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 talks about navigating relationships as a young Nigerian man in a new environment: Canada. He talks about how he found love, but lost it because of religious differences.
How long have you been in Canada for?
I’ve been in Canada for over four years. I came here in September 2016 for school. I was in UNILAG enjoying myself and living life, then my parents just suddenly told me to prepare to move to Canada for school. It came as a shock to me because they’d promised that they’d never send me abroad for school. They didn’t think I was disciplined enough.
Ever since I was a kid, I always got caught doing the most rebellious stuff, like playing FIFA by 2 a.m. or sneaking out when I wasn’t meant to. One time in JSS 2, my mum checked my Facebook and saw texts where I asked a girl to send pictures of her boobs. They had zero trust for my morals. But after the first strike in my first year in UNILAG, they changed their minds. They made me write some exams, and then I disappeared from UNILAG.
You sound like you’d rather be in UNILAG.
I didn’t want to leave Nigeria. I was born and raised in Lagos, and I was comfortable there. Apart from that, I knew that being the firstborn son and going to study in Canada would bring a lot of pressure to succeed, both internally and externally. People think that once you study abroad, you have to become successful immediately after. I wasn’t ready for that, but I understood how important this was to my parents. I also don’t regret being here.
What was your final year in Nigeria like?
I loved it. After high school, we moved to Abuja from Lagos because my dad got a new job there. I had already applied to go to UNILAG even though my parents wanted me to go to UNIBEN because that’s where family is. But I didn’t agree because Lagos is my home, and I didn’t want anyone my parents knew around me. We made a N75k bet that I wouldn’t get into UNILAG because it’s difficult to get in. My parents didn’t rate me.
Long story short, my name didn’t come out in any of the first four lists that came out, and they were already saying stuff like “I told you so”. Apparently, my result had been withheld. Fast forward to when the final list came out — my name was there and I scored really really high.
My parents ran me my ₦75k, and I moved back to Lagos. Good times. UNILAG was great too. I like to imagine how I would have turned out if I stayed. I miss my friends.
How was settling in Canada?
It was scary. Before then, I went with my family every time I travelled out of the country, but this time I was alone. Because I didn’t have any foreign bank account yet, I had to move with cash. So just imagine this 17-year old, clumsy and careless child, carrying around $1000 from Lagos to Germany to Canada. I’d had no responsibilities before that moment, so I was super scared. Till today, I’m surprised I didn’t lose anything or miss a connecting flight.
I got to Canada and someone from the school picked me from the airport. I remember going to the residence office and getting a physical map with a couple of keys to locate my room. It took me about an hour to find the room. It was so stressful. I also remember getting hungry and there was no food anywhere. I just kept walking until I reached a gas station where I found some cold sandwiches. That’s when I started missing Lagos.
Getting into the culture was difficult, but it could have been worse. I was lucky to make friends early through football and the international orientation. I made friends with a couple of Africans that were here already, which helped.
Wait, what are you studying?
Software engineering. I started with electrical engineering but switched last year.
Why did you switch?
I have always been a software person. As a kid, I loved computers, so when people were getting Gameboys, I was disturbing my parents for a desktop. I would play some games, open Microsoft Word and mess around. Even in JSS 1 after exams, when others were playing, I would be in the library checking out this HTML textbook. That was my first introduction to computer programming.
When it was time to pick a course for university, my parents didn’t let me pick computer science because they said it was limited — they wanted me to do engineering or medicine. Medicine wasn’t possible, so I did my research and found that I liked electrical engineering; there are software parts in it. I put that in my JAMB form and got into UNILAG.
When I came here, I didn’t know what software engineering was, so I continued with electrical engineering. In my second year, I already knew it wasn’t going in my direction, so I switched. This was difficult because it would ruin my parents’ plans: me graduating at a specific time, money, and all of that. The switch would have me spend two extra semesters. I’m curious.
Those friends you made at the beginning, are you still together?
Yep. We’re still together. For many of the guys, it’s like a brotherhood.
Any babes along the way?
I wasn’t a big relationship person. I had my first girlfriend in my final year of high school, and we were together for about a year. I broke up with her when I was coming to Canada because I can’t do overseas relationships.
Is that one of the reasons you didn’t want to go to Canada?
Hahahahahahahahahaha… Don’t kill me please.
Men are what?
Here, I was trying to get used to the culture and grow as a person because I was 17. I wasn’t about to get in a relationship at 17.
I met one girl through my friend, and we hit it off immediately. She would always come to my room, and we both knew there was a connection, but nobody was willing to admit it so we remained friends. I thought about taking the first step, but I was either too proud or too shy.
We eventually became the best of friends after everything.
