An African's Queen

Observations of an African Man's Western Woman

Archive for the tag “Communication”

Sanni settles in Australia: “It’s not easy brother, not easy.”

I had this post ready to publish but something told me to hold off; “just wait a few days,” said a little voice. There were plans in the works that might change the tone of this post entirely. I’m glad I held my finger off the button because quite rightly, they came to flourish and now I can write with tangible hope as apposed to the daunting hope I felt before.

You see, for the last eight months that Sanni has been here it’s been an amazing time filled with the love I missed so much and also emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting work.

Here’s what I was going to publish.

He is my Puppy but sometimes I wish Sanni really were a puppy I’d bought in a store. Sometimes when it gets too hard I really just want him to go away, to leave me, or like a real-life puppy, allow me to give him away to a safe home.

He’s been in Australia for eight months. I wish I could say it’s been wonderful, magical even, but I would be telling lies. I would be depicting a false sense of reality about life for an immigrant in Australia and so, while finally being with the man I love is wonderful, there can be no denying the difficulties we’re overcoming every day in the name of love.

Employment & visas

Sanni arrived to Australia on a Partner visa (subclass 300), this gave us nine months to get married to make him eligible for application for the Permanent Residency visa. It also made him ineligible for any kind of government support, from health care, to government unemployment payments to, and most importantly, job search network providers. It actually makes perfect sense why the government puts this restriction upon newly arrived immigrants. I have no qualms with the fact that you don’t get free health care or an unemployment cheque but to not provide assistance for a new immigrant to get a job makes little economical sense to me. The government classified Sanni as a non-skilled migrant because the only technical skills he has (according to them) is from his professional football; this stigma stayed with us for a very long time.

When I first came back to Australia in December, 2010, I interviewed a Nigerian man playing football here. I had intended then to write an article about his career to post hereon. The article never eventuated but what I did get was a fabulous new friend. Luka became someone I could talk to about the difficulties of living apart from Sanni, about his football career and what to expect about life in Australia for him.

I introduced Luka to Sanni a few days after his arrival. To our surprise, Luka recognised him from the neighbourhood they grew up in. Sanni was quite famous for his ability and most knew the nickname, Machine. Luka immediately made a call to the coach of his previous team. The next day Sanni went to trial and not long after got signed with a Victorian state amateur league club, Fawkner Blues. It would be a paid position but certainly not what we expected for a premier league player. If he played in the senior team, and not in reserves, and they won, he would only earn $350, for a draw it would be $250 and a loss, $150. We reasoned that he had to start somewhere, at least he was playing.

As the season progressed, the team’s lead coach brought in three new Italian boys direct from Italy and the indirect racism began. The two other African players were taunted to the point of leaving the team but Sanni persevered, determined not to let them get the better of him. Not long after the lead coach relegated him to play for the reserves. It meant he would train twice a week and play a game each Saturday but he wouldn’t get paid for it. I was angry and frustrated that a premier league player who has far more talent and ability was being treated so poorly but there was nothing I could do. I simply had to leave the game to Sanni.

In the last few weeks of the league management began to criticise the lead coaches decision for relegating Sanni when he was performing well in every match. There were some internal politics that resulted in the lead coach resigning and the supporting coach bringing Sanni back into the seniors game, where he’s been fortunate to demonstrate why he is a premier league player worthy of more respect among his team mates.

Housing & cultural integration

Sanni & I shared a home with two other housemates but not long after he arrived we were told that the house would be sold in four months and we’d all have to move. It was a stress we didn’t need. As a temporary administration officer for a recruitment agency I had just been told that I was no longer required for work on my present assignment. I’d been with the client for the past six months and facing the reality I was out of work.

On top of that was the stark realisation that taking care of Sanni’s integration into Australian culture was far harder than I’d imagined it would be. At first it was the small things, like teaching him about the value of the dollar and just how expensive the cost of living in Australia is. And then it progressed into teaching him things like how to use public transport (we have a massive network of buses, trams, and trains). Unbeknownst to me he’d never used any mode of public transport, excluding taxi’s, tuktuks and motorbikes of his home country and Asia, nor had he any need to learn how to read maps.

