America My Love
I remember the thoughts that ran through my mind as the Arik Air flight from Lagos, Nigeria touched down in New York City. My first glimpse of America was from three thousand feet. The view was stunning. The lights, roadways, car lights, all offered a color blend too beautiful to describe. I dreamed of all that I would accomplish.
My sister was waiting for me when we landed at John F. Kennedy airport. My enthusiasm about being in America masked how tired I was from the thirteen-hour flight. Everything felt different — even the sky looked a bit more blue.
Everyone tells you there is unlimited opportunity in America. Not that Lagos was all bad. I had what you’d consider a good job at one of the ‘new-generation’ banks.— These banks pay half decent wages. The commute was a hassle though. I worked on Victoria Island and lived close to Mile 2. Mile 2 is just ten miles from the Island, but between the crowds, traffic, and numerous police stops, the journey can take almost two hours (one-way). Despite this, I managed to find time to enjoy little pleasures on the weekends.
Still, I longed for change. So, when I had the chance to apply for the visa lottery to the United States, I did. And I won.
My life would certainly change.
What no one tells us Africans is that there are two types of people in America. Those who love her, and those she will love back. For those of us who love America, it is not enough. America has to love you in return. Otherwise, you wake up everyday wishing you’d stayed back in your corner of Africa.
I soon learned that while I love America dearly, the country does not love me back.
The first time I noticed this one sided love affair was when my sister cautioned that I had stayed in the shower too long and used up all the hot water. I could not understand the big deal, but she made it clear that only those who work and pay bills can afford to spend much time in the shower.
I had been looking for work, but I couldn’t seem to find any. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Business Education from the Lagos State University. But, that does not mean much to employers in this country. I eventually took a job at the mall close to home — at least I did not have to beg my sister for a ride to work. But winter was coming. Nobody prepared me for that.
The morning I got fired from my first job, I called in to explain that I could not make it through the snow. The manager fired me over the phone because it was my second time calling in that month. What was I supposed to do? Walk in the snow? My sister gave me a hateful look when she learned I was fired. She called that afternoon as I was sipping a cup a tea and said, “Tinuke, we need to talk.” I was ready for the talk. At least I thought I was.
She did not reprimand me for loosing our second source of income, however. Instead, my sister told me that her boyfriend was to be released from prison and that I would need a different place to stay. I was too shocked to respond. I had no idea my sister had a boyfriend. More so, that her boyfriend was in jail.
Did our mother know?
When I recovered from the shock, I asked why her boyfriend had been jailed. She responded vaguely. Apparently, they’d been in a violent domestic altercation.
My sister was asking me to move out for a man. And I could do nothing. I could not call a family meeting to have aunties and neighbors speak some sense into her. Nor would have the opportunity to even scold this boyfriend. I did tell our mother, but her tears and pleas changed nothing.
Thus my one-sided love affair with America began.
I moved out of my sister’s place into a crappy apartment in the Bronx and another measly routine job. I stayed as close to the community college as possible with hopes to eventually attend classes. One evening, as I prepared for a job interview (for a second measly job) a group of people pulled up in front of the apartment building. I heard them talk — more fresh face, bushy-eyed Africans. One girl in the group shrieked, “Oh God, I love America!” I held back a wry smile.
Pray she loves you in return.
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