What was your first day/month like in the US?
You can even say that my first night in the United States was horrible. Our plane landed at New York. We were supposed to go back to the same plane, but going through customs and immigration took so long that the plane left some of us at the airport. It was cold, we were unable to speak much English, and we had to stay at the airport that night. Thankfully, the next day, there was one person from Ghana who spoke some English, and he was able to help us get a plane to Pittsburgh.
The first month was horrible when I got to Pittsburgh. As we flew into Pittsburgh, through the window, I saw snow. It was my first-time experiencing winter. The thing that I hated most about winter was putting those stockings on, plus socks and shoes. By the time you finished doing all that, you missed the bus. I used to cry often and want to go back home. My first job was at the airport. I was able to get a job after I was here for only one week. When I saw the airplanes leaving, I was very homesick.
What was something that surprised you about being in the US/Pittsburgh?; What is something that you wish you knew about the US before coming to Pittsburgh?
A lot of immigrants need to hear this: Back home in Togo, they make it seem like when you are coming to America, you are coming to paradise. They told my mom, “when she comes there, she will have an apartment. She will have a job.” Now they don’t say what type of job. People who live in the US already do not tell the truth. They come back home, dressed up and say there won’t be any issues. When we come, we find out you have to work really hard. There are many bills, more than in Africa, and it is not easy. The next thing you know the money is gone. That is something I did not expect. People need to tell the truth to those back home, so they can be prepared for how it might be when they first come. You need to be very humble to accept the new experiences. You might want to visit before deciding to come as an immigrant. America is the land of opportunity; but I believe that anywhere that you are in this world, if you fight for your dreams you can succeed.
What are some things you would like others to know about your culture?
In my culture, we value unity and hospitality. We are very hospitable. We love to cook, that is one part of the culture. We cook fufu, fried yams (not sweet, more like potatoes), and rice-we cook a lot of rice. We do make a sweet, it is called puff puff here. When it comes to sauces, we do okra sauce, peanut sauce, and others.
We have a high moral standard. There are things you cannot do; you cannot even imagine doing them. For example, you cannot imagine calling your dad or your uncle by their name. You have to use their title, as a form of respect.
When I talk of unity, it means that you are not alone facing challenges. Your neighbors can come to your rescue. For example, when a child is born in a village right now, that child is considered a village child. Everybody brings something to support the mother. Later, when that child is growing, everyone feels they are able to discipline that child when mom is not around. You never feel alone. Here, people can die alone in their apartment without anyone knowing for days.
How has your culture changed or adapted here in the US? How have you been teaching your children your culture as they grow up in the US?
Here in the US, you have to adapt. We do not get to eat food that tastes the same as before. We have to adapt to what we have. Being on my own was very hard to adapt, especially before I had children. I went to work, came back home, and was all alone in my house. I went to church, and then I came back to my house alone. In Africa, we at least had a courtyard where we saw people, but that was not the case here. I had to reach out to my religious friends, to share with them; and, they invited me to things. I would also go to the African association’s events in the beginning. Now I do not go anymore. Making some friends helped the solitude.
I don’t speak it all of the time, but I speak in my native tongue to my children, and they have learned a few things from me. Also, going back to visit our home country has helped them to learn the culture and language even more. Plus, I also am always cooking our native food.
What are your hopes for the future for your family and community living in Pittsburgh?
There are a lot of organizations that help with issues. Still, I hope that there is more help for new immigrants. Most of the time these immigrants are promised that someone will be there to welcome them. When they arrive, that person is not around; and, they have to struggle. Sometimes people take advantage of these immigrants since they do not know better or where to look for information and need help. I wish that there were more organizations to help immigrants’ needs. Other than the weather, I like Pittsburgh. I have been here 15 years and I like it here.