I had taken it for granted that everyone knew how to take public transport but the challenges that lay before Sanni when he had to travel by himself were enormous. For him to get to football training was initially quite an ordeal. I had to research the route and then write the steps out, including what side of the road or what platform. I had to indicate the departure times, and if he had to walk, I had to print a map and teach him how read it in order to get there. Sanni is highly intelligent but the network here is enough to confound anyone and when there is inadequate signage and maps that miss vital information, the challenge increases tenfold. Much later, for his birthday, I put him on a new mobile phone plan with a Smartphone that had map & GPS capability so this part has become a lot easier, but although he often tries to find his way alone I still need to look up the route and timetable and at times talk him through the directions over the phone.

Other things I took for granted included banking, budgeting and bills, and especially how to pay those bills. While it is possible to pay most bills online, you first have to know how to do this for each company. For Sanni’s integration, I’ve put everything in my name and have been slowly introducing him into a new method for paying bills, that isn’t in cash and has to be budgeted for over a set period, like monthly for our phone or electricity bills for example. I’ve also had to introduce him to a new world of doing everything online – from banking to researching & applying for jobs, to simply finding information about a business or service. Almost everything in Australia is done online so when you come from a country with little to no Internet infrastructure this is a steep learning curve.

Marriage, moving & language learning

Only a few weeks after Sanni’s arrival I realised the only chance Sanni had of being able to do anything for himself would be if he were given the opportunity to attend English classes to improve his reading & writing skills. We couldn’t afford to pay for classes but if we were married and gained his temporary permanent residency visa he would be eligible for 500 government-funded hours. Despite saying that I would never marry for a convenient reason, we were faced with a very real example of why we had to.

Three weeks after his arrival, we flew to Brisbane and were married the next day by my aunt, our wedding celebrant, with only my mother, and my best friend with her husband & daughter as our witnesses. It was a lovely yet weighted day because not only was there no planning, no wedding dress, no anticipation & excitement built up but we also chose to not tell anyone we were getting married, let alone already married. It broke my heart to keep this secret from our friends and families but we wanted to marry openly with a celebration. We reasoned, if no one knew that we were already married then it would still be a celebration for all.

We had originally hoped to celebrate our wedding properly next February but luck was against us, when, months later, my brother got engaged and unknowingly booked the same weekend for his own wedding. Having already paid deposits that we hadn’t paid, we decided to let the cat out of its suffocating, secret-holding bag much to everyone’s shock and dismay. We have had no choice but to cancel our future wedding celebration completely, not just because of my brother, but because we realised we simply couldn’t afford to dream.

We immediately began saving the $2000 to pay for his permanent residency application and with a supplementary loan from a friend we were able to submit it in June. We were told not to expect any news for twelve months, but by now, I didn’t care. We were already married, we had made the application so the focus had to be on saving to move, to find Sanni work and to surviving another week on a very low income and my own inconsistent employment.

With only a few months to plan we set out to find ourselves somewhere to live. Australian rental agreements require you to pay in advance a full month’s rent as well as bond equal to a full month’s rent upon acceptance of a new lease to a property however rent in Melbourne is extremely high. For a decent, inner-city apartment for one bedroom you’re looking at paying $200-$250 per week, if you can get a two-bedroom apartment for around $300 you are very lucky. There was no way we could save in excess of $2500 (including moving costs) in only two months. We had to have more time.

Time came in the form of a sub-lease in a friend-of-a-friend’s apartment when they went travelling for two months. At the same time I got booked for two months work, that continues to this day, turning into just over three months. Over the two months in our sub-lease, we continued to search high & low for employment for Sanni and permanent employment for me. I rang blue-collar (manual labour) recruitment agencies to no avail. All of them told me he would have a hard time getting work through them if he didn’t have a license or a car because he would have to start as a casual on-call worker. Sanni door knocked businesses to talk to anyone who will give him the time of day. It has been a demoralizing process because most people refer him back to their website; nowadays, few businesses will hire someone from a door-knocked introduction.

Mid-way through the sub-lease we received notification from the Australian Immigration department that Sanni’s application for permanent residency (temporary status) had been accepted. We were amazed and grateful; finally something Sanni could do independent of me. He enrolled in the government-provided English classes and immediately started school. It has been the best thing for him. His motivation levels rose, as did his knowledge of the city and Australia. And for me, it was one thing I no longer needed to help him with.

I know that sounds selfish and also ridiculous considering I’m a building a professional English as a Second Language teacher & editor freelance business but what I came to learn over the past eight months is there is only so much I can do without burning out. Job searching for both Sanni & I, house hunting, working almost full time hours as well as be a financier, sport masseuse, and wife & friend has been a lot. I tried to also be his English teacher too but found it was a conflict of interest. I couldn’t be his teacher and his wife because I had no mental strength or patience available for the task.

