This is for the next generation of afropolitans: My two cents
The grass is always greener on the other side…this is a statement that we often take for granted but how true it is. Everything abroad looks so inviting when your in Africa. It seems like they are eating better food, going to better schools…they even look like they have better friends. Its all perception really, its definitely not what it seems. Opportunity exists, it does, but only for the smart immigrant. Do not think you can just go to the embassy, get a visitors visa, get on a plane and figure it out when you get here. Thats what i did and it does not work trust me. If you actually really want to come and enjoy the bounty of endless opportunity, take some time to plan the whole thing. The worst thing you could do is rush into it and then realize that you didn’t plan well enough.
1. Get a work visa or a student visa depending on what exactly you want to do. If the company you work for has offices abroad, ask them to sponsor you… if not ask a company abroad to sponsor you. Please stress on the fact that your an immigrant and they will get all the necessary paperwork taken care of. Alot of companies actually want to send people abroad because they need to be ‘equal opportunity employers’ and that means that they look better if they have a few skilled immigrants in their task force. You need to be qualified though so line up those degrees, once you get to the states you can probably ask them to sponsor your school and you can go on to get your masters, if this works for you do not waste the opportunity. Its easy to get sidetracked but if you are a little patient, it all pays off in the end. If you want to get a student visa apply to a school and once you are accepted, if you can pay for your first few semesters or if you can get someone to sponsor you, schools are often happy to accommodate you [thats because your paying international fees which are much higher than regular fees] If and when you get a job, No matter how menial or degrading you may think it is, hold on to it for dear life because that is your meal ticket. Do everything to keep it and be patient eventually things always get better.
2. Make sure you have savings, and a good friend, and a fall back plan[preferably a good job] and youre family behind you because its always difficult in the beginning. You dont need one of the things i mentioned… you need all of them. I cant stress enough the importance of friends who have lived abroad for a while because not only will they help you go forward they will teach you how to navigate the system. The ‘system’ is not something us Africans are actually used to and more often than not, we think that we dont need to be part of it. No you have to be part of it so you need some really intelligent people who are youre really good friends to help you. This help will prove to be more beneficial than money or anything else for that matter. Dont take that ‘intelligent’ thing for granted either because alot of people out here still havent learnt how to navigate that system, so you could get pulled in to the wrong crowd and it would take you years to figure out where you went wrong. You need to catch on quick, you need to soak everything up. Africans abroad are often heartless they will take advantage of you and tear you apart in an instant, when this happens, and i can almost bet it will, you need your family and the fallback plan.
3. Be curious….ask questions…. In school we used to say ‘kuuliza si ujinga’ im not sure if this is actually slang or not but its true… be friendly and ask questions. Its a bit overwhelming in the beginning because you try talking to people and you think they think your accent is weird but you would be surprised how accustomed people are to it and anyway after a while they begin to understand you anyway so don’t be afraid to ask your question twice or thrice and don’t be scared to be laughed at. There is nothing wrong with asking a question that makes you look like your dumb, remember you are just different not stupid. The more questions you ask- the more you know- the sooner you know more- the better off you are. I have moved from state to state, different states have different ways of saying the same thing, people really dont mind it when you ask them about it. It gives them a chance to explain their loyalties. Its almost like asking a Kenyan to teach you a few words in Swahili, we are always more than eager to share. Remember this, tell people your foreign and ask questions, they will be more than willing to help.
