The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life took a holiday trip to Dubai in 2019 and decided to move there to start her life in 2020. She was 19 years old. She talks about the decision to move and settling down in a new country during COVID.
First things first, when did you decide to move to the UAE?
I came to Dubai on holiday in April 2019. I was 18. When I returned to Nigeria, I thought, “I can leave Nigeria and move to Dubai. I like it there.” So I got on my laptop and searched for jobs in Dubai. When I eventually found one, the process started well, but it didn’t end well so I let it go.
You were going to move to a different country at 18?
Yes. My mum absolutely loved the idea. She’s not the typical Nigerian mother. I was born in Nigeria, but we moved to the UK for a short while. When we got back to Nigeria, I was in primary 5. In JSS 2, we realised my school was terrible and decided to switch schools. My mum thought, “Why don’t we homeschool you?” and that’s what happened. I was homeschooled by my mum until I took my GCE as an external student. By that time, I was 15.
A few months later, I realised I was interested in photography. My aunt got me a camera, and we decided I wasn’t going to university.
Wow. What did you do after secondary school?
I went fully into photography for the next three years. After some time, I needed a change because I wasn’t getting clients anymore. I also knew I wanted to leave Nigeria. I thought about going to the US but it’s hard to just move to the US. Dubai was a better choice.
When did you finally leave Nigeria?
I didn’t stop searching for jobs, and in 2020, I finally found one. I packed my bags, said goodbye and left Nigeria with the little money I had saved. Because I was sure I was going to get the job and my employer would sponsor my work visa, I got a one-month visit visa instead of a three-month visa. Bad idea. By the time I had the interview, the lady who was going to hire me started changing her words and talking about how she couldn’t hire me because they were going through some stuff and she couldn’t sponsor my visa. It was super scary because I was running out of time.
What happened next?
One of the other companies I reached out to invited me for an interview. They were a wedding photography company, and they asked me to edit a picture. On a normal day, it would have taken me about an hour to edit that picture, but at that interview, it took me six hours. When I left, I knew I wasn’t going to get the job. I cried on the bus home. It was then I started getting scared about my visa status. I was also getting really broke. I thought I would already be earning at that point. I remember texting my mum and she told me everything was going to be okay.
So what did you do?
I’d been stalking a company for months, so I shot my shot via an email. In my experience, companies in Dubai don’t reply to emails. For some reason though, these ones replied and invited me for an interview that same day. It was an art company, and they liked me because they thought I was cool. The fact that I dropped out of secondary school and didn’t have a university degree really attracted them to me.
How has it been settling in Dubai?
I’ve had five jobs since I moved here. Somehow, I’m scared it’s always going to be like this because I need a job to maintain my visa status. COVID doesn’t help matters. But I’m here, and I’m pushing myself. I usually make friends in social gatherings, but because of COVID, I haven’t been able to socialise.
The person that made it easiest for me to settle was my man. I met him during the period where it was toughest for me, and he made things easier. He also sent me food a lot.
My parents don’t know about him, but my sister does. I’m a Christian and he’s a Muslim; I’m not ready to have that conversation.
What’s the best thing about living in Dubai?
The security. It still baffles me that I can leave my phone and wallet on a table in a restaurant or anywhere, come back and it’s still there.
Does anything scare you?
The scariest thing for me is the instability I feel. The fact that your resident permit is tied to your work is a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. You can get a job and fit into the system, but it also means that if you lose your job, you’re starting from square one.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.