As stated in many of my posts, I was born and raised in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (West Africa). I am the middle child of three beautiful sisters and a baby brother. Well, I thought so, until I found out later, in my early 20s that I have more half-siblings, I haven’t got the chance to meet yet...Family ''affairs'' can be complicated sometimes éh!
Abidjan is the Economic capital of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) also known as 'Babi', one of the biggest cities in West Africa. I grew up in an upper-middle-class family, my parents being very successful entrepreneurs during the 90s. Against the cultural tendency, they raised us girls to become leaders, to have an entrepreneurial spirit and most importantly, to depend on no one but ourselves. Today, my older sister is a talented International Artist (1/4 finalist at La Voix Québec with multiple awards), my baby sister, a successful Multimedia & Communication officer and, I became an Accountant. What has happened was? (LOL).
In a more serious tone, I love my '' day'' job but the point is, my creativity took a hit as I began to lose a bit of my spark each day, since I came to Canada, up until a couple of years ago. I used to be an extrovert, expressive, the one with a lot of friends, confident... Sadly after I arrived in Winnipeg, everything changed. From what to do with my hair to how to dress and how to speak, I became very insecure in many areas of my life. It felt as if everything I was doing, was never enough to be seen or appreciated by other people outside of the '' African'' community. In 2010 the political climate in Ivory Coast deteriorated to the point where my sisters and I could no longer go back home after graduating from the University, so we stayed and made Canada our new home!
Many immigrants can relate to having a difficult transition. Leaving everything behind is not an easy decision to make, whether voluntary or not. It feels like losing a little bit if not a lot of yourself, a missing part that is not easy to find. In many cases, there is a strong sense of '' belonging'' that most of us constantly battle with; it is a life-time adjustment especially when designated as a '' minority'' in a new environment.
While it still is a daily battle to find my voice, here are four things I can share about this journey as an African-immigrant:
Cultural difference can be the root of a '' mal'' ease
One day, my parents decided that my sister and I would be leaving for Canada and, the next day, we were on the plane, on our way to Winnipeg. I did not know anything about Canada, not to say Winnipeg. We came so we could be immersed in an Anglophone environment while studying in French. However, the cultural gap was immense. I could hardly make friends, not because of the language barrier; we were in a French University; the issue was rather on how to approach people. In Ivory Coast, we are expressively welcoming to immigrants, the second line of our national anthem being ''Pays de l'hospitalité'' (country of hospitality). People always come up first, invite you over to meet their friends and family ...
Here, it is all about personal space. People are very reserved in respect of your privacy, an attitude, I interpreted as a rejection. If only I knew it was a cultural difference, I would have made more efforts to connect with others early on.
Lesson 1: Give others the benefit of the doubt and reach out.
Friendship outside out my '' Ivorian'' community requires work
Obviously, because I could not make new friends, I only hang out with in a restricted social circle. It does make sense, when you first arrive, to find support within your community. But as I was getting established, I tried to expand my social environment because good connections are essentials when starting a life somewhere new. As for the language, the more I reached outside of my community, the faster I became fluent.
It was a huge leap when I decided to attend an anglophone church, where I didn't know anybody at first. Probably, one of the best decisions I have ever made so far.
Lesson 2: ''Clicking'' with people does not always come naturally and sometimes requires an intention and an investment.
A more active social life is ''life-changing''
Far away from the beautiful sun of Abidjan, I was spending most of my time at the malls and African cultural parties. There is nothing wrong with that, except that I was missing out on so much. Winnipeg is well known for its vibrant cultural life. In winter as well as in summer, there's always something to do, many resources (Tourism Winnipeg, Tourisme Riel, Manitoba Travel ...) to find information about parks, museums, events, festivals, happening all year round at a low cost or free. There are opportunities to meet people and find something to be passionate about.
When I started to volunteer at The Winnipeg Jazz Fest, Festival du Voyageur, Folklorama ... I began to like this city even more. It started to feel like 'home'.
Lesson 3: Get involved in the whole community, not just your community!
Trust your 'gut'
This is the most important point of all. As a newcomer, everybody would like to help, but not all ''help'' comes from a genuine place: be careful who you surround yourself with. I come from a culture where we often say 'Yes' out of respect. Let me tell you, this attitude has caused me a lot of trouble ... I have since learned to politely decline some of these offers and always keep a healthy distance until I get to know someone well enough to trust them or not.
Lesson 4: You have the right to say NO!
Trying to tell my whole immigration story in one article is 'mission impossible'. It's been 13 years since I came and every day is a new story but for now, all I can say is that I am getting my spark back. Quite frankly, I think, I never really lost it. It was somewhere deep inside, waiting for me to find my way back again.
The truth is, it can be frustrated to feel different, not to be able to'' blend' in a society that is conditioned to think a certain way, appreciate certain things and not other things... There's always a sense of being '' rated'' that everybody battles with especially the African immigrant because Africa is still a '' mysterious'' place in the eyes of the rest of the World.
Let us remember as immigrants that we are not a burden, in fact, we are bringing economical and cultural Wealth, we are a blessing, we are citizens of the World and that's the bottom line! It is not too late to start living our best life today!
Maybe you have a similar or totally different immigration story, please share or comment, it might help someone.
Bye for now.