4. Do what you came here to do… There is alot to see and alot to do but dont get sidetracked. Come, get a driving license, get an ID, get into school, get a job, get a car, get your own place to stay, start saving and then you can party all you like. Do not spend money on partying. I cannot justify spending money on partying and i have been out here almost two and a half years! Dont do it, its really not that serious. People will take advantage of you if you spend money on them in the club and when your broke they wont remember that you spent money on them at all. This place can be very cruel and lonely. If you keep your eye on the goal and you stay focused it will pay off in the end… but you dont want to see the bad side so stick to what your plan was and you wont ever have to. Im not saying dont go…just dont go and pay for it. Alot of people fail out here and misery loves company, dont fall for any of it. I have spent a good part of my two years out here having fun and i really don’t have much to show for it apart from the occasional really bad hangover, but it could have been worse. I have a friend who calls the states ‘ a concrete jungle’ i believe thats from a Bob Marley song but its true. You could go out and your drink could be drugged by your ‘friends’, this has happened to me on more than one occasion so i urge you to be careful. You could go to the wrong places and get shot, i have been at a club where the actually pulled out guns and started shooting. You could hang out with the wrong crowd, get really drunk, and drive yourself home only to be stopped by the police… that means a DWI [driving while intoxicated] which is a misdemeanor that means for the next year you will be paying for lawyers legal fees and court fines, these usually add up to about 12,000 dollars and alot of time spent on running around trying to find the right lawyer and so on. Thats probably the most expensive drink you will ever have not to mention that it will be on your ‘record’ and whenever you apply for a job it will show up and make any employer think twice about hiring you. Its funny how very few people mention these things when you get here, People will casually ask you to drive and you will think nothing of it until your sitting behind bars with nobody to bail you out.
5. Do not keep to your own, seriously, make friends with people from where you are going. More often than not they end up saving you in some way or other. I have a few friends out here who have been there for me more than any Kenyan has. I can tell you from experience that your own people probably sold their souls a long long time ago when this country showed them its cruel side, and they really don’t mind watching you suffer. Its almost like monolisation, they want you to go through it…. its initiation into westernization and you don’t deserve it, so make a few friends… white friends preferably [and i swear that was not a racist slur] I have this friend who has supported me through everything, without her many of the questions i had would not have been answered. I am friendly however so its helped alot, I got my first job through a friend of a friend of a friend so as i said it all boils down to how many friends you have and how much they support you. I also have my ‘big bro’ and without him none of this would be possible at all. Be at peace with everyone you meet because you might meet the same people down the line and you might need them. Dont burn bridges and of course do not come thinking everybody is bad there are exceptions to the rule.
6. Don’t get into a relationship, don’t do long distance, don’t have casual encounters, don’t… Somehow all of that boils down to money or severe emotional distress, so give it some time…. Focus on your goal. I’m dead serious, Focus, because any kind of relationship takes time out of your busy schedule and money out of your pocket and if you dont have either that makes you miserable…so be miserable, find a few friends that you can hang out with once in a while and just be miserable…lol eventually when everything you have been working so hard for comes to fruition you will be happy you waited. Be prepared to be very lonely because its very different out here. Be prepared to be shunned, ignored, stepped on… they told me i would get culture shock, i didnt really, i had moral shock instead, i couldnt understand how people could be so immoral and how nobody held themselves accountable…i wondered for a long time how a society could be so ‘mannerless’ [thats for lack of a better word but i believe its apt] i mean this literally, i think talking right, using youre knife and fork, being courteous, saying please and thank you; these things were all left in the ‘dark ages’ or at least thats how it seems when you get out here. Its not like what you see on ‘TV’. What you see on ‘TV’ is actually, more often than not, considered ‘ghetto’. There are exceptions to the rule but most of it is ghetto.
7. Get online. There is an answer to everything online. Immigration issues, school issues, work issues, maps, banks, everything is here. I dont know how i would have survived in the states without GOOGLE. Im serious. Anything you don’t know you can google and if all else fails ask me 🙂 Get online preferably before you get to the states and look up everything you need to know. If you are coming to the states ask your fellow bloggers questions. No question is too dumb and trust me alot of people dont want you to suffer like they have.
8. Buy everything on sale…everybody else does…and if they don’t they are very dumb. Don’t buy anything at full price….I came to this country with about $5000 in savings. That lasted less than three months…between the designer jeans, shoes, accessories e.t.c…I spent it all. You can get everything cheap don’t go crazy and don’t be ashamed to be ‘seen’ buying cheap stuff, first of all nobody is watching you and even if they are they probably will never see you again…my motto is ‘as long as it looks good get it’ ….I bought a pair of jeans for 400 dollars…. i don’t even like telling this story… i somehow forgot that that translated to 28,000 kshs… Hindsight is an exact science but please try and avoid doing this. Buy expensive food though, buy organic. Cheap out here when it comes to food is not better. I know it can be overwhelming to go to the store and actually choose…so many labels! but try. I actually believe that it helps not only nourish your body but your mind too. When you eat right you think better. Exercise is important too… Jog a little it helps clear your mind.