We researched getting Sanni a car license and found that he would have to go through a very lengthy Learner’s process if he went through the state government system. Alternatively, it would be much easier if he could get an international license. Sanni contacted his brother who began the process through the Nigerian government. While we know the license is ready to be sent here, sadly, we’ve not been able to afford to send the money needed to get it couriered to us.

As the time to move again drew close, I began to get increasingly stressed. I’d long stopped sleeping soundly and the weight of taking care of Sanni’s needs, while also taking care of everything else was beginning to weigh heavily. On top of it all, we didn’t have enough money saved. After I received my tax return, we were still $800 short of what we needed to afford our own place. Fortunately, after weeks of waiting, Sanni’s club finally paid him his menial salary so with it and another small loan we finally had enough money to move. We found a suitable apartment for $310 per calendar week (realistically $336 per week) with only a week to go.

The emotional toll

We’ve been in our own apartment now for just over a month and with the gift of cheap/ free furniture have lived in relative comfort. We’ve just started receiving the first round of bills that include all the registration and set up fee’s that go with a new property so my stress levels haven’t abated. I’d like to be able to say that I’ve been the best wife in the world for Sanni, but that wouldn’t be the truth. In actually, I can only liken my experiences to akin to being bipolar. One minute I’m happy and there is nothing apparently wrong, and the next, I snap. My depression has reached dark levels and I’ve developed an unhealthy tendency to avoid social interaction because I don’t want to talk about our life/ circumstances.

The most recent episode reached a catalyst when I suggested it might be better for both of us if Sanni moved out. Not only because I blame him, but because I didn’t want to hurt him any more. Despite none of this being Sanni’s fault when I’m in my dark place, I blame him for my problems, not our debt, not our problems, but mine. I’ve reached a stress-point of irrationality that suggests this is a burden he has caused me to bear, which isn’t the truth. As I write this now, I’ve been of sound mind for three weeks but the smallest thing can be a trigger. For example, I spent one morning earlier this week at work researching forklift training courses, their locations and cost, which he would need to work in a factory. After the sixth call where the woman told me the cost was over $400 and there was a five week waiting list I burst into frustrated tears.

This depression is no different to what I experienced in the last few months I lived in Cambodia. I think the difference this time is I cannot escape to my home country and Sanni cannot do anything but rely on me because it is my home country, one he has no familiarity with. He told me the other night that if he came here independently he would find the information he needed but recognised too that he wouldn’t be on the same visa so his opportunities would have more employment freedom.

His pride as an African man has taken a beating. He wants nothing more than to take care of me. He doesn’t want me working at all, he wants me to be able to stay at home, to be blessed to have his children and to work on my freelance ambitions, but for now we live week to week and survive off of scrupulous budgeting that leaves nothing spare for any kind of fun (let alone for emergencies or even supporting his elderly mother in Nigeria).

As a direct result of the deterioration of my mental health we had to re-think our approach to Sanni’s employment. We started by looking again at his resume and I dug deeper into his experience in Nigeria. I found out that Sanni had been working (unofficially) since he was 12 years old (appropriate for his culture). Employment which he didn’t think was relevant because he wasn’t highly experienced or hold a qualification. In Australia, that is irrelevant so we’ve revamped his resume with this added experience and seem to be getting better feedback. I have no reason to believe that we now just need to find a company willing to give him an entry-level opportunity.

No one can say what is just around the corner for Puppy & his Parrot. He continues to love & support me any way he can unconditionally and I continue to believe in him for the genuine quality of man that he is. I have to believe too that there is a really good reason I have needed to learn the challenging lessons of the last three years, may it be for the betterment of other less fortunate people.

I’m under no illusion that despite the difficulties that Sanni & I are facing we are still among the wealthiest people in the world because we can afford to have the Internet connected in our home and have coins in a piggy bank. Every single time I’m in the depths of depression, it is this comparison to people in countries I’ve lived in that humble me and give me the perseverance to keep going.

The tangible hope I have now comes from the news I received this week that I have been successful in gaining permanent employment. While little will change in our day-to-day life, what a permanent job allows for is security and the ability to plan for a future. Sanni also got news that he is on-call for casual work, which isn’t guaranteed nor as secure but it is a bonus to our weekly income. We continue the search for something more permanent for him.