Yes, exactly. Another one, me and my homies finished playing ball, and one of my female friends called me and said she was having a get together and we went. We didn’t even go take a shower because we didn’t think we would stay for long. I’d met all her friends, and I didn’t think they were attractive, so I just thought we’d drop by to say hello and leave.
Omo. I walked in first and the first thing I saw was this beautiful babe. Everytime I remember what I felt when I first saw her, my heart does a little jump. I literally could not take my eyes off her. I remember looking at my guy, and we had a full conversation without saying any words. We were interested in this chick. I turned up my asshole/cool guy personality, and she was obviously feeling me. Even my guy knew she was feeling me. In fact, I remember that many of the games we played became characterised by people trying to pair us up because they saw the chemistry. I knew that I’d hit the jackpot with her.
Then the worst thing happened. Remember how I said I’d met some of my friends’ other friends before? Well, one of them was at the party. Let’s call her Sade. We’d met before, and Sade had concluded that I was an asshole.
Let me tell you the story: You know how things could have different meanings in different cultures? Well, after the game night before this one, I was about to leave and I walked up to Sade and said, “What was your name again?” and then everyone started screaming. I was so confused. I was genuinely trying to know her name, but then everyone just thought I was doing that thing where you intentionally ask someone for their name because you didn’t think it was important enough to remember in the first place, and she hated it.
Back to the party. So as things go in a party filled with young and horny teenagers, our Truth or Dare turned sexual. So this babe I was eyeing asked me, “Have you ever given head?” and then out of nowhere, Sade bursts out laughing.
“Him? Given head? He hasn’t even kissed a girl before.”
And then the whole place turned upside down. People were laughing uncontrollably, and I couldn’t start shouting and saying I’d done all the bad stuff in the world because in truth, I was a virgin. So I just sat there and chopped my L. From that moment, this babe started looking at me differently. That night, I couldn’t sleep. The laughter kept replaying in my head. I decided I would never be in that situation again. In the next twelve months, my body count went from zero to an average of one woman a month. I was going through women just to prove a point. That was 2017, my year of being a harlot. I didn’t even like most of the chicks, I was just building stats.
How did that make you feel?
Honestly, not terrible. It was it’s own cruise. In January 2018, I was ready to settle down, have a babe and do cute stuff. I met a babe on Tinder. You know how people say you can sense a vibe? This one was real.
The conversations were different and even though we were in different cities, you could sense that this was going somewhere.
So did it go anywhere?
Yeah. Wizkid was coming to Vancouver, which was her city, so I decided to take her. It was great. The energy was even better in person. We went back to my guy’s place, did some Netflix and chill, and then I went back to my city.
In the summer of 2018, my friends and I planned a trip and we got an Airbnb for about six of us in Vancouver again. She came, we spent the night together, and the next morning, she asked me to be her boyfriend. I said yes because it just seemed right. She’s Pakistani, but she grew up in Canada, and she’s a muslim but the religious difference didn’t phase me.
So is it happily ever after?
Six months into the relationship, the subject of marriage came up, and we brought up the fact that our families wouldn’t let it happen. It was such a stressful conversation. We almost broke up that night, but we just concluded to cross the bridge when we got there.
It came up in August again this year and this time, it was worse for me because I was in between ending a semester and getting my internship. I was mentally stressed, so I decided to spend that time in Vancouver with her. One day, she brought it up. She talked about how we’d not solved the issue of our parents not agreeing and the only solution was for either of us to convert.
I was tired, so I just called it quits.
It was a very emotional night, and we promised not to be toxic exes. It’s weird because I ended things, and in my mind I was stepping up for both of us.
Was it the right decision?
I can’t say. It’s been really hard for me since though. I cried a lot, I lost weight, I didn’t sleep for weeks. I tried to stand up to my parents, but they weren’t having any of it. It was a horrible four months for me. I would be on the bus to my internship, and I’d just start crying. I hate that religion made me break up with the woman I loved.
Football was the only thing I could turn to, but about two weeks after we broke up, I broke my arm while playing football. I know she would have come from her city to stay with me while I went through my healing process, but I was just alone in my apartment, struggling to do everything, crying and feeling terrible.
I tried to reach out to her to get back, but it felt like she’d moved on. So I just stopped trying and moved on. That’s where my healing process started.
2020 was really that year.
Damn. I’m sending hugs.
It’s crazy. Nobody tells you how lonely it is being abroad on your own. I haven’t seen my family since 2017, and I depended on my friend for companionship, but he moved to the UK in 2018, so I transferred dependency to her. She was the only person I spoke to everyday and I lost her.
I really want to go back to Nigeria and be with my family. Even if it’s just for a bit. I want to feel some genuine love and warmth again.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.