Coming from Africa back then, the JFK airport looked like a totally different world compared to Lome Airport, and to a certain degree, Accra airport. And when you actually step in New York, you realize how truly different it is from Lome, Togo. Now, first impressions are all about circumstances, and our circumstances were rather interesting.
Back in Lome, my father met someone who was visiting from the US. This person told him that he had 5 houses in the US, that he will let us live in one, once we came there until we settle down and could take care of ourselves. He would also come and pick us up at the airport. Hindsight it sounds too good to be true, but if you are familiar with West Africa, and what people believe of the life of opulence in the US, you'd fall for it, and sure enough my parents did.
So here we were, in a foreign land, with our entire luggage, outside the airport, admiring our surroundings (at least the kids were), and looking for the person, and he was nowhere to be seen. My parents called his house number and were told he went to work (yeap, no cell phones back then). Of course, they couldn't reach him, and my parents were given their home address for us to get there. They live in Virginia, and told us to find our way there from New York. Distances between cities in Togo are not big, and my parents thought they could just take a cab from New York to Virginia, no knowing the vast distance between the two. Also being on our own, they didn't know about other alternative like a bus, or train. So on that sunny day, my parents learned their first lesson in America: people will take advantage of you without any remorse. We took a taxi from New York to Virginia.
I have to admit the drive was great. We were not used such big highways, how the houses looked, the signs, everything was new to us (my dad has been in Europe, so he must not have been as impressed as us, the kids were). On our way, we stopped for food, and we had McDonald for the first time. Almost all us threw up. Fast food didn't like these new immigrants.
We arrived to the 'friend' house (a very small house, even by African standards), and waited for him to come back. He finally did, and instead of taking us to a house, he took us to a hotel. Because of some 'mixed up', all his 'houses' have been rented out, and we had to stay in a hotel till he figured something out. Thus my parents spent most money they brought with them, on a taxi ride across the East Coast, and hotel rooms.
At the end, my first impression of this El Dorado, was that it is a beautiful place, but beware of the people.