Adeola Raji – A Peek Into America From New York to Atlanta

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I randomly came upon an advert on the internet in 2017 requesting applications to attend the United Nations Youth Assembly – in New York – as a delegate and I applied. Two weeks later, I got a mail saying I had been appointed as one of the youth delegates from Nigeria. When I left Nigeria for the event, it was my first trip ever out of the country. I flew Etihad and so we stopped over at Abu Dhabi. The trip was so long and exhausting; in total it was about 24-30hrs flying from Nigeria to the US. By the time I landed in New York, I was drained and I couldn’t hear anything with my left ear.
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My aunt whom I had intended to stay with had informed me ahead that she might not be available to pick me up at the airport and that I should pick a cab and find my way; she also told me that the cab shouldn’t cost me more than $25 and that I should also try to negotiate especially since the cabs were metered cabs. So there I was, my first time out of Nigeria, standing on the soil of America tired, partially deaf and totally out of place. I didn’t know who to talk to to guide me or anything. I had no internet and I couldn’t use the Nigerian airtime to call. I eventually walked up to a security guy and I asked him where I could get cabs and he generously directed me.
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As I was headed in the direction described, a guy approached me and asked where I was going; I told him and he said my fare was $40. Because my aunt had told me it would cost $25, I refused to pay $40. He said I should wait that he could get me another cabbie that could work with my budget; at that time, we were already at the exit of the airport. I waited for another ten minutes and he returned with a guy. We got to the new guy’s car and I was shocked – it was an SUV, like all those Toyota Highlander kind of shape. It was a huge car and the colour was black.
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Since I had spoken with the first guy, I assumed he had related everything about my budget to the new guy and so I didn’t stress over it again. There was a guy in the driver’s seat already, and a second guy who sat next to the driver. I sat behind the driver but I was scared cos who uses a jeep as a cab?! A part of me was like “e gba mi, abi won ti fe kidnap mi?”.
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As the ride started, they asked if it was my first time in New York, I told them yes. I just thought they were nice and friendly. I was almost where I was going when the guy told me that my charge was $120. I screamed, “One-Twenty-what?!” Why will I reject a $40 cab only to take a $120 ride? I was scared because these guys were huge and I just kept thinking ‘what if these guys just speed off and kidnap me – who will look for me in America?’ Scared, I told them that all I had on me was $100 so I handed it to the guy who had driven. At that point, I was tired, disoriented, partially deaf and scared. I just wanted the whole thing to end.
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I got out of the car and the guy I had handed the money to pointed it back at me, “you gave me $1 not $100” he said; I then became more confused. I knew I had changed some money and another aunty of mine had given me some dollars in Nigeria; in all these monies there was no one dollar bill, so how did I end up have a one-dollar bill?
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I handed another dollar note to them then they got my luggage out. I made my way into my Aunt’s building but locating her apartment was another wahala. I kept asking people I saw in the building and no one could tell where exactly I was going. It was then I realized that neighbours didn’t know one another.
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The occupant in one of the apartments I knocked on suggested that I used her phone to call my aunt so I did. Then, my aunt described how to get to her own apartment. When I got to my aunty’s place, I decided to count my money and I realized, to my shock, that I was $200 short! I collapsed onto the floor straight.
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All the money I had changed was $400 and I had lost half of it to the cab fraudsters. I just began to weep and roll on the floor. I cried and wiped my tears myself – I had never been scammed in Nigeria – how did I get scammed on my first day in America? I felt so sad, I couldn’t even tell anyone what had happened to me.
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When my Aunty asked me how much I took the cab, I told her $100 and she screamed! She was so angry and she began to curse the guys. Imagine how she’d have freaked out if I had told her the truth that it was actually $200 not $25.
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Atlanta is a cool place for people of colour, there are blacks and Hispanics all around. Life here is simple and quite friendly; places from midtown to the northern parts of Atlanta are safer and more serene. However, there are places in Atlanta that are not so cool and friendly. In downtown Atlanta, there are some areas where you have high rates of crime and gun violence. Also, if you live in the black community, you might have it a bit rough.
