Kenyans' Misconceptions About Life in Diaspora
In Kenya, the conventional wisdom is that life is much better abroad, especially in the developed countries in the west. Many people, especially the unemployed, the ambitious and the optimistic believe that life abroad must offer much more promising to their home country. This is the reason why some people will go to any lengths to acquire a visa and other travelling documents in a bid to leave the country at the earliest opportunity.
We have heard the harrowing stories about the plight of Kenyan women who are employed in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. There have been numerous cases of travel and other documents being confiscated by employers, low wages and women being locked in residences and being turned to sex slaves. But that is a story for another day. In this article, we will concern ourselves with Kenyans’ expectations, experiences and the realities of life in Western countries, specifically the United States of America and the developed countries of the Western world.
Some of the Kenyans who travel abroad, especially to America and Europe usually go there with unreasonably high expectations. This is partly due to lack of awareness, not doing enough research before migrating to downright ignorance or desperation back at home. After enduring the poverty and low expectations of fulfillment back home, they imagine that they are moving to a land of milk and honey, an Eldorado where life is smooth, jobs are available and where one can achieve beyond their wildest dreams.
America: the land of opportunity where everything is possible. This is the common understanding by people who have not seen the reality of life in the US. Not that the belief is entirely misplaced, no. There have been many success cases among Kenyan immigrants, but the sob stories almost correspond with number of successes. The problem lies with the misconceptions that people have about life in the west. Then there is the issue of the green card, which enables people to move to America and become citizens.
In Kenya, there have been numerous cases of people’s lives changing for the worse after winning this elusive card. Many people do not understand the ramifications of winning the green card. They imagine it is their key to a new prosperous life, and they embark on the migration to America without doing thorough research and without any preparations apart from hope and prayer. (And some amount of myopic and misplaced bravado, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt’s “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” line).
In short, they plunge into an unknown world and hope or believe that things will work themselves out once they have settled in America. Cases have been heard where people who have won the green card cut off all roots to their homeland in the believe that they are going to start a new life and, as it were, turn over a new leaf and wash their hands of a regrettable origin and past. They sell all their property, resign from their jobs, withdraw children from school and generally cut all links to their lives in Kenya.
In some extreme cases, some people have been known to tell their friends, foes and family members the unflattering truth about what they really think of them. In short, they burn their bridges since they are leaving, forever. Wrong move, as they come to realize amid regrets later on when the cold reality sinks in. First, there are the hidden costs, financial or otherwise, of their actions. Moving self or family is a very expensive exercise, which many foot with their savings or the proceeds from the sale of their property.
For those who have no relatives, friends or contacts, many arrive in the United States virtually broke. No home to live in, no job, no information about where you are going to settle. What many people don’t know is that once you step out of the plane after arrival in the US after winning the green card, you are literally on your own! The American government does not provide any freebies at all to immigrants and woe unto you if you arrive without a plan for survival.
Some people are lucky to get a place to stay in after they arrive. However, other realities sink in, and very fast. Your certificates and papers may not be recognized. You might think that you will become a teacher since it was your job back in Kenya, only to realize that the education system in America is very different and has no place for you. Due to this misconception that one can automatically get a new job similar to the one they used to have at home, many frustrated Kenyans end up doing lowly jobs (compared to their previous ones). That is why we get people who have degrees doing such menial jobs as dishwashing, toilet cleaning, serving in the homes for the elderly and such other things that they would not have thought of doing in Kenya.
In this time of a world recession, even more Americans are finding themselves out of jobs. What chances are there, therefore, for an immigrant Johnny or Jane Foreigner? Then there is the culture shock. New climate, new culture, new mode of living, new expectations, new rules, new everything. If one have no friends or family tocaution him or her against this culture, it will take a long time, if ever, to get over it and start living. This culture shock and lack of orientation has led to various problems including depression, drug taking, suicide and generally being a nuisance to friends and family whom you find there.
Cases of immigrants to America juggling two, three or even four casual jobs are commonplace. This is because life is very expensive in America and in Europe, and even putting food on the table is a major challenge. So one might come across an unhappy Kenyan, doing a job they don’t like and generally living unhappily and in frustration. There are Kenyans who moved to America and European countries and, many years later, their families back home do not know their whereabouts.
There are some who are beggars and homeless, and there re other qualified and specialized people who are doing menial jobs that they would never have contemplated back home. Some have died and been buried abroad as paupers. Some people, when faced with the harsh reality that their dream was but a mirage, are reluctant or unwilling to return to Kenya. This is because they feel they have failed the expectations of their people, and are ashamed to go back even poorer than they left. This is more so of those who won green cards and burnt their bridges back home. They feel that they will be the laughing stock once they go back. This is because many people leave home with wild expectations of getting rich. They host ‘farewell’ bashes where talk of a new prosperous life abroad is spoken.
Many relatives of the person who is moving try to put in a good word for themselves, o that they are not forgotten when the famous “Diaspora wealth” is being remitted to relatives in Kenya. Amid such great expectations from relatives, some opt to stay put in America, living their unhappy lives and even cutting contacts with the people back home. Until the new constitution allowing dual citizenship in Kenya was passed, many people who had won green cards and given up their Kenyan citizenship were in a dilemma. They were living lives they did not want to live in a country they did not like. They were also missing their relatives and the uniqueness of Kenya and Kenyans, but they could not go back home.
