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.”