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Atlanta has a couple of beautiful places I’d take a first-timer to. The city has the Mercedes Benz stadium, the Atlanta Beltline, the Peak Mall Park. The first time I saw the Mercedes Benz stadium, it was about 4am and it had all these beautiful lights and I was like “wow! This is the real deal!” It is so beautiful. One of the places I am yet to visit is the Georgia Aquarium; I hear it is beautiful and I’d love to go with someone soon.
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Another lovely place to visit is the World of Cocoa Cola – that’s the headquarters of Coca Cola and it is in downtown. I’d recommend to anyone visiting Atlanta – who loves nature, to visit the Stone Mountain Park. It is so beautiful! You can relax and admire nature in its realness. The CNN studio is in Atlanta too and it is a destination choice for whomever is visiting Atlanta.
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The transport system in Atlanta is wack! In New York and New Jersey, you can step out and get a cab or a bus and move around. In Atlanta, the bus and train systems cover only a small part of the city. This implies that if you have to live in the city, you have to own a car. When first arrived Atlanta, the relative I stayed with lived far away from my school and the bus system did not reach their side of town; I didn’t have a choice than to use Uber. That was frustrating for me because my experience in New York was different from what I found in Atlanta.
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Third week into school resumption, I realized that I had spent almost $1000 on just Uber! At that point, I sat myself down and realized that I had almost exhausted my money so I knew something had to do something about it. To solve the problem and manage my expenses, I rented an apartment that was on the bus route and even at that, only one bus plied that route in 30mins and so if you missed the bus, you’d have to wait 30 mins to get another bus. I found that frustrating at the beginning because in New York, three buses could be on ground headed in the same direction but in Atlanta, no! Now I think I have adapted to the system.
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If you want to see snow and take pictures with snow all over you to prove that you’re in the abroad, please don’t come to Atlanta – here isn’t your place; don’t say I didn’t do anything for you o. Since I have been in this Atlanta, I haven’t seen one snow flake like this. In New Jersey, before winter proper sets in, you’ll still get small snow but Atlanta, no snow. I remember a friend messaging me and saying, “Adeola, I hope you’re not in Senegal?” When I asked her why, she said because she had not seen me post any picture of snow falling or me playing in the snow. I was just like, “Ah!” It’s like selfies in the snow is the ultimate proof that you’re overseas.
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On my first day in school, I looked around and the way everyone was speaking got to me, somehow. It wasn’t my first time in America but this was my first time within a school system in the US and it was quite overwhelming.
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I was on a queue when I sighted a black lady and I thought she looked Nigerian and so – to feel a little bit of home connection – I walked up to her and said “hi!” From her accent when she replied, I knew that my conclusion was super wrong. She was proper Black American. On the whole the people here are warm and friendly.
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After the New York cab experience, I had another horrible experience in America; this time, it was here in Atlanta.
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In the first semester of my program at Georgia State University, I didn’t want to keep asking for money from home – I wanted to work and fetch me some stipends. I spoke with a fellow international student from Pakistan and I described what kind of job I wanted. She informed me that someone in her lab shared a link with her and that she could forward it to me if I didn’t mind. It was the call to volunteer at an organization helping orphanages. I checked them out, they looked good and so I registered to volunteer.
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After a week, they got back to me that they’d love to have me on board. This was around November. The issue about November is that this is the period when Americans have their Thanksgiving celebration and it is usually a week break. During my discussions with the organization, they had said that they always sent money to orphanage homes during this period too.
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In the thanksgiving week, I think it was a Thursday, I got a call that the organization would send the money for the orphanages to me and that I’d deposit the money in the account of the designated orphanages. A cheque of about $2300 was sent to me. I did a mobile deposit but the bank said that it would take about 10 days to clear the money.
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The next day, the person to whom the money was intended for reached out to know if the cheque had been cleared and I explained the situation. She began to lament that 10 days was too long and that the orphanage home she supervised needed the money urgently in order to have something to celebrate thanksgiving with.
