We were airborne from Frankfurt to Seoul for about 12 hours, but it felt like we were flying for days. I kept sleeping and waking up to darkness and brightness out of my window. I had lost all track of time. By the time we landed in Seoul, we found ourselves in a whole new world; somewhere completely different from Port-Harcourt, where I grew up in.
Image courtesy of Pexels
The primary language for South Koreans is Korean. And we had no idea of the language. We had to board another flight to Ulsan, which was the city we were relocating to. On getting there, we were greeted by our interpreter, Kelly and the company’s guide who was attached to us. They showed us to our apartment, which was really nice; my brother and I had separate rooms, and the apartment building was overlooking the beach.
I quickly fell in love with this laid-back country and city; the people were so lovely. My mother and I had fun in Korea; my dad was away working while my brother was off in boarding school. We spent most of our days shopping when I wasn’t applying to colleges, and she wasn’t carried away with other things. We went to the open market a lot, to buy food items and other things we needed around the house. The women in the market would often walk behind us in fascination and touch our hair. It was as if they hadn’t seen black people before. We also spent our days watching many television shows together; Friends, The Bachelor, America's Next Top Model, American Idol and so on. We tried local restaurants around town, we were just busy soaking up all Ulsan had to offer us, before we started meeting other Nigerian families.
The company also made sure we had an amazing time by organizing fun activities for us to do, around the cities surrounding Ulsan. I remember one time when I went ATV riding with my Korean friend (for the life of me, I can’t spell her name), and fell off the bike! That day I thought I was going to die. She was going so fast that she hit a bump in the road, and I flew off the bike and landed on the floor. People rushed to my rescue and gave me water to drink. As soon as I came to myself, I went home.
I quietly pulled my mom aside and told her what happened—“what? What if you had died! She exclaimed to me. No one knew where you went to, don’t you ever try that again.” Yes, mommy. I sheepishly said back to her. I still have the scar I obtained from that accident, 14 years after the fact. This was not the first time, I rode a bike, and she got mad at me. Back in Nigeria, she hated bikes and warned us not to use them for anything. I still snuck around and used okadas to get home whenever I went out on my own with public transportation.
The house we lived in was at the end of the street and taxi’s where not allowed to drive into the area. They usually dropped people off at the beginning of the road, and then you will have to walk down to wherever you were going. On the days I didn’t feel like walking, because of area boys who wouldn’t let you rest, I used a bike to go home. Usually, I told them to drop me off at my mother’s salon, which was just a few blocks away from home, and then walk the remaining distance, so my parents wouldn’t hear the sound of the bike at the gate.
One day I dropped off at the salon, and my mom was right there! She just laughed the whole situation off. But the day my brother and I used a bike home from school, and the exhaust pipe of the bike burnt my brother, she let us have it! But not without apologizing, later on, stating that she was scared of losing us since we were the only children she had. She never wanted anything to happen to us. And the feeling was completely mutual.
The Jewel that was my Mother
Growing up, I did not understand half of the things my parents did, and sometimes wished they weren’t my parents, because other families allowed their kids to do a bunch of fun things that we were not privileged to enjoy at the time. Such as traveling, spending holidays at people’s homes and so on. But they made sure that we had everything we needed.
When it came to our education, feeding, clothing, healthcare, and the likes, we had access to the best. My mom had a 9-5 job, and also ran two successful salons, simultaneously. She was the very definition of a hard worker. She also took on catering jobs from time to time, now looking back on her life; I now understand the importance of having multiple streams of income. She loved us so much and always gave us what we wanted; within the boundaries of the life, herself and my dad had created for us.
Of course, you know your parents love and care for you, but the day I knew for a fact how much they cared, was when I was in the maid’s room, playing with her makeup, and my brother was trying to get the attention of the maid. So he started shouting—“Nkechi come oh, Nkechi come oh!” My parents were asleep in the room, and when they heard him shout, they thought something had gone terribly wrong! So they ran out of their bedroom, half-dressed, to come to his rescue, and we looked at them like—what is going on? My brother and I didn’t realize his voice was loud enough to wake our parents up. They had this sigh of relief look on their faces and went back to their room. It was so hilarious.
