By Ochieng Ochieng.
Note: This piece was first published in the Facebook Page Buyer Beware
“Today marks 15 years since I left United States. Please read my life in United States and learn the reality.
Although I don’t want to generalize, I have heard similar stories from many people around me who went there to live a dream life in the land of the free. Here are the prices of ‘freedom’:
I got a salary of almost 5.5 million Kenya shillings/year (55000 USD). When I first heard this, I was imagining myself living like a king. Even top ranking govt officials in Kenya don’t earn this much most of the times. My parents were proud, my girlfriend was jealous (she was doing comp science too, but a year junior so she needed to wait to earn this much), all my relatives discussed how sticking to long term education finally paid off. I am a car enthusiast, so I decided to make my first car a used but relatively new M-series BMW.
Taxes took away 1/4th of earnings. Housing took away 1/3rd of the rest. Parents expected me to send them money, which hit me as a hard reality. They’re retired, and their son is earning millions. Only if they knew what ‘millionaire’ means. Fortunately I was in Pittsburgh, one of the relatively cheaper cities. My friends in east and west coasts, they lived in breads for most of the time and share rooms with undergrad students with their families. Towards the end of every month, I needed to think whether I buy bread and jam/eggs or could I afford some vegetables.
I looked for the cheapest cuts of meat in the grocery store, and milk goes beyond their expiry date and still gets used. LIVING IN US WITHOUT A CAR IS TECHNICALLY IMPOSSIBLE, so I decided to buy one, cheapest 8 years old Chevy with 4 previous owners. Car insurance money sucks more money than installments, and parking that elephant is an eye-watering costly affair anywhere. I don’t drink and don’t like to eat outside, I think these are the only reasons I survived without an immediate financial crisis. Forget leisure and travel, every year you only save money to make a yearly trip back to Kenya.
For those who have gone to multiple countries, I have always heard this thing: US has the worst work culture of all. The employers there consider the workers as slaves, and the idea is wiring them to their hopelessness. This is specially true in the field of academia, where the supply is more than demand. The only reason Africans, Indians and Chinese people get hired is because they are easier to exploit.
They cannot take leave (‘You go home once a year and take a month off, what else do you want?’), they work weekends (‘You don’t have family or friends here, why cannot you work on weekends?), they are easy targets to threat (‘‘I have to think before renewing your contract, you don’t seem to work as hard as so and so’’) etc. Americans are subjected less to these kinds of bullying because they can leave the office/lab whenever they want, which immigrants cannot because of their visa reasons. A trip home once a year will invariably incur curt comments and increased pressure from your superiors.
This is the ONLY country in the world (at least the part of world which matters) where females don’t get any maternity leave. You will have to sit home without pay when you need financial assistance the most. Or you need to carry your newborn to workplace to do your job, which I’ve seen many Chinese people are forced to do eventually. My superior (a woman) once made a bad comment on an employee who took two days off after her childbirth (‘Thousands of children are born everyday, it is not special. Haha’).
FINANCES AND INSURANCES:
US is among first world countries, so I am guessing the service you get from anywhere will also be first class. However, the price you pay is also ‘first class’. Car insurance is 200 times of Kenyan car insurance, and don’t cover accidental damages. ‘Home’ insurance is mandatory, even when you live in apartments. Health insurance is 1000 times of any health insurance you can get in Kenya, and still copays and out-of-pockets can just make you lose your mind (I’ve SEEN how simple stomach perforation operation even after insurance costed so much that a person had to sell his home). Most of the people most of the time fight to not get sick.
Any loan, any financing (from a mobile phone to a house) depends on your credit score. The system of credit score in itself requires a book of its own. The statement is: YOU NEED TO SHOW YOUR BANK THAT YOU DON’T NEED A CREDIT (i.e. have good credit score) to get a credit. It’s a system designed to keep poor people poor.
People in States care less about their parents, kids and spouses (the sense of ‘family’ is very different there), so it is unlikely you will ever get into the community. Your skin color gets judged before everything, and you get steely cold eyes for being somewhere you are not expected to be (according to your ethnicity). Once I went to a church (no reason, looked good from outside) and the first question to me was whether I am a thug trying to flee from police. The old person who asked me this said ‘we try to send them away’ after figuring out that I am from Africa. I personally am a little unsocial, and hence my life in States was between my work and my apartment most of the time. My personal life basically reduced to cooking some random and complicated shit to pass time, and then staring at the ceiling for the rest of the night. You hardly make friends, you hardly get invited, and you’re hardly welcome.
December 2002, on a frozen sidewalk I got followed by a person on a bike who kept shouting “GO BACK TO AFRICA” with mild to moderate profanity added to it, and that’s when I first got real scared of getting shot. When you are in US, accept that for any reason or for no reason at all, you can get shot.
Every month, thousands of Americans die from guns (frankly, now I don’t even care, if you live by the sword you die by the sword), and as always, Africans get shot for no apparent reasons (one person was walking down the sidewalk, someone just shot him from a car and left). Once you get there you understand how dire the situation is, you’ll either always be scared, or eventually give up and accept that death by a gun is probably inevitable. Every week I hear at least one murder news.
I now work here in Kenya where I feel appreciated as per my experience and education level. I get paid well and I have family around and friends too. I am happy to have made the best decision of giving up my Green Card and coming back home.
I was not living happy in States. Many people who think that life in US is glorious and free, please check the reality before you eventually decide to go there.”