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She asked if I had any money on me that I could give them just so that the kids in the home could have something to celebrate with too. I reasoned that since I had just deposited their check and they really needed money, I could send whatever I had then get it back when their cheque was cleared. I had $600 on me at that time and so I sent it over to the orphanage.
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Then the person reached out again and said that the $600 wouldn’t be enough for the home and then she begged me if I could help them raise some more money. I reached out to a friend who trusted me a lot and asked for $400. I had made up my mind that I’d not give more than $1000 to the home. My friend sent $400 and I forwarded it to the home. About 30mins after, a friend called me and I was telling her about the whole orphanage thing and the person was like, “I hope you have not sent any money to the orphanage?” I told her that I had. Then she said, “you’ve just been duped!”
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I was shocked! I couldn’t believe it.
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Immediately, I ran to my bank to see if the transfer could be stopped but unfortunately, when I got to my bank, it was exactly 4pm and the doors had been closed. At that point, I felt my life was crashing. I went back home and called the customer care and they said the Fraud Department had closed for the day and wouldn’t come in until Monday. At that point, I just began to cry.
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Ten days later, the bank told me the check was dud and that there was no money in that account. I lost the whole $1000. That is the most horrible experience I have had in America and it took my several months before I could recover from it. It was a really sad time for me.
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I was away from Atlanta when the pandemic struck in 2020 and because, in the US the rent is paid monthly, I had lost my previous apartment (as I didn’t renew the rent after I left). Many months after, I was returning to Atlanta and I needed a new place. At this point, I realized that all my friends were blacks – I had no white friends. How could I be living in America and not have any white friends? It just rubbed me the wrong way. I began to ask friends for accommodation openings in Atlanta and I silently prayed that God should hook me up with good, decent white friends.
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It was while at it that I found unbelievable goodness in the most unexpected place, right in the heart of total strangers.
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“In my parents’ house in Nigeria we had a microwave but I wasn’t too familiar with it because we hardly ever used it, in fact we never brought it out of the box. At my aunty’s house in New York, I realized they used the microwave for everything – including boiling water.
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There was a day I was going out and my aunty told me there was bread in the house, there was egg too so I decided to boil the egg. It made sense to start boiling the egg while I went on to have my bath. I put some water in a ceramic bowl and put the egg in it. I was in the bathroom when there was a loud sound – I rushed out of the bathroom, my Aunty rushed out of her room. To my shock it was the egg that exploded. The explosion flung the microwave door open and made a whole mess of the place.
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Me, I had seen them use the microwave for everything else so why not to boil egg, abi? I never knew that eggs and microwaves aren’t compatible. The next time we tried to use the microwave, it came on but it never worked. The door of the microwave had been forcefully opened by the blast and it did not shut well anymore so the microwave couldn’t work.
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I was even like, “shey a a le ri electrician that can fix this door ni for some small dollars?” My aunty just looked at me and responded, “this is America, repairing things don’t come cheap.” In the end we had to put the whole microwave in the trash outside and I felt so bad.
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My Aunty couldn’t ask me to buy another microwave so she got a new one with her money – which was definitely not in her budget originally and I hated myself for putting her through that extra expense. Within how many days that I reach America, mo ti spoil microwave. For five days or so, I curled up and did not relate with anyone.
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New York city was cool but I didn’t really enjoy it. I spent 3 weeks in the city and I was indoors mostly. I had a Nigerian friend whom I met at the UN meeting but he left New York early so I didn’t have much fun. I was running my master’s program too at the time I came to New York so I had to return to Nigeria to complete my Masters.
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The next time I was going to travel to the US was for vacation in 2019. At this point, I was working on a job in Delta State where I had served. My destination this time was New Jersey. I took a Delta flight straight from Lagos to the US; however, the plane would stop at Atlanta before connecting with New Jersey where my aunt was.
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When our plane touched down, I had thought we’d just take a short walk to get into the terminal but to my surprise, the airport was so big that we had to take a train from the tarmac to the terminal. I kept thinking to myself like “why will an airport be this big?!” It turned out that the Hatfield Jackson airport in Atlanta is America’s biggest and busiest airport. I spent a month in New Jersey and then I came back to Nigeria to resume at my desk.
