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Firecracker Toyeen: My College Park Experience

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This will be a 6-part series and here, I’ll be writing about the many things I experienced in my 2-year stay in graduate school. I went from broke-ass Toyeen to Toyeen rolling dollars. I was once verbally abused and kicked out of a carpool, I forged a meaningful friendship, got rejected for a dream job, and experienced the shock of finding out you pay to receive phone calls in the US.

Now that I have got your attention, let’s begin the ride.

In addition to providing information on how to successfully apply to graduate schools and ace visa interviews, the good people of Nairaland also provided information on the cheapest means of getting to the US and the necessary items you needed to take with you. I took a few clothes I hadn’t given out, and also took a lot of dry foods like egusi, plantain chips, ogbono, dry pepper, and so on. The cheapest airlines they suggested were Turkish air and Royal Air Maroc. I booked a flight on Royal Air Maroc via a travel agent and let me just say that whatever you do in this life, do not ever fly with Royal Air Maroc – it will end in tears. 

My sister was going to New York while I was going to College Park, Maryland and because she was a minor, I decided to fly to New York with her, then take a bus to Maryland which is only 5 hours away by road. 

The night I was to leave, I was a little afraid but mostly excited. I felt the same way I felt on my first day in the boarding house when I asked my dad to leave shortly after dropping me off. I can’t remember who dropped me off at the airport now but I went to my dad’s room to say goodbye and with tears in his eyes (because favorite child and look alike, duhh), he prayed for me and told me to ensure I ate because I looked like eran ori iresi (the meat on a plate of rice). It might sound like weird advice but I weighed 50kg at the time and was a size zero yet, I thought I was fat and hardly ate.

A friend had advised me to wrap every food item in several newspapers and put them under layers of clothing so they weren’t discovered by immigration officers but as I got to the airport and queued to go through immigration, the smell of my ogbono and crayfish hit my nostrils strongly and I suspected everyone around me could smell them too. When I got to the immigration desk and was asked to open my box for them to search, I opened the one that didn’t contain food and hoped no one would ask me to open my box of food. Luckily for me, the officer that searched me just said, “you are a student ehn, find something for us.” I told him I didn’t have anything and he let me go. I passed through security with no issues and finally boarded the plane. That was my first trip outside Nigeria and if it wasn’t for NYSC posting to Adamawa and a work assignment in Abuja, it would also have been my first time on a plane. Thank God I didn’t disgrace my generation on international waters.

The food was horrible but I ate every single thing because my ticket money must not waste. I was too excited to sleep and stayed awake throughout the flight. We had a 3-4 hour layover at Casablanca and when the boarding gate for our flight was open, everyone on the flight including me stood up to queue for boarding. I observed something weird while queuing: although Morocco is an African country, its people are fair-skinned, like Arabs. The woman checking passports and boarding passes let all the non-African people go after checking their documents. But for the black people, after letting them go, she would run after them and ask them to go back as if she just found out something shady in their documents.

I did not yet have accommodation so I put my uncle’s house address in New York as my destination. Seeing the attendant ask black people to come back made me fear that I would be turned back because the address I put down was different from the city where my school is located. Until I passed through security at New York, this fear of being turned back never left me. Eventually, it was my turn and I gave my documents to the attendant and answered her questions. She returned them to me and said I could go. I had barely started walking when she ran after me and asked me to come back. I was so upset but I kept calm. I can’t remember the flimsy reason she gave for flagging me but she eventually let me through.

We arrived in NY in the night and I took my boxes to the immigration officer at the point of entry. I didn’t declare my food items so I was afraid they would get seized by the immigration officers. My whole body was shaking as I struggled to stay still to get my picture taken and give my fingerprints. I answered the officer’s questions and eventually, he smiled and said, “you plan to get a 4.0 GPA eh?” I smiled back and said “yes”. He welcomed me to America and said I could go. Guys, coman see happiness. 

I logged onto the airport wifi and informed my uncle I had arrived but he couldn’t pick me up and I had to take a cab. If you think Lagos cab drivers are scammers, New York cab drivers are worse!  The cab driver charged me $45 for a 20-minute trip. He convinced me that a fixed fare was cheaper than a metered fare and I fell for it.

 I arrived at my uncle’s house, ate, slept, and woke up early the following morning to catch my 7 AM bus to Maryland from Manhattan. My aunt went with me to catch the bus. Unfortunately, my box was damaged on the plane and my cousin, may God forever bless his heart, carried it on his head from the train station to the bus station. 

I arrived at the bus station 5 minutes before the bus was to depart but they refused to let me get on despite all my aunty’s pleas. I waited for the next bus and when it arrived, I was told I was entitled to only one piece of luggage. My aunt took the second box back and that meant I had to return to New York whenever I settled to pick it up. I did not mind going back though because New York city was breathtaking! It looked exactly like it was portrayed in movies and I was eager to explore it.

We were told there was wifi on the bus and my jaw nearly dropped. That was my first taste of American wonder. Kia, I logged on to WhatsApp and started chatting with all my friends and family back in Lagos, and surfing the web. It had been so long since I had access to free and fast wifi that I got carried away. We eventually got to my stop, 5 hours later, and I got off the bus with my box. I was quite disappointed with my surroundings because I expected the whole of America to look like New York but my environment was just bleh. In less than 5 minutes after I got off the bus, I realized I left my laptop in the bus. I called the customer care number listed at the bus station and was asked to call back after they had spoken with the bus driver. I called back and they told me my laptop was not in the bus and someone must have taken it. I got my first of many shocking findings about America – they usually tiff in the almighty US of A!

To be continued…

If you missed Firecracker’s My Journey to the Amrica series, read them here, here, here, and here.

Oluwatoyin Alawode is a believer - it’s the essence of who she is. She writes insightful, thought-provoking, educative, and entertaining pieces under the moniker Firecracker Toyeen. she runs a blog and she is also a freelance writer at She has a bachelor’s degree in Electrical/Electronics from UNILAG and a master’s degree in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. She has gone through a lot of career transitions from a Transmission Engineer to an Information security consultant, a Software Test Engineer, back to an Information security consultant and she now writes full-time. She is a technology lover and she's working on a project that merges her love for writing and technology. She's an advocate of mental health having recovered from a 2-year depression, and a health and fitness enthusiast on a journey to a 62 kg weight goal. She writes about everything she loves, values, and enjoys including; her faith, story-telling, mental health, health and fitness, her loved ones, technology, fashion, worship music, etc. She can be reached at [email protected]

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