You'd think that all there is to riding a lift is simply getting on, selecting the floor you're going to and then minding your own business until you get there. Nah ah! Try a fun experiment. If you get onto lifts as often as I do, pay attention - for just one week; you might be surprised what you discover!
Obviously I can't take photos of people during the experiences as they occur so, it always has to be after, when I'm on my own - kinda like the proverbial 'note to self'. So, here's what's happened over time - same lift, different day:
Observation #1: The cellphone phenomenon
Almost everyone pulls out their cell phone to avoid talking to one another as soon as they've selected their floor. It’s almost taboo to just get in, stand there and wait till you get to your floor. The whole quick-pull-out-your-phone-and-pretend-you-need-to-read-an-important-email-now can be a bit much sometimes. Many a time I've witnessed people going past their floors because they were too engrossed in their smart phones (this happens more than you think). Interestingly enough, most of the times I've seen people speaking to one another, it's been in their native languages; so Indians will speak to each other in one of their languages, so will the French, the Turkish, the Chinese and Russians. It's fascinating! I haven't yet found someone who speaks runyoro like me, which is one of the forty local indigenous languages of Uganda. You best believe I'd happily engage if I did.
Observation #2: Awkward conversations
In the very few instances where they aren't looking at their phones, sometimes people try to make normal conversation but it gets quickly interrupted by having to make an exit on their floor. This one time, there was a lady that said she loved my earrings and I responded with a smile and thanks. But clearly it was about more than just my earrings because she hysterically went on to let me know that day was payday and she’d possibly just purchased a whole new wardrobe because she felt she hadn’t spoilt herself in a while. She went on to say she’d spent quite an exorbitant amount of money but felt quite great. I'm talking shoes, clothes, handbags, jewellery... the works. The very last thing she said was, "I'm expecting delivery within 2 days" (you guessed right! She paid for priority shipping.)
At a loss for how to react, the first sensible words I could muster with a smile were "Good for you girl! You deserve to be happy." Her response? "That's right, I do" and then we had to part ways because we'd reached the ground floor. Talk about being saved by the bell, literally!
Observation #3: EPDA (Elevator Public Display of Affection) is real
I once got in a lift with a couple who were demonstrating a high level of EPDA . From what I could tell in the short 9sec ride up, they’d probably just been holding it until they could find a 'private place' to ‘offload’
*insert lol emoji with tears*
It didn't matter that I was there obviously - and to that I was just like 'wuhoooo....you do you'. Things like that remind me that despite the crazy world we live in, there's still fire and passion out there, and even though you don't see it as often as you'd like, you can rest assured people experience it in lifts.
Observation #4: This one's an African thing
Because I work in an office building with very few people of color, it's not very often that I'll get into a lift with a crowd of people that also includes another person of color. I don't know how or why this always happens but the times that it does - the other brown skinned person and I are always the last two people in the lift with ~ 7-8 floors between us. I don't mind this of course; and I'll share two experiences that immediately come to mind;
Experience #1 was when I found myself in the lift with another beautiful, really well dressed brown skinned woman. I quickly recognised the familiar scent of her perfume as I have the same one. And based on that alone, I could have struck up a 'hey girrrrl' kind of conversation. However, her demeanour seemed like the un-mess-eable with kind - like Kerry Washington handling a crisis in the popular series, Scandal, you know? Maybe she'd had a bad start to her day. Maybe she was coming back from changing her outfit because someone had spilled coffee on it. Or maybe someone had made a racist comment to her...I don't know!
You're probably wondering, "Why don't you just mind your own business and get to your floor? What are your expectations here?"
Both good questions, I agree: but... hear me out:
Being away from home, my brown skin has exposed me to all kinds of racially based micro aggressions and sometimes outright racism. These experiences manifest themselves almost everyday, no matter where I am, on the train, at my kids' school, at a restaurant, in the mall - everywhere. At first it was really disappointing and I used to catch feelings about it, but with time, I've figured out ways to navigate it, whether I experience it on my own, or with my family, it's become clearer to me that racism thrives in ignorance.
Back to Kerry: when I see another person of color, specifically a put together brown skinned woman, looking so beautiful and accomplished - I'm tempted to smile and say "hey, girl - I see you shining! You look great - have a great day ahead" without sounding like a groupie of course. I get this feeling every time, even though I don't know them, or their circumstances. I often wonder about how seamless their integration into a predominantly white society was, or if they've experienced similar things as I have and I'm almost compelled to strike up conversations on these topics alone because I'm sure they'd have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes I break the ice, other times I don't. In this case I didn't. And...I promised myself I would the next time I was in that situation.
Experience #2 was when I found myself in the lift with another brown skinned woman who asked me what products I use for my hair - which I thought was quite refreshing for a change. You can never have enough hair talk between two brown skinned women. I love it! In the remaining 12 seconds to her floor, you can believe we spoke about moisturisers, conditioners, coconut oil and shea butter. I see her every now and then, we're hair buddies.
Observation #5: It's ok to lend a helping hand every now and then
I got into the lift from the ground floor with a lady and her restless baby. She seemed quite frenzied about something and I could tell because when the lift started moving, she still hadn't pressed the button of the floor she was going to. Turned out she'd come to pick something from her husband but the baby wanted to breastfeed so badly and he'd already told her he had to leave his office soon for a meeting. As if that wasn't enough, her breastmilk had leaked all over her top and she was in a state about what to do. Being a mother myself, I immediately empathised and quickly invited her to use the bathroom on our floor to get cleaned up, calm her baby and quite honestly save her the embarrassment of showing up in that state, in front of her husband's colleagues. She gave him a call and explained why she'd be a few minutes late and proceeded to organise herself. After a brief interaction in the ladies, I walked her and her baby back to the lift, pressed the button to her floor (which happened to be 3 floors below me). She said thank you and I said good bye and that was that.
I continue to observe these interesting experiences sometimes as a quiet by-stander and other times as a willing participant. Isn't that life in all it's glory though?