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, Immigrant, Life, Relationships, Uncategorized

Looking Back – The First Years (Pt. 1)

Remember them days …

I had to take some wine, do some therapy, meditate and give myself a pep talk before I wrote this post. The first years were tough … tough AF.

Money – My folks gave me some pocket money but … everything was 10x the price compared to home. So the amount didn’t really go a long way. I got a job at school to supplement (minimum wage was ~$9, I survived on $720 per month as international students can only work 20 hours a week)! No one understood why I shopped at Goodwill (Rainbow and Wet Seal were a reach!) or Safeway (I didn’t even know Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s existed). Every time I went to buy something, I converted the money to my home currency and more often than not determined that it was too costly. To date, I still buy stuff from discount stores (albeit higher end ones ish – hey Nordstrom Rack and Saks OffFifth). I still can’t fathom buying most items at full price when I think of how I had to tighten my purse strings back in the day.

The accent (and all the ignorant comments that come when you have one) – I’ve always been told I have a “cute” accent but that wasn’t the case when I came here – I was MOCKED for my accent. While a good number were curious about where I was from, majority of the people in the environment I was in, told me to move back to my caveman continent, assumed I lived with animals or insisted that they couldn’t understand me even though I had a much better grasp of English than they did. For example, one day I was walking in the student center and ran into one of my classmates and stopped for some quick small talk. This was a classmate that I’d greeted and exchanged subtleties a few times. It was therefore to my horror and shock, when he stopped and SCREAMED that he doesn’t understand me and that I should stop disturbing him. I was so embarrassed … I have to the say, the ridicule gave me a complex … I stopped speaking freely, I was scared to open up for the fear of being mocked.

Second Class Citizen – I had a comfortable background back home (we had basics and then some and attended good schools but were not the kind that went on international vacations) and when I landed in the US I was very quickly informed that I was at the bottom of the pecking order as an African, a black person and as a black woman. This hit me hard! I’ve mentioned in my intro that I was the life of the party – to go from that to everyone mocking me was tough! At that time I was warm, outgoing and social but that energy was squashed really quickly by the community I was in. I was diminished to someone who allegedly lived in a hut or tree somewhere in Africa. When I tried to reach out, I always got some type of verbal lashing.

Community – Africans generally tend to be warm and welcoming especially where I am from! It was very easy to form friendships at home and develop strong ties whether at church or school or the neighborhood I lived in – I still have close ties to date. So I figured it would be the same when I got here, I thought it would be a walk in the park making new friends – I could picture myself spending weekends gossiping with my new friends in our dorm rooms or apartments. But Alas! I found that most relationships were very transactional – it was always a case of what can a person do for another?! I was crestfallen as someone who really values genuine relationships – I stared withdrawing into myself, I started not trying to make connections because I knew I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment of unrequited friendship. I stopped being the warm and fun person I used to be.

Stay tuned for part 2 …