Thursday, February 21, 2008

So this is America?

Ok, here's the koko. (jist)

I'm a Nigerian. Born in Nigeria. Educated entirely in Nigeria. Work for a Nigerian company.
This background is necessary for my tale.
About 4 years ago, after working for roughly 3yrs, I suddenly woke up and decided to go on a vacation to Yankee (America). Not jand oh(UK or London as we call the whole country here) Yankee! I needed to see this place.
My friends tell me, ''Visa go hard with this your virgin passport oh. Try jand first, dem dey give visa pass yankee. You fit go yankee later'' (Funny, with other African countries visas on it, it was still labelled virgin as far as yankee or jand wasn't on it)
No. I wanted to go to Yankee, men :)
So, I apply, get an interview and get the visa. Easy.
Don't let me start on the embassy process. The whole thing is a Nigerian movie.

I buy the cheapest return ticket (I couldn't find someone to 'lap' me) - economy, last row, Iberia, via Madrid at the cheapest time - January end. (I asked the ticketing staff if I would get a reduced fare if I did not eat on the plane)
Time spent in Madrid waiting for a connecting flight: 13hrs.
Who cares? I dey go Yankee!

Landed in JFK. Chei! Obodo oibo. I honestly felt like kissing the tarmac as we disembarked. True oh.
(Bear in mind that all I knew about America was the thousands of hollywood movies I had seen, MTV, CNN etc, etc.)
Flew in with only a backpack, (went back with 2 mega boxes) passed through customs, no stress. Final checkpoint, Homeland Security. That name filled me with terror. ''Can I see your passport, Sir?'' I showed the bugger. ''Step this way, Sir''.(Naija passport) ''How long you here for, Sir?'' ''3 weeks'', I replied very humbly. I had heard that these guys could deport you in an instant, visa or no visa. ''This backpack all you got for 3 weeks, Sir?'' ''Yes....''(I be wan add Sir, but liver no gree me) ''Somebody picking you up?'' ''No'' I reply. My hopeless friend just sent me an email describing the way to his place in Jersey.
After strip searching my well packed bag, they let me through.
''Have a wonderful stay, Sir'' This their 'Sir' sef don dey tire me.

January end, apparently it's still winter in NY/NJ. I had no idea. Frostbite and cold nearly finished me. Naija guy like me. We (Nigerians) have this illusions of grandeur. I wonder where we get it from. Walked into a shop the next day, put on the winter clothes I needed, went to the counter and paid for them with the clothes on.

Got to Penn Station in NY from the airport, I saw a guy carelessly urinating inside the station. My word?! Maybe he's mad! Got off the PATH train in Hoboken and an elderly wowan squatted right at the entrance and was urinating!! What is going on?? Did the plane miss road? What country am I in? America? I get unto another train, and drop off at the final station. There's a huge waste dump beside it and a stench. There's a strong wind on the streets and dirt is flying all over the place. The place reminded me of .......... Mushin market!
Right now all my five senses are reeling from the assault.
I hear my name and turn to see my friend. At last, someone I know, in this jungle.
We walk to his car, he unlocks the door, there is a steering lock bar across his steering wheel. The type my old man used to use in the '80's. He unlocks this too.
We drive to his house, there is a gate with a chain and a padlock across. He unlocks it, drives through and locks it back.
In Yankee! This is looking really bad. My first day.
WTF is all this?!

One time, NEPA even took light for about 45 minutes. At night! No candle to light (like the one on my profile picture) or torch/lamp to put on. They tried sha. They only took the light only once during my 3 weeks there :)

New York has a stark semblance to Apongbon and CMS. Ok, apart from some fantastic sites (Broadway, Times Square, etc), big TV's and bright lights. It was complete with proper Nigerian-like markets (just like the ones on Broad street/Mandilas in Lagos Island) right beside the skyscrapers, beggars (''yoh, homie, can I get a dollar''), people sleeping on street corners, people hawking $1 watches and wallets on wheel barrows, mad traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian), people selling hotdogs and whatever else at street corners (in Naija, it would have been akara balls/bole/guguru & ekpa)

How come I don't see all these things on CNN or the movies?

I eventually ended up having fun. Went to fantastic places, met great and not so great people.
Spent a few days with some childhood friends in Texas.
''Tell us,'' they asked me, ''how is Naija now?''
''Oh, not bad. Same 'ole, same 'ole. Some improvements here and there, the economy is improving. Getting better, but very slowly.''
They look at me, shocked. ''We've never heard anyone say good things about Naija. All we hear is bad news''

There you go. Different folks, different strokes.

So, this is America? By my experience, yes.
Was I in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Maybe. Correct me, Americans.

Lesson learned, America is a great place. Sometimes true. Not always.

As an aside, Hasbro is creating a new Monopoly (remember the game?) with world cities. You can vote for your cities. Deadline is 29th February. To vote for Lagos to be included, click this link:
Probably too late to make a difference. But who knows.


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