What Began as an Opportunity Became a Nightmare

Content warning: The stories throughout this issue may be especially activating for some readers. Many of these pieces involve descriptions of traumatic experiences including sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, queer/transphobic violence, in addition to the violence of states and false borders.

America is a free world, offering the freedom to work anywhere with no discrimination or favoritism, or so it seems. It is a place most of us have heard through social media, relatives, friends and even through movies, a dream to anybody living in other developing or underdeveloped countries. Our countries have so much corruption: even your qualifications mean nothing unless you know someone who knows someone to connect you to even a construction job. Most of the educated people have nothing to do, to such an extent that they prefer to buy a motorcycle to be able to work as taxi drivers—boda boda riders, as we call them back home—and pay the hefty loans and taxes that come with it while carrying their master’s degrees and diploma certificates around like normal valueless papers.

This makes one grab any chance to escape such harsh and unforgiving realities with both. This has made most of us, like me for example, go from the heat and into the frying pan. I am writing this to serve as a lesson to those out there who would want to try and get to the green pastures of America without the right papers or through the right channels. This is my story for those who will care to listen or read.

Having come from a humble background my poor parents sold most of their inheritance to send me through school so that I could be the breadwinner of the family and help my other six siblings through school once I got a job. Being a first-born in the family, I was like a third parent to my siblings.

With my qualified degree papers, l looked for a job within and outside my qualifications to no avail. It so happened that my first cousin, who was a close friend, was to graduate from a university in San Francisco and I was invited. Everything was a struggle, but I wanted the exposure to a different environment and so we came to celebrate with him. When the event was over, I decided to stay a while longer to at least get to know it better and maybe start a new life here. I hoped to find a job, get some money and start some investment back in my home country to be able to help my parents and siblings. This was my personal decision that I only shared with my cousin later on when our other relatives returned to Africa.

My life changed. I had a sweet life that one would never wish to leave behind, coming from the difficulties of my home country, mostly staying indoors while my cousin went out for his daily hustle to be able to afford rent and other basic needs. I would walk him a few miles then come back, lock myself in the house, and live an introverted life with no friends or anybody to talk to until he returned. He had shown me how to get paid to do some online surveys, which wasn’t bad for someone with no bills. I could save the money and only chip in when need be.

One day, I had a loud bang on our door and I thought I had been caught being in the country illegally, that the authorities had come for me, so I hid behind a closet. The bang got louder, and then someone shouted that my cousin had been shot. I never understood  what my cousin did at work. This was the day I learned that he sold drugs and, since he had a lot of debts, he jumped from one street boss to another to just make sure he made enough to sustain us. I was devastated because I immediately knew it was going to be tough to survive without him, but little did I know that someone has to pay his debts and, there being no one else, I was the guarantor.

What began as an opportunity in America became a nightmare in a second. I had never pushed drugs, let alone used them, but suddenly I had to do so to pay my cousin’s debt and the mortgage. I was never told which hospital he was taken to or if he is still alive or in jail. I wonder sometimes if he played me and became a street boss that I am working for. Whatever the reason, every day I would get a package and ship it to locations shown then pick up funds and deliver them to a location. Remember I am undocumented; I am dealing drugs, and using some for courage purposes.

Since that was too much already, I was thrown out of the house and I was forced to live with someone I barely knew. We shared everything and still continue to pay the street bosses debts, that just keep on increasing. It is so hard to live in San Francisco as a drug pusher; a lot of the drug distributors you work with would either steal from you or sabotage you to make the street bosses relieve their debt and transfer it to you. I have since been lying to my relatives about having a job, and in addition promising to send them some lump sum which I have never done for over a year now. I am always trying to save documents which have never come to fruition. I have no choice but to survive by selling drugs. It’s a survival game in the streets. My life depends on how much I do to convince the bosses that I am worth more to them alive than dead.