I was born in Nigeria, where we lived next to the river. In a way, my parents were also migrants inside Nigeria. They worked hard and moved depending on the season. We have “our village” where we originate from, but we always moved: In dry season, there was little water in the river so we had to move to another place, to be able to work. There was a lot of work that needed to be done and a lot of hands were needed. In my culture, a man can be married to more than one woman. My father was married to five women and together there were 18 children. We all lived together. There were 12 boys and we shared our rooms. The younger ones slept on the floor, the older ones got matrasses. When my parents weren’t there, the oldest were there to decide over the younger ones and to make sure everyone followed the rules.
My parents never went to school. My father wanted for his children to have another life than he had and wanted us to go to school.
I don’t know why, but I was always doing well at school. Some of my brothers only finished the primary levels. Because I was doing well at school I got asked to do things, like giving speeches or presentations. This is also how I got involved in the demonstrations that eventually forced me to leave the country. In the sixties, before I was born, there was a war in Nigeria. Our side, Biafra, lost the war and after that we were suppressed. I knew about the war through school and the stories of my parents. You could still feel the pain. The demonstrations were aimed to show we disagreed. I didn’t fully realise where I got involved in and what the consequences would be. Because of the presentations I held, living in Nigeria became unsafe for me. People were shot dead or disappeared and my parents decided I had to leave.
I moved to Gambia and stayed there for one year. It felt like losing a piece of myself. I used to see my father around once a month and now I didn’t see him at all. Nothing is comparable with what you leave behind and a piece of me wanted to go back. However, I continued. I managed to save some money and got in contact with a man who arranged a visa for me. I flew to Switzerland where he arranged someone to pick me up. It turned out to be all tricks. The man who picked me up was a drugs dealer. I couldn’t imagine myself doing this. I heard there was work in The Netherlands and so I came here.
Europe was completely different than I expected. For us in Africa, Europe was a dream. We believed that here you don’t have to do anything, you have everything you want, you don’t have to work and you can sleep until late. A paradise with money in the trees. If you reach Europe, you are there and you don’t have to do anything anymore. But the reality is different of course. When I talk to the people back home, it is still difficult to convince them about what life in Europe really is like. They just don’t believe it. It’s a mindset that is not easy to change. Maybe that’s why still many Africans come to Europe.
When I just arrived in The Netherlands, Stichting Vluchtelingenwerk was the organisation that helped me. But as soon as I got my residence permit, their help stopped and I had to continue on my own. I started to learn Dutch and although the language was a barrier, and sometimes still is, it didn’t stop me to start an education. But I had to start at a low level. Later, I could move up and eventually I studied to become a Social Worker.
My network was important in my integration in Dutch society. There were a lot of Dutch people around me. Sometimes that was tiring, because they kept on asking why I was here, how long, why, if I will go back. All those questions. I knew other people who weren’t born here who avoided contact with the Dutch, just to avoid their questions. But I didn’t, and it helped me to understand better how things work here. That you have to be on time and that you have to cancel an appointment if you can’t make it. I played soccer with only Dutch guys. I did that at several places and I was always the only dark guy. But it helped me to discover the cultural differences and how I could use that.
Of course, discrimination exists, but I don’t want to give it attention. Something that gets attention grows, and it’s better to use your energy for something else to grow. If people say I have a dark skin, I joke about it. I was born this way and I already know it for a long time, so tell me something new. Sometimes I regret that I am part of a minority, but it doesn’t really bother me.
This interview was carried out as part of the European project BPE Becoming a part of the European project- How youth work can support young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers