Green Card and Other Realities

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Before coming to the United States of America no one told you “life is hard in Yankee.” I bet no one told you. And even if someone had told you, you wouldn’t have believed his or her counsel. Would you? Indeed for the vast majority of Africans, no one told us the truth about how difficult, complex and discouraging life in this country can be. No one told of how America messes with people’s mind. No one told us how this country tests ones faith. Of how this country can transform one’s essence, for good or for bad.

We are willing to sell our soul to come to this country. We are willing to fake this or that document to come to this country. We are willing to commit slight or significant transgressions to come to this country. We are willing to leave our familiar lives for the unknown in America. And those of us who were “somebody” in our departing countries are willing to come to America and start afresh as “nobody.” The pull of this country is so great that the vast majority can’t think of a life without living in the United States.

A medical doctor in Lesotho would rather come to America to be a Certified Nursing Assistant; a Togolese trained lawyer would rather come to America to be a paralegal; a Ghanaian trained bank manager would rather come to America to be a grocery store clerk or security officer; a Namibian trained geologist would rather come to America to be a gas station attendant. A Nigerian lady would rather come to America to marry her dish-washing lover rather than marry a promising civil servant based in Akure or Enugu. Such is the lure and allure of America that twenty percent or more of the continent’s population would migrate to the US if allowed.

People come to America for different reasons. We succumb to different pull-push factors that include religious or ethnic persecution or displacement as a result of war or natural disasters. Some came because of the possibility of better education, employment and economic stability. Some came because their home countries offered no hope for a better tomorrow. And indeed, the reasons for migration are endless. But unfortunately, most of us leave home without knowing what we are getting ourselves into; all we know is that there must be a “better life yonder.”

Whether one fails or succeeds depends on several factors, and some of these factors are, for the most part, completely beyond one’s control. There are those who have tried and tried and tried without success or success came at a painfully slow pace — while some seem to have the golden-touch, especially in the acquisition of the Alien Registration Card (popularly known as the Greencard). Life in America without a Greencard? Ha!

I have witnessed grown men weep over Greencard. I have witnessed grown men and women lose their minds after being turned down by the immigration services. I have witnessed men and women, who are otherwise intelligent and rational, do the unthinkable over Greencard. The Greencard process is akin to going to war: you must “know thy enemy,” you must have a strategy, you must be patient and at the same time be aggressive; and by all means there must be no paper-error during the entire process. All supporting documentations must be “clean and clear,” and submitted in a timely manner.

There are those who stroll into the United States of America with Greencard in their possession, i.e. the so-called greencard lottery winners. How fortunate they must be! While a great many Africans have to suffer through years of immigration palaver, these lottery winners just stroll into the country as though they own America. How lucky they must be not to have to go through some of the indignities and iniquities that are associated with the process.

You weep when the immigration officers rejects your application. You weep when the officer tells you “you will be investigated.” You shiver when the officer tells you your papers are not in order. You weep when your significant other refuses to show up for the joint interview. You weep when within a few days or weeks before the interview your significant other tells you he/she has had a change of mind or that he/she suspects you are “no good and of no use.” You weep when things that ought not to go wrong go abysmally wrong. And you die a dozen times when you get a deportation order.

In such moments you pray for seven days and seven nights. You remember all the sins you’ve committed and then go to confession. You fast for forty days and forty nights. You give offerings and pray for INS-mercy. Most people will suddenly become born-again Christians and at the same time send messages to their folks back home to consult with the Imam, the Babalawo or the head of their alternate religious faith for fortune to smile on them. They will give to God and to the gods and to Caesar. Whatever it takes folks; whatever it takes! War is war and you go to war with whatever you have!

