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Mathew Agono Tells Us All About His Modelling Journey and His Work & Life in Dubai

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Editor’s note: As the years go by, migrating to other countries has become increasingly popular, particularly for Nigerians (and Africans generally). Japa, we call it. For the next few weeks, Mayowa Adegoke, in partnership with BellaNaija Features, will explore what it means to live in Dubai as an African. We’ll invite Africans to about how they live, work, and deal with social changes in another continent. 

This partnership aims to spotlight successful African immigrants in Dubai, bringing you stories of their everyday lives.

This week, we are having a conversation with Monday Agono Matthew, a Nigerian supermodel who lives in Dubai but tours many countries. Monday graduated from Caritas University, Enugu State with a BSc in computer science. He shares what it means to live in Dubai, his professional journey and advice to Africans willing to move to Dubai. Enjoy!

Hello Monday, how do you do?

Hello. I am doing great. Thank you.

Awesome! So, how has living in Dubai been so far as an African?

Living in Dubai has been one of the most amazing things that I will forever appreciate. It’s a place that allowed me to travel easily for work around the world. It has also provided me with an environment where I have been able to achieve my dreams, including working in production, directing, modelling, freelancing in I.T., and designing my clothing brand.

Tell us about your background and your professional journey

I started modelling at the age of 18 and became an international name after signing with agencies worldwide, including in Nigeria, Cape Town, Turkey, London, and the UAE. One of my proudest accomplishments was winning Mr. Nigeria International 2015. Initially, I was hesitant to participate, but a friend encouraged me to give it a try. At that time, I had just finished university, and winning Mr. Nigeria International really helped shape who I am today. After my win, I was endorsed as a Youth Ambassador by my Governor and organised charity projects to help less privileged children around Nigeria.

When I began my modelling career, I discovered my passion for producing and directing as well as the entire process of setting up lights, and cameras, and preparing everyone on set. Winning Mr. Nigeria International greatly benefitted me. I learned that pageants are not solely about physical appearance; they helped me gain a strong sense of self-confidence, which has had a significant impact on my career. I began to recognise and appreciate my talents and understand that there are no limitations to what we can achieve. Additionally, it taught me to be more caring, humble, curious, and empathetic. All of these experiences have contributed to my personal and professional growth, enabling me to attract the right clients and people who have supported my vision in various ways.

That’s so cool. How does it feel to leave your country and live in Dubai?

Before COVID, I used to travel around the world for shows, but I had never been to Dubai. When COVID hit, I was in Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week and got stuck there after the show. I couldn’t go back to Cape Town or travel to London. At that time, my agent suggested I go to Dubai as it was one of the few places open. From the day I arrived and signed there, the industry embraced me with love and I never left. Even though my agent tried to get me out, I was too busy to leave, so I ended up making Dubai my home.

Right now, I’m in China and I’ve decided to accept bookings in other countries. Recently, I was shooting in the Maldives for 11 days, and I’m headed to Bali after China. I’m looking forward to returning to Dubai.

What were the initial challenges you faced as an African in Dubai?

One of the major challenges I faced in my early stages in the industry was rejection. Many agencies rejected me.s I wasn’t selected for shows and was also treated as an option. As a model, you should be open to accepting rejection because not all clients will work with you; everyone will not like you, and that shouldn’t make you think that you’re not good enough. We all have that client we are perfect for.  There is a lot of criticism in the industry but as a model with focus and dedication, you can overcome those challenges.

There are a lot of abusers in the industry. While it looks all glamorous out there, it’s sometimes dark behind the scenes. When a model is just starting, a lot of sexual predators try to offer stardom or put you on shows and jobs if you do what they ask. When I was starting, I had clients and directors in Lagos who didn’t book or put me on shows because I refused to be used for their sexual desires, lost a lot of jobs and clients but I kept going until the breakthrough came for me to sign an international contract. And for me, if I didn’t do a job, it’s not my loss it’s the client’s loss. Another good one will come. That’s how I see it.

Can you share your experience regarding the job market in Dubai for Africans? 

The job market in Dubai is becoming more diverse. From my experience, I have noticed that Africans are being featured in various projects in my field. I did encounter a lot of obstacles in my career because right from university, I started working at Dangote, Alfred Riwani Ikoyi, and then Mr. Nigeria International right after university. Later, I began travelling, and I am thankful for the smooth journey, always appreciating God. However, despite the progress, I find it normal to encounter situations where some brands in my industry prefer not to use Africans for their shoots due to their targeted market. Although I disagree with this practice, I understand that it’s their brand.

It is safe to say you have settled in alright and/or become successful in Dubai. What would you consider as special ingredients to your success story? What would you consider as special ingredients to your success story?

One thing that sets me apart is my personality, my ability to pose, my charming look, my body, and my energy on set. Being humble and respectful are qualities and instruments that have contributed to my success. I am very passionate about designs and creation of the pieces. I ensure that everything is created and executed perfectly. I’m always seeking to learn, as clients appreciate a talent that’s easy to work with.

Comparing lifestyles in Nigeria and Dubai, what changes did you have to make to settle in? 

When I got to UAE, I knew I was in a different space and I didn’t have any family here. It’s a Muslim country and there are a lot of things that I can do in Nigeria that are not allowed here. But since I was travelling before UAE, it was easier for me to adapt and understand other cultures. 

What are the things Africans looking to relocate to your country keep in mind?

There are many things you may hear about Africans in the UAE, so I encourage people who are coming here to respect the rules. By doing so, everything will be much easier – from finding employment to gaining the trust of others. It’s disheartening when I tell people I’m Nigerian and they don’t believe me. It’s sad to know that people hold negative stereotypes about Nigerians.

What are the little actions Africans in Dubai can adopt to help them thrive?

To thrive as an African here, you have to respect the rules. Be respectful to your fellow humans. Humility is key, and be ready to learn from other people and cultures. 

Things to keep in mind when coming to Dubai

You need to come with money to sustain yourself because it’s not cheap. Also, you need to have a plan before coming: what you want to do, where you want to stay, and the people you should meet. Lastly, be ready to network with your fellow Africans.

 

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Many thanks to Mathew Agono for having this conversation with us. Catch up with the next episode on Wednesday. Do you want to be featured on BellaNaija or share your essays with us? Shoot us an email: [email protected]

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