My mother was a very open person; I get a lot of my personality from her. She was good to everyone who came across her, and never discriminated against people. Some of her closest friends were people you wouldn’t imagine her being friends with. And you know when you are that nice and welcoming, you attract both well-meaning people, and those who don’t actually care about you, but just want what you have. I watched friends hurt her, time and time and again, that even when we were about to move to Korea, I advised her to stop telling everyone because you never know who wishes you well or dead.
The Third Time Around
I was out one day with my friend and came home around evening, when I walked into the living room, with visitors, and my mom weeping. I immediately ran into my brother’s room asking what happened—“it is one of her brothers, isn’t it? I asked out of fear. “I know someone is dead, just tell me who!” Then my brother revealed to me that another of my mother’s brothers was shot and killed, right in his home.
This was in 2006, about 14 months after the death of her other brother and six years after the death of her sister. After the first brother died in 2004, two of his older kids remained with us, while the two younger ones went to live with my mother’s sisters. Now when we were about to move to Korea, one of my uncle’s kids who stayed with us moved to my cousin’s house, which was in Port-Harcourt, and the girl moved all the way to Jos to stay with my uncle who was shot and killed less than two years after losing her father. The pain I felt for her was unimaginable.
I was also sad for my mother; I could not console her. She wanted to be home with her other siblings grieving the loss of their brother.
But Nigeria was so far away from South Korea, and she could not make the trip immediately. We pulled together as a family and tried to move forward. Not too long after that incident, it was time for me to head to college.
I had gotten admission into the University of Louisiana (Lafayette) to study Chemical Engineering. “Finally some good news,” my father blurted out, when my letter was delivered. His dream was for one of us to become an engineer just as he was. I was excited about what the new journey ahead of me could bring, but I did not want to leave my family. My mother and I had grown so close during my stay in South Korea. She was my partner in crime; we traded in secrets, and we often hid the things we bought from the stores, so my father wouldn’t give us grief. Now I was going to be separated from my best friend, and it hurt so much, little did I know I just had three more years with her.
The Big Move
Finally, my dream of traveling to America came to pass. I was so full of excitement; my mother was very happy for me. She had schooled in the U.S. and was also thrilled to visit the country many years after she had moved back to Nigeria.
I anticipated what the country was going to be like. Would it be like what we saw in the movies? Would I be mistaken for an African American? Would I enjoy their culture? And most importantly would I survive this chemical engineering course?! My mom and brother accompanied me on this trip before I left my father handed me a King James Bible, in it were inscribed—“To our daughter, may the good Lord see you through this new phase of your life.” That brought me to tears because my father wasn’t one that was vocal about his faith.
So we journeyed through Japan and landed in California a couple of hours later. California, as I remember it in August of 2006, was beautiful! The trees, the scenery, the half-naked people; it was nothing short of what I had seen, watching them on television all those years, prior to me finally pitching my tent in God’s own country.
I spent a few days in Chino, California, with my mom, brother, and other family members we were visiting, before I left for Lafayette, Louisiana. It was tough having to say good-bye to my mother and brother; I still had that fear on the inside of me. What if I was never going to see them again? I quickly snapped out of it, hugged them while withholding tears within me, and ran to catch my plane. Before I left Korea, I always used to visit my school’s website, especially their international student's page, just to get acquainted with the way things were done there.
There was this particular student who caught my eyes. She appeared in almost every picture that was posted on the website, and her name was Nigerian. So I was excited because I wasn’t going to be the only African in Lafayette. On getting to the airport, I called the school informing them of my arrival, and guess who picked me up? Lola! The girl I had seen on my school’s webpage. She was very pleasant to me, she told me about Lafayette, and how much of a chill town it was, and how friendly people were.
She then took me to a Nigerian student’s apartment, where I spent the night. The next day I was introduced to more Nigerians. I already loved this new city; I was finally around people my own age.
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About The Author: Evi Idoghor is a Christian, writer, and content creator on Letstalknationblog.com. She is a chemical engineering graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Consumed by her love for writing and desire to effect change, she launched her online platform––Let’s Talk Nation––to tap into her creativity and start meaningful conversations that would make a difference around the world.
Most of her writing has been influenced by her time spent in America, where she lived for about 11 years. Also, she lived in Nigeria and South Korea and currently loves traveling the world while learning about other fascinating cultures. You can find her on all social media platforms with @eviidoghor.