I have no qualms offending God. I really don’t; but to offend the tax office, the police, or the immigration folks? Please don’t! That would be suicidal. No matter what you do, please be honest with those folks. Otherwise, they will turn your life upside down. They will make your life a living hell. Yet, they also could be your best friends. And in fact, make them your best friend. To start with, no tax frauds; no trying to outmaneuver the immigration folks; and no drugs, no credit card or insurance fraud or other prosecutable offenses. And by God, do whatever it takes to stay away from child support mess; otherwise, your life will be on hold for 17-years, as month after month, year after year 20-35% of your net income will be withheld.

Some of the newly arrived Africans are taken aback by the concept of tax and other deductions. A few will resist the idea of going to work on Saturday and Sunday and on public holidays; but with time, most will beg to work on such days. Ha, the power of the dollars! And then there are those things most Africans back in Africa take for granted, for instance, how to talk to and interact with women in the workplace without running afoul of sexual harassment laws; and when to stop when a woman says “stop!” even in the heat of passion, without running afoul of rape laws.

Before the end of your sojourn in this country — be it five, ten, fifteen or twenty years be sure to acquire an American education. If you are into the social science, be sure to earn at least a master’s degree or its equivalent. Otherwise, get a marketable technical skill or natural/hard science education.

And please stay away from driving cabs unless of course you absolutely have to (in times of financial crisis). Why? Because driving cab is one of the most addictive jobs there is

in this country. Yes, some cabdrivers own the cab they drive or own a fleet of cars and are therefore businessmen. They have the money and live a comfortable life. Generally speaking however, a good number of those who drive cabs will keep at it for upward of ten or more years without evidence of financial mobility. Most cab drivers will tell you they have a master’s degree in this or that field and yet seem stuck driving cabs. It is a dead-ender.

Don’t get stuck with life. Don’t get stuck in or with anything. Live a wonderful life. And please remember not to live and die in America. “But of course, not everybody cares about how and where they die; not everybody cares whether they die amongst strangers or among loving faces; not everybody care whether they die in a stormy weather or atop a mountain. Death is death. But to the extent that you care, it is better to die among friends and family. If you lived all your productive life in this country, you are likely to end up in a nursing home amongst strangers; you are likely to die alone and lonely and be buried in a cemetery with unknown ghostly faces. Even the earth and the worms and the moisture will wonder about you. You will not be acknowledged. You will not be celebrated. Your life would have been in vain, meaningless. So, please die an African death…with dignity.”

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femi June 7, 2011 - 9:07 pm

Very lucky to have come across this article as i am planning a trip to USA. With all the tornadoes and floods and tsunamis, USA is still the place to be but I just wish and pray for a green card lottery success before embarking on the trip.

Anonymous February 18, 2006 - 8:39 pm

You are absolutely right, and I pray that those who read this article will probably make a great change in their lives. Excellent job.

Anonymous December 21, 2005 - 3:22 pm

As a home grown african american I am surprised of why so many people want to come to the United States. I have been thinking quite seriously about trying to find my way to Africa so I can be amongst people who look like me, so I will not experience the prejudice because of my color (even though I am a very intelligent and educated woman) It hurts me to find that so many africans would come to America and use the African American women for greencards. I've been used once for this purpose. Is this the Africa that I want to come back too Are these people who look like me really the roots of my past If so, I am very sad. Were do I go to find my past, to know who I am Are these my ancestors: those who will sell there dignity for the mighty dollar

American /Ghana Wife November 30, 2005 - 9:13 am

Love your heritage, but love others as you love yourselves; and you will have the blessing of Jehova Jireh. This parasite is trying to take a Sister down. His actions has taught my children/family to dislike our African brothers. It saddens me to do what I must do, but I owe it to the Sisterhood to help keep us well-informed. It is so foolish to cause such hardship to an American Blackwoman that loved the Motherland and wanted to give something back. Now I am going to give him back to INS/IRS/Jail/Ghana.He built his life in America on lies and using people. He will be remembered for pulling his friends and family into that pit with him. He had a plan but God has a better plan. I pray God use my mind and hands as HE will.