It is imperative to conclude with a little advice to would be immigrants. If you are leaving to look for a better life abroad, do not burn your bridges as you might need them to walk on when things don’t work out and you have no option but to go back home. As the cliché goes, “East, west, home is best.” Many are those who have realized its truth after harrowing experiences abroad.
By Marjory N. Kimani. Marjory is the Editor i Chief of Micii-ini iitu Magazine
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...and who is sending the huge sums of money the government is talking about? ....Myopia? ......not doing enough research? You might be in the same boat as many of those you purport to write about. And by the way, a teacher washing dishes..... the take home is triple what they used to earn in a month.....
The age where people used to be defined by what they do, rather than who they are and what their goals are is long gone....but for a few who have not found themselves in pressing need with no job or family to turn to. I hear that everyone is doing so well in Kenya.....good.
I agree that this article is exaggerated. That is what people back home want to believe about 'watu wa majuu'. Yes, life is very hard for anybody anywhere immigrating to a new country. This is not unique to Kenyans immigrating to Western countries. In any case for hard working Kenyans after they come here they only struggle for like two years, then they figure things out and do some courses and start earning good - these are the people sending the huge remittances.
Some of these articles are written to pull Diasporans down. The number of homeless Kenyans and paupers abroad is very small compared to those who are fairing on well...plus every society has its own homeless and paupers. The frustrations part is true at the beginning but people learn to cope. It is therefore not correct to say that Kenyans abroad are frustrated and unhappy. Many have happily settled abroad.
By the way, one big plus for Diaporans is that they get to get the best educational opportunities for their children. Someone who had a zero chance of ever driving a car is able to get one.....e.t.c..
Listen, I came to the US about ten years ago and I was really struggling in Kenya. After struggling for a while I settled and in that duration of time what I have been in this country I have accomplished what I couldn't have in 100 years in the state I was plus when I go home occasionaly with my family am able to spend over half a million shillings on the trip. Seriously speaking and my personal stories aside there is no heaven on this earth and anywhere on any society you will find people doing better than others while others are struggling but simple math of ratios and percentages most of people would rather be abroad than in Kenya.
My children are looking into more bright future given all the opportunities they have. Come on, lets not talk things for the sake.
Sometimes it is not hard to pick ?jealousy? and mean intentions.... enrolled nurses, hotel workers, nurses and security officers are respected in Kenya, yet they take home peanuts.
When people come to America and do the same jobs, with much better working conditions....earn 5-10 times more than they did (even though they work long hours...instead of going hanging, drinking etc), those in Kenya try to demean them.....why? because they came to America to do dirty jobs...... Why care? No one is forcing you to go or to do the jobs.... Let people do what they choose with their lives....
Is someone jealous that someone they know is doing much better.....leading a better quality life and showing some purchasing power that they cannot claim for themselves....buying assets that an employed graduate in Kenya cannot afford? Be real!
lol comments above make me laugh..esp the one spending over half a million ksh why dont u invest in properties instead.. i myself have lived abroad sacrificed everything but at least am home.- living in foreign land will always make u an outisder- its like living in someones house while your own is left to rot and then complain. if you have brains start investing home , have a plan b before the us or other western governments decide to emigrate everyone- we will b here on the recieving end extendingour commiserations
I think all of you have been talking about the pros and cons of being abroad compared to home. I think it all depends on your objectives in life.I was a graduate teacher in Kenya and i teach here and do some part time odd job so i can talk about white collar and menial jobs abroad.every place hasits good side and bad side.for instance when i was teaching back home,i had enough breaks that noone cared what i did with them, but here iam with kids even at lunch time and if anything happens to them(say they fight),i fear i'll be held responsible.Onthe other hand,the take home pay is many times what i was getting back home You see!
I am now about to accomplish my objective and will eventually leave for home without complaining as what i have achieved here i could not have done it in such a short time.Just follow your dreams and dont compare yourself with any one.Do not just board any bus:some are going to haeven while others are headed for hell!!
I agree with you , however ANY KENYANS ABROAD WHO ARE SMART SHOULD LOOK AT THE STATISTICS..
ECONOMIC POWER IS SHIFTING AND WESTERN EUROPE AND US ECONOMY IS NEVER GOING TO RECOVER,
CHINESE ARE SMART THATS WHY THEY ARE EVERYWHERE IN AFRICA AND OTHER WEAKER CONTINENTS , AND WHEN ASIA GETS CONTROL ,NO ONE WILL BE MAKING ANY MORE MONEY THAN THEY ARE ABROAD.SO INVEST
PEOPLE- IF YOU VISIT NAIROBI SOON , LOOK AT THE FLYOVERS AND THIKA ROAD SUPERHIGH WAY- YOU WILL COME BACK AND EVERYONE LEFT AT HOME HAS TAKEN THEIR PIECE AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CATCH UP
HOME IS HOME MAKE YOUR PLANS ASAP STAY ABROAD IF YOU WANT BUT INVEST HERE ALSO