African, Family, Immigrant, Relationships

Relative Abroad Syndrome

Let me preface by saying that I love my family; however, over the years being away from them I have discovered that they have the Relative Abroad Syndrome (RAS) – not a medical condition but definitely a thing. RAS is a condition where families (and friends too!) assume that their relative abroad has infinite resources that can be easily shared with them at any given time. Can be compared to the black tax.

RAS has caused a number of family breakups, meltdowns, legal recourses, etc. It involves relatives reaching out for favors and money usually without really caring about the “donor’s” well being. How many times have we heard someone lamenting that while they were struggling their family was constantly reaching out for money without caring that they were not stable? In some cases, the family is outright devious – we’ve heard of those cases where someone sends money for development (e.g. build a house, commercial building, etc.) to their family and it is squandered! How can your own family do that?

In my case, there were a couple of things going on –

  • First, I got a “great” job right after I graduated college so my family automatically assumed that I would share my stream of income with them for mortgage payments, tuition for my siblings, relatives’ weddings and burials, etc. Every so often someone would reach out because they had an issue – while they would acknowledge that I might not have infinite resources there was always a hand out. Mark you I was struggling at work, I HATED my job because I was being mistreated by my co-workers. However, when I tried to talk to my family about it they insisted that it was part of growing up and to maintain the cash flow. Instead of encouraging me to pursue other opportunities and work on my mental health, their focus was on me having a stable paycheck! I started to despise my family, I felt like a cash dispenser, a thing, to them. See the thing about black tax/RAS is that it erases to a certain extent the elevation that someone has worked so hard for – if you are constantly dishing out cash, when are you expected to save up for those necessities that level you up in the future – emergency fund, a house, investment accounts, etc.? So there I was, a professional in a high flying job, but my savings were no where close to my peers because of this drain.
  • Second, and the one that was definitely a struggle for me was the emotional stuff. Parental arguments, siblings fighting with parents, parents fighting with their own siblings – all usually resulting in some type of unnecessary drama. The constant calls to help folks resolve their issues was draining especially at a time when I needed my own outlet. Why reach out to someone so far away, someone who is alone while the rest of the family is in close proximity of each other?
  • Third, my extended family was constantly comparing me to other people abroad – so and so just got there two years ago and has already bought a house, when are you getting yours? Aren’t you the educated one with a top job? Or so and so moved their family to an even higher end neighborhood, when are you going to do that for your parents (I really want to know what these people were doing in the US/UK/wherever because in my experience, it’s hard as hell to buy assets abroad let alone purchase additional assets at home).

To date, I still despise my family for how they made me feel – not like a loved family member but like a thing that dispensed cash and advice. I’m working on this … Anyone else ever feel like this? How did/ do you work through living a comfortable life abroad yet supporting family at home?

African, Family, Immigrant, Life, Relationships

Looking Back … The First Years (Pt. 2)

… continued from last week after some more wine, some tears and some soul searching which led to more tears but tears of thankfulness that I’m still going strong.

Holidays – Most holidays are a full blown celebration / affair on the continent, from Easter to public holidays to Eid/Idd to Christmas (the master of them all). No matter where you are – the city or the village – holidays are a time to connect with family and friends, wear your best clothes, eat the rare delicacies (goat meat, chicken, local rice dish (I’m not going to start the fried rice wars here, lol) or local baked goods (I’m talking about mandazis, beignets, puff puff) … I’m salivating just thinking about them) … I digress but if you grew up in Africa or spent a holiday there you know what I’m talking about. It’s a time of good cheer regardless of class or background. Therefore, when I got to the US and realized that Easter is an optional holiday or Christmas was a shopping holiday celebrated on Dec 24th (nothing much happens on the 25th) I was crestfallen! I spent my first holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) with family and therefore when Easter came I was not prepared for the fact that I’d be alone on a day I’d spent with people ever since I was born. My friends were working (the hustle never stops – it’s double pay on holidays) and I couldn’t afford a ticket to go see my relatives. Since then I’ve spent many other holidays by myself or with family and friends but it’s not quite the same … holidays were (and to a certain extent, still are) the hardest!