Anonymous November 18, 2005 - 1:49 pm

I just finished reading your article and I must admit that some of your comments were true to an extent. I can't really say that life is what you make of it but I can truly say that "America is what you make of it". If you come here and all you want to do is flip burgers, then that is what you do for the rest of your life. On the other hand if you migrate here and you are truly motivated, hardworking and ambitious then the sky will be your limit. No society is perfect. America isn't perfect and so is Nigeria. If Immigrants come to this country and are always complaining about how stressful the systems is, then my advice to them is to go back to Nigeria! In America they complain about racism while in Nigeria we engage in tribalism! Haba! Which one we dey!

After being in this country for twelve years now, I have observed that there are two types of Immigrants. The first type of Immigrant is the one that wants to assimulate into the American culture and contribute productively. The second type of Immigrant is the one that just wants to complain and bitch about everything that is wrong with this society.

As I have said earlier, America is what you make of it. America isn't going to change for you. You have to adjust to the new way of life here and adapt to your new surrondings. The system works for those that abide by the rules unlike in Nigeria and other third world countries where the system doesn't work for the average citizen except for the one percent elite.

Anonymous November 7, 2005 - 3:34 am

God is too supreme, too powerful to be compered to a tax master or a law officer. If you like the way the humans treat you in that country,fine but if you dont know what God can do for you that you can surmount law, sex,race, leave Him out of it.its better u didnt know Him than for you to write what or who you dont undrstand.

Anonymous November 6, 2005 - 4:33 pm

Honesty and dignity is the best way. It is not a good thing to come to America lie to Men/Women to get married for residency. There are better ways to obtain residency. African American have been searching for a beginning for ever. If you know your beginning don't forget it. And please stop taking advantange of the already abused and destroyed lives of the lost black folk born in America. Not all African Americans are dead in spirit, thuggish and hateful. Just as not all Afrikans are. Love your heritage and treat others right. Don't step on the down trodded.

May the God who created all stop the madness

Thank You Karen

Anonymous November 6, 2005 - 9:51 am

please do not sound so discouraging to intending immigrants!…there are many upsides to living in america…i came to this country about 4 years ago for my masters, was fortunate enough to get a wonderful job immediately i finished my studies and the company that hired me proccessed my papers for me and now i not only live legally in this country but my husband and i were able to save enough money when we were in nigeria which is what we put together last year and started our own real estate company and our net worth is in hundreds of thousands all under two years and ofcourse our kids are american born and wont have to go through a horrendious process of legalising themselves in this country!…this is a land of milk and honey…if only u believe, you can make it and live very comfortably in this Gods own country!!! Gods speed to y'all!

Anonymous November 6, 2005 - 5:50 am

Very true! I should have stayed in my own country and pursued my education there. I would have been very corfortable in kenya.

Anonymous November 5, 2005 - 9:04 pm

could not have said itbetter myself please write more often

Anonymous November 5, 2005 - 10:04 am

that is a great piece to me;honestly i am among those millionand one nigerian who are nursing the ambition of ending up in america.your article had been most educative to me;thanks;

Anonymous November 4, 2005 - 9:45 am

Sabella Abidde has opened the lid on some of the best-kept secrets of the problems of Africans coming to America. Now that Abbide has outed our angsts for all the world to see, my hope is we don't stuff those dusty skeletons further back in our closets. Its time to talk. About time we build cross-cultural networks and support groups to help each other deal with the stress of living in America.

In a recent study sociologists found that regardless of how healthy black immigrants are when they come to the U.S., the longer they stay in the United States, the more their health erodes. According to the the study, racial minorities are exposed to more stressful life events caused by discrimination. Stress, a key risk factor for many ailments, accumulates over the life course to harm health.

