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Debriefing

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Do not buy a car. Do not drive. Ignore advice to obtain an international driver’s license before your arrival. American cops do not know what an international driving license is. Or they pretend not to know and what they don’t know makes them angry. You do not want to face an angry American cop. Driving is a slippery slope. Driving is trouble. Driving is tickets. Driving is a cop asking you for your license and registration. Before you know it, you are standing before an elderly grim immigration judge.

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Avoid parties organized by our people. Arguments and fights break out over politics, over politicians, over girls, over anything, over nothing. Drunken arguments. Especially after imbibing a cocktail of Hennessey and Irish Cream. Neighbors call the cops. Cops ask for identification. Remember you do not have one. I know we are a party-loving people so if you think you can’t live without it, go to YouTube, there’s more entertainment on YouTube than you’ll find at any Nigerian party. Nobody was ever arrested for watching YouTube videos.

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Avoid Rashonda and Shenika and her sisters. They once married and had kids or dated and had their hearts broken by our men. They are on a revenge mission. They’ll take out their hurt on you. They’ll promise they’ll marry you to help you get a Green Card. They will not. Ignore their avowed love for our local food. They’ll tell you they love eating spicy food. They’ll eat you dry, eat you out of the house, and dump you. Besides, they smoke weed. They’ll expect you to pay for their habit. Weed is expensive in America, unlike back home where you can get it for next to nothing.

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Avoid Chucks. Is that even a one of our names? Anyway, that is what he calls himself. Sounds like a made-up name, neither Chuck, which is American, nor Chuks, which is ours. His name is not the only dubious thing about him. He’ll tell you he is in the auto insurance business. This is a ruse. Actually, this is what he does: he buys cars, insures them heavily, looks for a lonely road, and drives them into a tree. After which, he claims the insurance money and throws a big party. Remember what I told you earlier about Nigerian parties. He recruits new drivers at these parties. He will tell you that there is no risk involved. He’ll assure you that all you have to do is wear your seat-belt and run into a tree. One of his drivers ran into a tree and broke a neck bone. He is still wearing a neck brace. Before Chucks became a car crasher, he drove around town in his beat-up Nissan looking for unsuspecting inexperienced drivers who’d run into him so he could collect. Avoid him. He has no honest bone in his body.

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If you must travel, travel by Amtrak. Trains are safe, buses are not. I mean safe from raids by the INS. Here’s something that happened to someone I know. He boarded a Greyhound bus that was traveling from Chicago to upstate New York. At the Greyhound bus station in Chicago, there were boisterous kids. The boys were in jeans and t-shirts, but the girls were dressed the traditional Somali way. Colorful scarves and cotton patterned wraps. It was a night trip. A few hours after the bus pulled out of the station, the bus was pulled over into a gas station by a detachment from the INS. They went from seat to seat asking people, Where are you from? Do you have an ID? Identify yourself. Soon they got to the row of the Somali kids. Where are you from? From Chicago. I mean what country? America. Do you have ID? And the kids pulled out shiny U.S. passports. Avoid the bus. It is overcrowded, overheated, over-scrutinized, and accident prone. If you must travel, take the train.

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If you must go to church—I suspect you will want to go to church, because you are a man with problems, and a man with problems needs prayer. Avoid the American churches, though: they do not shout in American churches and a person with problems needs to shout loud enough to reach the heavens.

American churches do not announce jobs. The pastors do not know the places that hire those without papers. The pastors do not order people to go on “seven days dry” nor “white fasting.” They do not play loud music; they do not dance energetically and frenetically. I hear the African-American churches in the South do. But those are in the Deep South.

And while on the subject of churches: the church is not an opportunity to meet girls. The girls in the churches, the immigrant girls, are in the same leaky boat as you. They do not have papers, they are illegal, they are searching for someone to marry them for a Green Card. They’ll not tell you this fact until you happen to mention it one day when you are both in bed and then they’ll hiss like an angry snake, Why did you not tell me all this? I wasted my time cooking for you. They will leave you on the bed half-naked as they march out with righteous indignation, giving your door such a loud bang on their way out that the door is left wondering what it did wrong.

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People will urge you to go to school. They’ll tell you an American education is useful. That is not true. That is 80’s. You are here to hustle. If you must get any kind of qualification get a nursing certification or qualification in some medical field. A sick man does not care about your accent. A helpless old lady needs strong arms not great enunciation. There are many of those schools. Get into one and you’ll qualify in eighteen months. I’ll recommend the ones run by our people. They don’t ask too many questions and you can pay on the installment plan.

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If you need an immigration lawyer, never hire a Nigerian or Ghanaian lawyer. Get a white lawyer, preferably a Jewish one. He will ask you no questions so you will not tell him any lies. Masquerades do not fear each other—I need not say more. By now you must have realized that there are tribes in America. Remember when at the port of entry you went to the black man in the booth and he called you brother—a good white lawyer will argue your case before his white brothers. Be prepared to pay a bit more. Unlike the Ghanaian and Nigerian lawyers, they do not bifurcate their payments. The only payment plan they adhere to is immediate payment. You must give them a check before every meeting and before every court appearance and before the signing of any document. I can assure you they’ll deliver. They get the job done.

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If you want to understand your new society better, you should go to a baseball game. Ignore invitations to play five-a-side soccer with fellow immigrants in that obscure park in the outskirts of town. If you really hope to become a part of society, on a Friday evening go to a nearby stadium and watch a baseball game. Sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame along with the crowd. Buy a beer and a hotdog, eat some cotton candy, try to catch the ball but do not try too hard, especially if there is a kid around you trying to catch the same ball. Do not try to understand the game. It is neither cricket nor soccer. Just sit, relax, watch the people, sip your beer, and pay a little attention to the game. The good thing is that you are not obligated to stay until the end. Leave when you become bored or tired, but you bet that you’ll learn a lot more about this society from sitting at that stadium with the smell of beer and nachos and screaming kids than you’ll learn in any other place. Go on the Internet. Read up what you can find on Shoeless Joe and Yogi Berra. Learn some Yogisms. I have never met an American who hated baseball. As tea is to the Englishman, so is baseball to the American. I’ll go as far as to recommend listening to baseball commentary on the radio. Play it loud and let your neighbors hear what you are listening to; it will calm them and put them at ease

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