I’ve seen Coming to America 1 and 2 but while Prince Hakeem came to sow his royal oats, Omo, I came to reap sorrow, tears and blood!
I went to America 30 years ago; I went on a student’s visa. Like most Nigerians, I planned that I would first get a job, work for some time, enroll in night classes, then once I can get a certificate, change jobs, get a better paying job, go to do more schooling, finish, then… start a family.
It was all clear in my head….
But America had a big surprise for me.
When I landed, I went straight to stay with an old friend who had been in the country for some 10years before me; he knew the system, he worked the system, it paid him and for me, there was no better friend to help me navigate this massive country but him.
I had to pay for my stay with this friend though.
I had no idea what he was doing to earn a living apart from the fact that there were a number of other illegal immigrants he helped that gave him a part of their weekly wages as payment either because he had helped them find a job or he helped them settle in the first few years they got to America.
Usually, after a few years most of these immigrants got their papers, you know, they paid practically through their noses but many got their papers. So I felt that I would also do whatever it took to get my papers, that was the ultimate.
When I got America, first thing I did was to get a job; I was a cleaner at a local theatre. I cleaned the halls, the toilets…cleaning toilets and janitorial jobs is like a rite of passage for many immigrants, you have to start with cleaning, many times, and cleaning not just on one job, you must have like three to four cleaning gigs or you will starve!
I saw that even though I worked three jobs, I was mostly giving all my money to this friend who began to complain after about five months into my stay with him. After paying my friend for what he claimed I used in the house, I would have nothing left but a few coins.
He complained about the light bills, water bills, gas…virtually everything I touched in his house became topics of anger for him. I began to think of finding something else for myself, and by this time, school was far from my mind, all I wanted was to find a better paying job and survive; but to do that, I needed to have legit papers.
One other thing I wasn’t fully prepared for was the weather! The cold sometimes would paralyze my bones, my fingers would refuse to open even though I wore gloves; many times I would be crying outside and the tears would freeze on my face…who send me come America, o.
I was forced to leave my friend’s place and live in a shelter for a few days and I will tell you why.
One day, my friend asked me if I could drive him to a place and keep the engine running while he went inside the building to conduct ‘business.’ I asked him why he wanted me to drive him knowing he had other friends who could do the job, he just told me it was a way of paying off some of my bills, so I agreed, not questioning his motives. I didn’t want to be homeless
He took me round the route we were to go, telling me he wanted to pick up money from those owing him. Since I knew he did things for many people, I knew lots of people owed him, so I didn’t suspect any foul play.
It turned out that my friend had planned a robbery and I was his getaway driver. I had no idea! He had two other guys as his accomplices.
That day, as we agreed, I drove towards a local store. I was parked away from the entrance and since we knew there were surveillance cameras everywhere, my friend asked that I parked in an area that the camera wouldn’t capture.
Again, I had no idea it was a robbery, I just thought he wanted to roughen up a few people owing him and wanted to get away before they got other people to help them. Foolish me.
I heard gunshots and melted in the car; next thing, I saw my friends running towards the car and telling me to “drive, drive, drive.” I took off in a panic. I didn’t realize they had robbed until they began to laugh about it as I drove away!
“Wait guys, you robbed the store?”
They were laughing and thrilled that we had got away!
I was so scared to think I had unwittingly been part of a robbery; what would my mother have said if she found out?
I hadn’t even got my papers and I was already involved in robbery…my mother would die if she heard about this.
These were bad boys and I was determined to steer clear of them no matter what. I was so angry with my friend, that I moved out of his apartment that day and slept at a shelter for the homeless.
With the help of a co-worker, I got another job to aid the elderly in a home. That job taught me a lesson in humility. Most of these aged oyibo people are racist. They would often insist you don’t touch them and sometimes, they make your job difficult by deliberately messing up their rooms, knowing you will have to do the cleaning, omo, it was an experience about life. Some of them would simply remove their diapers and give you work by shitting all over the place. What do you do but clean?
But to be fair, some of them were quite nice. This job paid better and I was able to start night school.
I worked at the home for close to two years; you know, I was still doing other jobs, in between, though it was while on this job that one of my friends introduced me to one oyibo babe to ‘facilitate my papers’, you know, for arrangee marriage, in order to get my papers
Now, this girl chopped my money…she was a real bitch, I swear. She demanded for virtually every cent I earned; I kind of sympathized with her because she had two kids from different fathers but no be mi gi am belle na, why was she punishing me for other men’s sins? Every week, she demanded for 2/3 of my pay! I would remind her I needed to pay rent, eat and utilities because at that time I had got a place for myself. It all fell on deaf ears.
This babe would ask me to come ‘eat’ her and she wouldn’t have washed that place! Hummnm, I saw things! If I refused, she would threaten to go report me to the authorities. So, I had to ‘eat,’ o. There are images I have buried deep all these years, this is one of them!
Thankfully, after three months of our ‘dating.’ Another lady, who was my class mate at night school had noticed how withdrawn I was; she also witnessed the way my ‘girlfriend’ had spoken to me and threatened me about the authorities. So this classmate asked me what was going on. That day, I broke down in tears and told her everything. What was there to hide again? If this meant me packing up and going back to naija, so be it.
But she was a Godsend!
She invited me to move in with her…telling me I had to pay my own part of the small apartment she lived in. She was a totally decent human being and an immigrant who had got her papers. She was gay and so, you see, our arrangement worked. I lived with her, for three years.
When I finished school and got a better paying job, Amber, that’s her name, agreed to marry me. I got my papers. Of course, we remained together for the next three years, in between we both had relationships until we parted ways as good friends. Today, I have four certificates, I run my own establishment and I pay immigrants well because I have been there.
I am married and have a son who wouldn’t have to eat the kid of shit I ate when I came to America!
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based o trues stories)