Anonymous November 3, 2005 - 2:23 pm

Dr. Sabella! It's been a while I haven't stopped by on this site to read you. This is marveleous! I'll make sure many malians read this article and others. Many thanks during this hectic period … Bako

Anonymous November 1, 2005 - 9:46 am

Mr Sabella

Really this is sincere write up. I've being to America as a Short term scholar even studying in United Kingdom i can see how life was then and how people were manouvering their ways even right now as i am posing this comment i am in Europe Netherlands to be precised.This is country where Dutch language is much even if you are apply for dishwashing job despite your Master degree. So life is not easy out here.


Anonymous October 31, 2005 - 9:39 am

100 in argreement. The United Kindom is the same. We have will always be treated as a 2nd class citizen in the west; we need to sort things out back home so we can all return

Anonymous October 30, 2005 - 1:34 am

I am so admire that you are proficient at English and you have a opportunity to live in USA. I think that they are merits of America that you deem are shortcomings. There are a lot of culture conflicts inevitable you should adapt it instead of condemn it.

USA is the greatest country along the human being history we should learn from her with modest attitude.

If you enjoy challenge of life life will be easy.

Thank you.

Anonymous October 28, 2005 - 2:58 pm

Awesome .. Please write more. Will Sure use the quote "I have no qualms offending God. I really dont; but to offend the tax office the police or the immigration folks Please dont!"

Anonymous October 27, 2005 - 7:15 pm

It is very straight to the point without any bull shitting! I commend the writer's honesty he calls 'a spade a spade and not a digging material'.

Impressive! A must read by all immigrants in general and Nigerians in particular!

And above all my present situation is very far removed from my preconceived notions and expectations before I got here. Although I currently hold a part time job(a job with dignity) it is still very far from equal to what I left in Nigeria.

I can relate with this article because everyday I ask myself one question: WHY DID I COME TO AMERICA To be honest with you I had a great life of glitz and glamour in Nigeria. If I tell you my name you will probably be familiar with it….and I wonder WHY WHY WHY I wonder what strain of madness possesed me…I wonder why nobody warned me…and I wonder (like this writer said) if I would have believed it if someone had told me there are millions of Americans without homes without jobs without food Would I have believed that full blooded Americans ACTUALLY BEG for money and food on street corners

I ask myself everday if I know any Nigerian in Lagos with his/her wits together that actually sleeps outside… In Nigeria only MAD people sleep outside. If you know anyone that does that is not mad please let me know!

I still cannot believe that America has the highest number of homeless people than anywhere else in the world! It is simply unfathomable……

I can go on and on but let me stop here… I can wonder some more. For instance wouldn't I be hanging out with the cream de la cream right now in V.I. if I had not made the blunder of coming here

Anonymous October 27, 2005 - 6:33 pm

Mr. Abidde is simply an excellent writer. He has flair creativity and precise language…. style and more!

Paul I. Adujie October 27, 2005 - 6:31 pm

Mr. Sabella Abidde!

You said all these things so precisely and in the most concise manner!

You wrote everything that I have experienced or observed and felt personally!

You have outdone yourself AGAIN!

Keep writing!

Anonymous October 27, 2005 - 2:58 pm

Sabella this is a REFERENCE article for all times!

It deserves a sequel.

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 10:20 pm

Excellent write-up! I couldn't have wished it to be worded any better than you have done!

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 9:47 pm

Excellent. Thank you

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 3:35 pm

Oro Pesije!


Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 12:54 pm

True talk!

Ayodeji Olowe October 26, 2005 - 12:31 pm

Interesting and plain truth. you did a very good job.

I am encouraged that at least some is preparing me for that God's own country.

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 12:22 pm

pure truth.

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 8:57 am

Mr. Abidde this is an excellent article that depicts the "reality" of living in the US. But the lure still continues even in Kenya we are now supposedly ranked as the largest number of African immigrants to the US which begs the question at what cost are Africans willing to live in the US Are Africans that desperate it seems we are!

Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 4:44 am

Food for thought!


Anonymous October 26, 2005 - 4:27 am

Good job! That was a brilliant insight into America. You never get such details on the forums. Hope you would shed more light about surviving America. Thanks


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