Before I made my way to the United States, I was like everyone else that had never set foot in that great country. I had all sorts of ideas filled with exaggerated assumptions including misconceptions.
I came to the States dreaming big! As I should. Before I arrived, I knew for sure ‘America’ was where everybody’s dreams come true. The poor become rich, the sick become well, and of course the weak become strong. All these assumptions are true till this day. I told my sister that ‘America’ was where my destiny awaits. Little did I know that the road was bumpier than expected.
Back in those days, we thought that Americans plucked money from trees. We saw their roads, the skyscrapers, their cars. We fell in love with the life. We thought it was so easy to make money; the government had made jobs available even as you arrive the airport. If only we knew.
Our uncles and aunties that made it abroad always talked about their travails in the United States but we never believed them or try to understand. We thought they made up those stories so they won’t have to give us a little bit of change. We were not having any of it. All we wanted to see were some dollars, stories can come later.
A friend of mine had an encounter with one of her friends about this American life that made me realize deeper how serious Africans believe in the American dream. This particular friend of mine advised her friend who planned on relocating to the United States at all cost on her decision. She wanted to come get a Master’s degree and eventually continue to live in the States by all means possible. My dear friend explained to her overly convinced friend that ‘America’ is not all it is cracked up to be. Right there and then, my friend got deleted off this lady’s blackberry messenger. I am sure the lady must have thought she had spoken with an EP- enemy of progress. I am not sure my friend ever heard from her again.
I was on my way to work but stopped at her apartment to get something when she told me the story, and I laughed. I was going to walk to work in the wicked cold. I was dressed as an Eskimo and I get paid minimum wage by the hour.
If I don’t show up to work, I do not get paid. I earn what I work for. By the time I get paid the peanut that I earn, Uncle Sam (tax collector) would have zapped out a good chunk of it on taxes. After paying rent (which is due every month by the way), phone bill, power bill, and buying little food that will sustain me till the next paycheck comes, there is nothing left in the bank account.
After all the nightmare, imagine the frustration when someone calls and ask you for money to treat your cousin’s uncle’s brother’s wife who had an accident and urgently needs money for surgery. You can’t complain, you live in ‘America’. You are supposed to be rich. Isn’t there a money tree where everyone goes to pluck their share? Lord have mercy.
My sister tried to explain this ‘nightmare’ to me before I relocated to the United States. I was not having it. I was determined to leave Nigeria, get a better opportunity at life. Back then, Nigeria was the worse place I could be at that point in my life. Unemployment dealt with me terribly. I had nothing to lose if I left for greener pastures.
Many of my friends were not like me. They sold their cars, gave up good jobs and comfort of homes to pursue this American dream. Here, they practically started from zero. All the funds they came with was gone within the first few months. They practically started from nothing. They took jobs they won’t be caught dead doing in their home countries, jobs they cannot tell their family and friends about.
In America, they say there is dignity in labor. So, many cleaned, washed, swept and lifted everything and anything possible; living and non-living things just to make ends meet. Those were the ones that were lucky to find jobs. I thought there were jobs for everyone? Little did we know. These friends were proud bankers, engineers, scientist and PhD holders. The United States relegated them to zero.
Back then when I think of how I suffer to make each dollar, I think of home. I think of how I did not need to pay rent because I lived under my father’s roof. I think of how there were nothing like phone bills. It was pay as you go. I did not have to worry about power bills, my daddy took care of them. I did not have to trek in the cold or sun; there were enough means of transportation to take me to my destination. I could jump on a motorcycle, tricycle, cab or one of my daddy’s cars. Back in the States, I trekked so much, I began to convince myself it was my daily dose of exercise.
Our experiences would have been better ones if we had the green card. The magic card like I love to assume. Don’t let me get started on what people do to get the magic card. That is a story for another day or never. Don’t hold your breathe.
Like the Americans would say, the United States is the land of the free and home of the brave. I think they also had the foreigners (Aliens as they like to call them) in mind when they made that up. It is not an exaggeration, only the strong and brave can survive there.
The good news is, my Nigerian and African brothers and sisters have all it takes- strength, tenacity, courage, determination to make something out of every difficult situation. However, whatever we do, we must not get the situation twisted. It is no child’s play there. Times are hard, people, even Americans are suffering severe hardship.
Once that is put into perspective unlike my situation, half of the battle is won. So if you are reading this from there, you will make it. If you are planning on relocating because I know you are, yes, you, don’t worry, you can make it as well. If we can survive in our countries, we can definitely succeed in the States; magic card or not, Uncle Sam or not, come rain, cold or shine. We are Africans.