I lived in a small suburb in Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa which was situated in the southwestern part of Nigeria, an African country (Yes, Africa is a continent). My parents were hard-workers and they dedicated themselves to giving their children the very best. I am the second of five children and though we weren’t born with the proverbial silver spoon, we were far from being poor. In Nigeria, the general impression of countries overseas/abroad is that they are larger than life, have less to no corruption and the system works perfectly for everyone which made travelling out of Nigeria a goal most people desperately want to achieve. I definitely wasn’t disappointed when I travelled to Dubai. The buildings were perfectly engineered and constructed to fit a modern society. The transport system was efficient and the warm weather drew you in, enticing tourists like myself to loose ourselves to the Arabian fantasy. There was however a moment that tainted this period. My family and I approached a stop to wait for the next bus. There was already a local at the bus stop and as my siblings and I got there, he stood up immediately and walked to the next station. This stayed with me for a while and it was definitely at the back of my mind when moving to Australia.
I walked around a lot during my first week in Sydney and this meant I got to see and observe different places and people. What struck me as odd was the number of homeless people I saw on the streets especially at night. This was a stark contrast to the vision of picturesque and glamour I had in mind. My Nigerian mind could not quite conceptualise how people living in Sydney ended up on the streets. Various questions ran through my mind as I saw not only individuals but families with young children night after night make their bed in the corner in front of a store or at the train station. I know Sydney is an expensive city but wasn’t the government helping them out? Didn’t they have any family members that could take them in? Have they tried applying for jobs? I began to wonder, if these people, most of whom were citizens could be homeless, then I was fair game to the system. I began to feel a trickle of panic for myself and for whatever my next experiences would be.
Homelessness wasn’t an issue I had dealt with personally or seen happen at this frequency despite being Nigerian. In Nigeria, everybody had someone or found someone sooner than being on the streets. This is not to say there aren’t homeless people in Nigeria because there are especially in the Northern area with most people displaced due to insurgency or terror attacks. I had lived in the West my entire life and I hadn’t been exposed to this side of life experiences and me seeing it up close really shook me.
Something else I struggled with was being the only black person in my immediate space. This was a bit strange and took some getting used to. I could be the only black person in a bus and I was definitely the only black person in all of my classes except two which were in the last semester of my study. It was almost as if Australia wasn’t used to black people never mind that the indigenous Australians are black people. I sensed a weariness in their approach towards black people; they were either subtly standoffish or didn’t quite know how to engage you so they avoided your space. Either way, there wasn’t any form of in your face ,aggressive racism which was great.
Perhaps my greatest shock was coming to learn that employers didn’t consider overseas education or experience as valid especially if you are a temporary migrant. Local experience was necessary and important. But how do you get local experience when the requirement to get a job was to have had a job in Australia. This became a real problem for me soon enough.