnt the art of bargaining in just two weeks,” said Goah managed to buy a wallet for 1/3rd of the price the shopkeeper demanded.

“Actually, I wasn’t bargaining, I honestly didn’t have money. So, I started to walk away but the shopkeeper called me from behind and agreed to what I paid,” Goah said.

From that day on, wherever he goes, he always bargains hard and gets the best deal.

Amid their busy study schedule, some time for recreation is always needed. So, African students generally prefer Gurgaon, a booming suburban town to the south of Delhi, as their favourite weekend hub for partying and hanging out with friends as they feel it has some of the best malls and nightclubs.

“We like to hang out in Gurgaon. The crowd is nice there and the bars and lounges are open till late,” said Jabbi.

Goah on the other hand prefers spending the weekends at his friend’s apartment where they watch movies and just laze around.

“I am still figuring my way round the city. Moreover, it will take some time for me to get familiar with Noida,” he said.

However, Diengey, who lives in a rented apartment in Mukherjee Nagar, finds the malls in west Delhi “more attractive”.

“The malls in Rajouri Garden are near to my place and I like to go there on Sundays with friends. I am not much of a party freak; so clubs and pubs don’t excite me much,” she said.

For her, one of the best features of living in Delhi is her friends who are from all over the world. “I have a lot of friends here and a majority of them are non-Africans. They are from Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran and Iraq,” said Diengey.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at [email protected])