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Upon my return, I took an interest in Public Policy aspect of Public Health because Nigeria still had a bit of work to do in order to gain grounds in this area. I began to make enquiries and someone told me about a Public Policy program by Georgia State University Public Policy Program. I looked it up and decided to apply – just to see what would come out of it. In April 2019, to my surprise, I got a mail that I had been admitted to the university for the program. That was how I found myself relocating to the US after summer.
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Atlanta is a cool place. Unlike New York and New Jersey that are rowdy, Atlanta is a classy place. I resumed my first semester in the fall of 2019 and I had to adjust to so many things. But, just as I began to settle in and get a hang of things, the news of COVID19 in China and Europe began to make the airwaves and by February 2020, the pandemic had arrived in America. With the pandemic happening, I couldn’t really experience Atlanta like I would have loved to. Still, I experienced unbelievable things in Atlanta and i will share some with you…”
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On a Whatsapp group created for Nigerians to interact, a lady posted that a room was available and I reached out to her that I might be interested. She told me the place belonged to one of her professors and that the professor had told her that she knew that international students would be having a rough time during the pandemic and that they had a room they’d love to give up to an international student for free.
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From my first-hand experience of America, I hadn’t thought a stranger would offer a room in their house to me and even if they did, I wasn’t expecting it to be free. I got in touch with the family and we had a meeting and they said they were cool with me.
There’s hardly any white home you visit that you wouldn’t find a pet and I really don’t do pet so I asked them if they had pet. It turned out that they had a dog but then they said the dog was old.
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In Nigeria, people keep their dogs in kernels, in the compound – they don’t bring them into the house. Here, in the US, the pets live indoors with the people and so was the case with this couple and their dog. That was totally uncomfortable for me
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While I didn’t decline their offer, I kept looking for other decent openings. In the end, I had to choose between finding another apartment for which I’d be paying rent monthly or choosing to live in the house with a dog. I decided that I’d live in the house for a week or two and see how things panned out – after all, I wasn’t paying for the space. If living with dog was giving me high blood pressure, then I’d move out.
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I returned to Atlanta and moved in with the family. The couple really helped to make my stay easy without much interference with the dog. They’d keep the dog away from my side of the house and I often spent most of my time in my room; I only came out a few times. The dog had a chain collar and so whenever it was moving, you could hear the clanging sound. I got used to the sound – it became my alarm.
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One day, while in the kitchen, I turned around and I found the dog very close to me! I don’t know how I never heard the dog coming until it had got so close. Omooo, I jumped on the kitchen island (a cabinet in the middle of the kitchen), I was so scared! I began to scream for help. The funny thing is the dog is the type of dog that doesn’t really grow big. Still, I was screaming like I was about to die 😄
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Till now when the family remembers they bring it up and laugh and I’d be like, “duh! I wasn’t raised with a dog roaming within the house.” 😆 Unfortunately, the dog passed away a few months ago and to be honest with you, it hurt me so much that the dog died because I was already really used to it and we had bonded.
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It’s about a year now since I began to live with the family and I can tell you it is the best thing that ever happened to me in America. I call them family because I don’t think there’s anything my family is Nigeria will do for me that they are not doing for me. It is a loving and caring family – they are literally everything to me in America. They are all round supportive to me and it is a blessing to have them in my corner.
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With my program over, they don’t want me to leave Atlanta, they want me to get a job in the city and stay. I also don’t wish to leave. With them, I have more than just white friends, I have a family. They have shown me that family is not in the colour, it is in the heart. Every time friends visit me, my friends are wowed and they be like, ‘this is a family for you!’ The funny thing is they are excited to visit Nigeria but I’m like, “Ooookkkkaaayyyyy, let’s slow down with going to Nigeria for now” – because I cannot pay ransom 😄.
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I have missed Ibadan – I miss the easy, affordable lifestyle. Sometimes I miss the food too. Now that I am answering these questions of yours, I am craving Ibadan so bad.
(Atlanta, 2021)
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