For all the difficulties we’ve faced in the last eight months, and also over the last three years, one of the things I continue to remind myself is that where we are today is better than where we were a month ago; a year ago; three. We continue to push our boundaries, never accepting that what we have now is enough for where we want to be tomorrow. This comes from Sanni. The only way I am capable of any semblance of strength is because of the quiet determination that comes from him.

A Different Reaction to Anger

It’s how he thinks and reacts to me that makes my African man so different from any man, white or other, that I’ve dated. Having been away for three days Sanni & I spent all day yesterday together lounging and watching Nigerian movies we’d downloaded from YouTube. It was a lovely day of nothingness that we were going to tap off by going to get ice cream at our favorite riverside ice creamery.

The change in me was immediate. I showered and upon getting out my mood was the polar opposite. It was as though a black cloud suddenly encompassed me. I felt fear and felt something bad was going to happen. I was sad, angry, depressed and in pain all at once and yet had no explanation for any of it. This was so immediate I could do nothing but react. I got undressed and got back into bed all the while Sanni watched in silent shock.

He left me. He didn’t comfort me. He didn’t try to coax me to feel better. He just let me be alone. It was all he could do to really be there for me.

An hour later I woke up, my mind feeling free; I called to him. I could not see any anger or frustration that I knew he must have felt earlier. I apologised and explained that I didn’t know what came over me.

He told me, “it happens like that sometimes.” He went on to explain that sometimes we do not need to explain sudden changes in mood but we do need to accept that everything has a purpose and that we’ll never know if his God worked through me to prevent us from going out and in turn prevented something horrible happening.

He told me that although he was initially angry he didn’t let the negative thoughts grow, instead he looked for a reason and from this he taught me to see not what is directly in front of us but what is pushing the path clear.

He likened the experience to the Nigerian movie Living in Tears that we’d watched earlier and explained that like the man we can sometimes get possessed by something other than ourselves. In the movie this possession was negative and caused by greed but here he reasoned that what looked negative had a positive outcome, irrespective of knowing what the alternative would’ve been.

My African Sister Hates Me

I must confess, when I first saw you I hated you! Well, no at first I thought, ‘great hair’ and then I saw you walk up to my African brothers and shower them with hugs and kisses, so then I decided I hated you.

This is what my new friend, a Ugandan woman named Martha, told me the other night.

When Sanni and I joined Apollo & Tony at the bar a few nights ago I walked in first while Sanni, the gentleman that he is, remained outside to pay for the motorbike driver. As is my usual manner I was, in fact, showering the guys with affection.

In the time I’ve known Apollo we’ve grown to become extremely close friends. It began because he too has a white girlfriend (whose in her home country) and developed into a mutual respect for each other’s biracial relationship needs. Apollo, raised  in white communities, has a knack for explaining things to me so that my westernised ears can fully understand and I have a unique ability to keep him on the good side of evil because of his harmless, yet extremely cheeky, personality.

The size of the bar makes an eye-sweep an easy task. I’ve been there often enough to spot the out-of-towners so when I saw ‘the African woman’ and her white friend sitting at the other end of the bar I was intrigued. Until, that is, I saw the look that passed across her face.

The Look

Unmistakable when you’re on the receiving end. It tells you exactly how much you’re loathed by another person. It tells you how a person is feeling, it tells you what they’re thinking and it tells you how little a chance in hell you’ve got of ever getting in that persons good books.

The woman’s body language in that split second told me all I needed to know. This woman didn’t like me being so friendly with her African brothers. This could very easily be called racism but it’s not really, it’s more like a protective older sister.

That, and a healthy dose of jealousy.

Martha’s not alone in her reaction to me. I’m hated by most African women who don’t know me and loved by those who do. There aren’t many African women in Cambodia so I have very few concerns but when I go to an African bar here I have to arm myself with steel confidence to protect myself from the women who frequent there; their lethal looks, sharp elbows and swift dance hips are the stuff of pit-bulls on heat.

African women aren’t so different from white women in their preferences, except perhaps that African women are more likely to date a western or an African man and rarely other cultures. This means that in a city like Phnom Penh the fish in the sea are severely depleted and if you happen to be an African woman who likes African men you’ve got a harder job still because you also have to compete with the local girls.

I shouldn’t really be considered a threat because I have Sanni but irrationality is irrational for a reason. I am friends with so many of the guys here and yet, I’m still a foe because I have something they don’t. Their friendship. I have established myself as someone who honours and respects each of them as a friend. They can relax around me because there is no sexual chemistry to mix things up. I am just my normal self, someone who genuinely cares for her friends and doesn’t have a problem showing it. I hug, kiss, dance, laugh and play around and have little problem with public displays of affection.