9. Avoid stuff thats fake, don’t get involved in any schemes that don’t seem right. Go online if it sounds tricky and ask questions. When i got here i used yahoo questions alot. I asked about anything and everything. I have seen alot of people get deported because they involved themselves in fraudulent schemes and i know many more who will. Its usually your friends who come to you and whisper about some brilliant scheme to make money, don’t fall for it… if they are actually your friends they wont turn their backs on you when you show your disinterest. I have taught myself not to starve at someone else’s expense, i have also learnt how not to get into trouble. Stay away from drugs and people who do them, because if you are caught in a car with someone who has drugs, more often then not they will claim those drugs were yours and just like the DWI thing i mentioned earlier its not easy to get yourself up after that.
10. People overlook Social Security and Credit. Take your time to understand these. Credit is very important, good credit is almost a currency in itself. You need to build your credit and eventually it will allow you to get everything you need. With a clean record [no arrests] and good credit, the opportunities in this country are endless. Do not overlook your taxes either. Do everything by the book. this is not Africa ‘deals’ wont help you here but if you do everything by the book you can eventually get anything you want from good loans, a big house to nice cars and great investments. This is why, if you are planning to come and live in the states, you SHOULD NOT come on a visitors visa….Because you will not get a social security card so you will not be able to build your credit or get a job or go to school or get an apartment or anything. I have been here two years and the best i could get is a shared apartment, i cant buy a car or go to school or get a job but i have two or three good friends and they have been there for me thats why i emphasize on friendship so much.
I have been reading this book by Dave Eggers, its called ‘What is the What’ He says something in the beginning of the book that i hold as true, he says ‘I am tired of this country. I am thankful for it, yes, I have cherished many aspects of it for the three years i have been here, but i am tired of the promises. I came here, four thousand of us came here, contemplating and expecting quiet. Peace and college and safety. We expected a land without war and, i suppose, a land without misery. We were giddy and impatient. We wanted it all immediately-homes,families, college, the ability to send money home, advanced degrees, and finally some influence. But for most of us, the slowness of our transition-after five years i still don’t have the necessary credits to apply for a four year college-has wrought chaos. We waited ten years in Kakuma and i suppose we did not want to start all over here. We wanted the next step, and quickly. But this has not happened not in most cases, and in the interim, we have found ways to spend the time. I have held too many menial jobs, and currently work at the front desk of a health club, on the earliest possible shift, checking in members and explaining the club’s benefits to prospective members. This is not glamorous, but it represents a level of stability unknown to some. Too many have fallen, too many feel they have failed. The pressure upon us, the promises we cannot keep with ourselves-these things make monsters of too many of us.’ This is by far one of the most well written books i have seen in the last few years… I believe however that the lesson is clear. Get a hold of this book if you can and read about a fellow immigrant, Also get ‘the infidel’ By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. These books have little nuances here and there that can help you understand what exactly you are getting into.
Alot of people will tell you be patient and swallow your pride and do whatever it takes to survive. I have lived here and i have been patient and i have done whatever it took to survive, but i will never sell my soul for a dream that wasn’t mine initially [the American Dream]. I have not done anything that i did not want to do. Do what you think is right. Always remember to be true to yourself. You really don’t have to stoop as low as they tell you to….you do have to stoop but to wherever you are comfortable. Before you come here you need to know what it is you want and how far you would go to get it. Stay out of trouble. I have a friend who i argue with constantly, his argument is the reason most foreigners fail when they come to this country is that they never fully commit to being here. At the back of their minds they are still convinced that they can always go back. I agree with him. If you fully commit to being here and you give yourself no choice but to succeed you will succeed. My argument however, is that if its not working after a few years of trying and if its not getting better don’t be afraid to leave, don’t wait until its too late. More that anything be analytical and logical don’t let your emotions influence your decisions.Those are my two cents…Good luck and God speed!!