Book Talk: A Look at the Dilemma Faced by African Migrants Living Abroad

By Daniella Djiogan

I purchased this book a few weeks ago after watching a video review by Adeola Fayehun. I had just started being interested in reading novels, as in the past, I was never that person who opened a book and read to pass time. Reading at school was already enough for me, so I’d rather spend my free time watching silly YouTube videos and movies.

Things eventually changed for me after a conversation with a friend’s sister who convinced me to start by reading the books I found interesting. As I had always found the concept and story of Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’ novel interesting, I decided to give it a try. After being intrigued by the tragic unexpected ending, I decided to try out another book, this time related to the Egyptian civilization and its key famous rulers.

I ended up in a world of romance, betrayal, power hungry, twisted, and sometimes manipulated stories about the land known for its pharaohs and pyramids. My fascination was so consuming that I spent weekends in the four corners of my room hallucinating while reading about a world I wish I could temporary visit in my dreams. When a book ended, I would lament for a day or two before picking up another and feeding my strange minor obsession.

I eventually grew tried of experiencing the world of King Tut, Cleopatra, Amenhotep, so I decided to jump on a wagon that took me into the arenas of ancient Rome and its gladiators. Kate Quinn and her fictional juicy account of the roman empire and its Caesars’ thirst for power left me in awe. I cried, laughed, and was sucked in by “lady of the Eternal city”. Unknowingly, I read the last sequence of this tetralogy first, before ever requesting the first and second books, ‘Mistress of Rome’ and ‘Daughters of Rome’ as a Christmas present from my secret Santa sister. Though I got the books late, which means I didn’t get a present on Christmas itself, which resulted to a few tears on my part alone in my room, I have to say, the wait was worth it in every aspect.

After reading those, I bought the second to the last of this tetralogy, ‘Empress of the seven hills’, which I still have to engage in. However, before it could consume my world like its precedents, I decided to read this book on Africans abroad by Rudolf Okonkwo called “This American Life Sef”, since it was a well deserved break from all the ancient civilization books I frequented these days. Also, this book seemed to have a direct impact on my life as well as that of my beloved family, so it was worth exploring.

To be honest, when I purchased it, I thought it would be longer in terms of pages than it turned out to be. I was somewhat disappointed at the mere ninety-two pages of the actual book. I’d wish the author would have written more on the challenges faced by African migrants, as there are lots of stories and experiences that would have completed this book like a cover completes a pot.

Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book as it touched on issues ‘we’ struggle with. Yes, “one hundred years from now, our lineage would be forgotten, and our epitaph would read like those sold into slavery 400 years ago.” Scary isn’t it?

No doubt many immigrant souls seem to want to flock back home as “returnees” in order to assimilate back into a culture they deserted for a life of opportunities abroad. Can’t blame them, can you?

What were they to do? Cease to take the opportunity and forever live a life of regret, or grab the chance and forever regret the day “they went to the foreign embassy to seek visa” because the life they thought so glamorous about turned out to be not so glamorous after all – Their prior envying eyes became flushed with disgust after realizing they had been lied to about what jobs Africans abroad hustled with to survive?

I guess they never imagined working in nursing homes would become their ends means, regardless of what prior degree or profession they held back home. A doctor became a CNA, an accountant – a prison guard, a director remained jobless, etc. This was the reality they once craved. So no doubt after gathering enough money left after their relatives’ constant demands [as if money grew on trees here], they want to return. But to what? Who?

I would not try to detail the book for you since you have to read it yourself, but if I was asked to recommend one chapter that really bleeds the skin and exposes the real sadness in this issue; I’d say check out “This American life” on page thirty-seven. By the end of its three pages, you’ll not only be left devastated, but you’ll be taken on a journey which would leave you saying ‘Tufiakwa” – or the not so classy ‘Hell no!’. You’ll be left empty like the individual whose life basically ended up in vain.

This book documents a discussion we were already having and seemed to give it a residence in the pages of a book. It also turns to remind those at home that life here isn’t as glam as they so envision. Yes, we gained a few coins, but we are forever losing a language, a culture, a home which is far greater than the riches that come and go with each monthly bill.


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