Unlike many people who have sad stories to tell about their times abroad, I had a rather funny experience when I decided to move abroad.
In telling my story, I am not trying to belittle any one or make other people’s stories look bad. We should talk about the bad times, you know, to warn people but let’s also share the good times as well.
My name is Hyacinth and I am an Italian returnee. Ok, so by the way, I finished studies 26 years ago from the Linguistics department of the Faculty of Arts, University of Jos.
I finished with a 2.2 but after graduating, I couldnt find a job and I didn’t want to teach. Like most of my mates then, I wanted to finish school and go abroad to hustle.
One of my cousins who had been in Canada had been discussing the possibility of me relocating to Canada. But you see, at that time, Canada was not hot for Nigerians, many of us wanted to go either to America or UK. Then if you said Canada, people would say, ehn, what is Canada? Is there money in Canada?
But I didn’t know how to tell my cousin that I wasn’t really interested in Canada, that my main interest was Yankee land, America! My cousin told me to apply for tourist visa, I did and got it. Those were the days of Oluwole. Those who know Oluwole will know, those who don’t, I can’t help you. Anyway, to Canada, I headed.
Yes, I know I said Italian returnee but hear my story first.
So now, my actual destination was Canada but I took a flight that would stop in Italy. It was going to be a three hours stop over. No wahala.
I came down from the plane like everybody and of course you know passengers that are in transit are headed to a particular gate while those who’s destination is Italy will go another way.
Hear me, o. When it was time for me to board my flight to Canada, I had to go through checking to board. That was when gbege happened!
It was one young border officer like this, one small boy with ruddy cheeks, red in the face like tomato. He was just looking at my passport, looking, looking, checking…I had turned to water in front of him because I knew I had been found out! I told you it was Oluwole arrangee, the days before the advent of biometrics!
Omo! My hands were shaking, my ears were drumming loud gbaghan, gbaghan, your own don catch up with you today. I looked furtively around, where will I run to? No place. Ha, my mother in heaven, help your boy!
Before you say Jack Robinson, they had bundled me to one office; took my knapsack, removed all the other travel documents and started asking me bombastic questions.
‘Do you know your papers are not genuine?’
In my mind, I said, ‘I tell you say I no know say na fake?’
Outwardly, I said, ‘What! Fake! This is impossible! ‘It’s preposterous! This is unbelievable! I am shocked!’
I began to blow all the grammar I learnt at school to show these oyibo people I was no illiterate…
But my bragado no get strength, even my voice was not convincing to me myself. Wetin man go do na? See my sister, I had no idea what to do. I was distraught. I was crying inside like a child. I was shaking in my jeans and this piss was just worrying me. If I piss for pants, they will know I am a fraud, so I just begged them, ‘please, I need to use the gents.’
These oyibo people. They said, it’s ok. So, they detailed one officer to go with me but that one stood outside the main door of the gents.
Sister, as soon as I enter the gents, I was trembling like a leaf! Osanobua! See my life outside. Me that I had boasted to my friends that I was gone for good; me that they had even done send-off party for; me that I had even sold off a few items that I had saying, goodbye to my friends and family. Where will I start from?
I went into one of the booths and was just lamenting in my native tongue. You know, when trouble that is bigger than your power comes on you, na to break out into your native tongue o. I don’t mean speaking in tongues like church people, o. I mean I broke into my native Esan, I began to lament my life. Then I heard, kokokoko on the door.
My heart jumped. I quickly wiped my tears but I did not answer immediately.
Kokokoko again, this time, I wanted to vex, so these people will not let me piss in peace or what?
Then the person knocking spoke in Esan, said, “Bodiaye? Egbe daen?”
How are you? Are you okay?
“Ea ye,” I replied meaning no.
“Mudia fo,” he said asking me to hold on then he tapped on the door. “Bros, oya make you open door.”
See hehn, I quickly opened the door. It was a cleaner guy, a Nigerian like me and from my place gan gan. he was in uniform; cleaning the toilets o. He ‘d heard me lamenting in the toilet and came to see me.
I then told him say, see my predicament; wind don blow my yansh don open for oyibo land oo, they are going to deport me back home to Nigeria. We talked for like 2 or 3 minutes, then he said he would help me. He told me what to do.
First, he removed his uniform; his cleaner uniform. Gave me to wear. I wore it, it didn’t fit well because I was taller; but I squeezed myself inside then I jammed the cap on my head. That was how I kurukere kurukere walked out of the airport to the place he asked me to go and wait for him.
How did he get out? I can’t reveal that one.
Sisterly, that was how I began life in Italy, remember my passport had been seized, so I couldn’t even travel anywhere.
Don’t ask me how we did the rest o. I won’t say. But just understand that I spent the next 7 years in Italy. I worked; I learned fast. I got my papers. I got a genuine passport, I speak the language fluently! Now, I travel to and back Italy as I want.
No shaking. I am an Italian citizen as I am speaking to you!
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)