The Food – I’ve been around the world and every region has its signature taste. The American signature taste was … different and it took a while to get used to. Further, I discovered that food was a class thing. I mean good food should be good food, right? Nah! Turns out good food depends on a number of things including where you live (high end neighborhood vs other). The neighborhood I landed in is on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from high end and therefore the food was not healthy at all and tasted like recycled industrial output. And I’m not talking about fast food restaurants (some of them have decent options) – no, I’m talking about school cafeteria food that had deep fried chicken that tasted like plastic, fries that tasted like cardboard, veggies didn’t look like veggies, Fanta that tasted like sugar mixed with water and some food coloring … These items were considered novelty items at home and here they just tasted blah! I never got used to the taste of these foods and even after college I don’t touch fast food. Instead I’ve gotten used the “New American” cuisine (grilled fish, two-minute sauté veggies, mostly raw greens) and settle for occasional indulgence in African foods when I can find an African restaurant. Definitely can’t eat the same as home as the activity level is lower so it’s easy to pack on the pounds (story for another day!) but one does miss the heartiness of African food … it had a lot more .. Je ne sais quoi? Soul?

Friendships – This was among the toughest adjustments. I mentioned in the previous post, making friends at home is very easy because there’s always some type of community around. You can easily make friends in your neighborhood, school, church, etc. I had a strong group of friends back home and thought that it would be easy to build new friendships here (especially your squad!) – right? Nah, wrong! I built friendships but the real ones took years to cultivate – part of that was obviously the older you get the harder it is to make genuine friendships but part of it was the way people here did friendships – it was different! Some folks just didn’t have time because they were working, other folks preferred their own space far way from everyone (I respect this), others preferred “air kiss” friendships – the type where you have an engaging and deep conversation one day and the next day the person doesn’t know who you are and then there were those that were downright devious (people that would one day be your friend and the next day be damning you to someone else and the day after damn that same person to you – to be fair, these people were from all nationalities), the list goes on … It took a while then to build those friendships but there were some serious scars along the way …

How did you deal with the holidays, food and friendships?

African, Dating, Family, Immigrant, Life, Professional, Relationships, Uncategorized

Intro

I moved to the US in 2007 for college, right in the middle of the financial crisis. I was eager to make a name for myself and was sure that if I put in the work I’d definitely get somewhere and eventually move back home! My family was super excited for my (and their) growth! My first love was bummed but we were sure we were going to make our love last despite the distance and lack of affordable communication tools (Facebook was the thing then but data was expensive AF).

Then life happened – I was top of my class but social life was tough (especially as I was the life of the party at home!), I got an offer in a top competitive field but my first years in Corporate America were hell, I broke up with said first love, dated other people and there were lots of heartbreaks, my family continued to demand more and more of me, I made new awesome friends and lost old ones along the way. I went to a top graduate school, made even more fantastic friends, got another top offer, hated it, left. I had a meltdown.

After hitting rock bottom emotionally, I started thinking about that eager girl that thought that she could rule the world, that girl that would walk into a room and turn heads, that girl that was not afraid to share her thoughts, the same one that knew what she wanted and did not give up until she got it … where did she go? Somewhere in the process of assimilating, keeping some of my roots, growing as a person, working out, keeping up with my spirituality and trying to be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, team member … I lost myself! I realized I needed to get her back (the grown up version at least).

So over the last two years, I’ve been trying to define who I am and what legacy I want to leave behind. I realize that there was always something to learn with each experience good or bad. I’ll be sharing my experience and hopefully other people who relate can feel empowered that they are not alone or crazy.

Now that the intro is done, I’d like to set expectations. This blog is not meant to offer professional advice – it’s just a place to share content that people can hopefully relate to. I am a busy professional (and I imagine you are too) – posts will be kept short and will likely be infrequent. I gravitate towards humor so I hope that permeates through the posts. Writing is not my thing so don’t expect professional quality posts. I will not tolerate negativity – there’s too much hate in the world, this will not be another place for it. Lastly and most importantly, have fun, laugh, cry, be emotional and engage.