Most women though are not that relaxed, especially not if they’re single and on the chase. Women are too concerned with what people think of them to relax and be themselves. I don’t have those concerns because of my relationship and it makes a big difference to my behaviour. Without a doubt, if I were single I’d be as sensitive as any other.

In the end an interesting thing happened, both women moved tables closer to our group (I’m told later this was to size me up!) when Apollo worked his charm. As Martha chatted with Tony, I spoke with her friend Parveem about this sites objectives when I noticed a shift in Martha’s body language. It was as though she’d split her hearing down the middle.

A moment later she was excusing herself to the bathroom and returning to sit at the opposite end of the table to join Parveem & my conversation. The more I spoke the more I observed the ice queen melt. I had already decided that I liked her regardless of how she felt about me but the turn around came when I asked for her input on the site and received the offer of a African public figure who might be willing to be interviewed. That’s when I knew I’d won her over.

Martha and I laughed endlessly over her honest hatred of me and from it I have gleaned a greater understanding of who I am in the African community here. I have little doubt my African sister loves me now.

How Many Wives?

“…my father had two wives,” Sanni says as one element of our conversation about his home life.

After a measurable amount of silence I ask, “Babe, how many wives do you want?”

Sanni, aware that it’s a loaded question, replies with a smirk, “three wives, three problems; two wives, two problems; one wife, one problem.”

Clever man. Correct answer.

Polygamy, a marriage with multiple spouses is common among many African cultures, however, it is considered illegal, and some think wrong, in western countries. I believe that each to his own; we should be able to do what we like as long as it causes no harm, however I personally would not like to be in a polygamist relationship. The idea that Sanni would invite another woman into our home, to share our lives and his body sickens me, perhaps it could be considered selfish but there would have to be a bloody good reason why I’m not enough for him, and if I weren’t enough, then sign on the dotted divorce line.

What’s most interesting about this is that we’re not married however this is one aspect of dating one from another culture that we often don’t give enough attention to. As a western woman it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that because he’s dating a white girl he would choose to live in a western way but until this conversation it never occurred to me how arrogant that is of me.

I choose to love Sanni. I choose to learn about his culture. Yet, when I come up against something that goes against my moral high-ground I reject it wholeheartedly before I’ve truly considered what it is that works about it. Let’s take polygamy for example, clearly for many families in Africa and around the world (think Mormons) it does work. It is giving people happiness but because my society taught me that it’s wrong I apparently must continue to think it is. Why?

I’m not suggesting that I’m going to change the preference I have for my relationship but I am suggesting that without enough education and experience understanding polygamy then I have no right to reject it.

Let Your Own Conscience Decide

When you find out someone has been talking negatively about you behind your back, how do you react? Are you angry? Disappointed? Do you lash out in exactly the same way by saying equally bad things, or worse give them a fiver between the eyes?

Sanni has shown me how he – and perhaps this is specific to his character rather than that of his African culture – does not forget the wrong doing but does allow the persons own conscience to decide.

When Sanni and I first began dating someone asked something from him, which he could not provide. This person then took it as an insult and decided to tell anyone in earshot that Sanni was a bad person, that he thought himself too good now he had a white girlfriend, and that he’d forgotten his people. Naturally, in time, this got back to Sanni but rather than confront the person, he let it go.

Treat all people with the dignity you want to receive.

Some time later, after the matter had time to lie dormant, Sanni and I were at an African bar. Sanni saw this person outside among others as he bought his friend a drink, giving the friend a simple but considerable sign of respect. Upon departure Sanni saw that the man watch him buy his friend a second drink. He then walked my friends & I outside to leave but before we left Sanni decided to return and buy the man two drinks.

Sanni’s actions were not a case of one-up-man-ship but of respect for this person. He may have been talking about Sanni poorly but it was not for Sanni to decide what punishment this person should be dealt. It was for the man to consider if he was right or wrong in his original judgement. The man saw Sanni was still dating me and yet Sanni still paid respect to him. If this man’s opinion had of been justified Sanni would not have done anything but because on this occasion he was able to provide him something, and did so without being asked, it proved that the man’s own conscience had to tell the truth.

We are quick to lower ourselves to the same level of anger and hatred of the person who mistreats us but to maintain an even level of dignity and respect irrespective of the treatment we receive is far harder and much more rewarding.

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