The New Year carried on. Didn’t let that “small letter l” (shouts to Baba!) get me down of course. I had just moved into an apartment in Spanish Harlem–my independence was back! It was lit! I couldn’t wait to see all that the year held for me.
I found the apartment quite last-minute in a Facebook group. It was a four-bedroom, two-bathroom. Quite spacious (for New York, at least), and literally ONE block away from the subway so it was ridiculously convenient location-wise. Since it was Spanish Harlem, groceries were cheaper. I had two grocery stores 10 steps away from my house, and they both sold plátano which was a huge plus for me because plantain is quite hard to find in most parts of the city (Side note: Am I the only one that just never says “dodo”? I can’t do it. Same way I call eba “garri” 90% of the time–I guess it’s the igbo in me 😂)
Since I found the apartment on Facebook, my three roommates were total strangers. I was living with a caucasian French guy, black French girl (MOUNINA MY FAVEST SIS, LOVE YOU BEBI!), and a caucasian American guy (he was quite cute, but I’d later find out this one was a potential rapist, thankfully not from personal experience! But that’s tea for another day 🐸). Obviously I didn’t tell my parents there were two guys living in the apartment, but I lowkey never outrightly lied. (Parents: How are your roommates? Me: They’re fine! “They” is a gender neutral pronoun. Not my fault they automatically assumed that all the members of the ‘they’ were female 😂)
Mounina and I instantly got along. Within a week, I knew I’d made a friend for life, and I kid you not, this is truly the story of my life. About to go off on a tangent but… a “small circle” is nothing but a myth to me. At times, I obsess over it and wonder if I’m being too naive or too trusting with way too many people–but other times, I like to think about it as a blessing. I’ve been blessed with so many good people in my life whom I’m eternally ready to throw hands for–call me at 3am? No wahala, I’m ready. Let’s pop off! 😂
Anyway, my internship was supposed to start very soon but I was yet to receive my OPT work authorization. (The international student struggle is actually so real) I was particularly frustrated because I had done everything right. The previous semester, I’d gotten all my documents ready for the first day I was legally allowed to apply for the authorization. I went to my school’s international student office with my file of documents in hand, but the Director told me they were not collecting any documents until after the OPT workshop. When she told me this, I literally wanted to knock her head because I had a feeling this thing would come to bite me in the future. But since I wasn’t trying to get deported, I jejely went my way, came back two weeks later and submitted my docs literally the second after the workshop was over. Yet, I still found myself in the position I tried not to be in. My authorization still hadn’t come in and I was scheduled to start work in a couple of days. I was irritated but not too worried because I knew my firm would understand that the situation was out of my control.
So the day of my internship orientation came by, and I went in for two reasons: (1) To demolish the poppin’ free breakfast (2) To tell the recruiters about my situation. My recruiter tried calling USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services) to check the status of my application, but she didn’t get any new information. I’d also contacted my International Student Services Director, but she couldn’t help me either. I was completely at the mercy of the Department of Homeland Security. As if the devil hadn’t poured enough sand in my garri, my recruiter informed me that they would have to rescind my job offer if my authorization didn’t come in 14 days.
Since I didn’t have the authorization, I wasn’t legally supposed to be at the orientation so they gently asked me to leave. And that was when the tears came. I held them back till I was out of sight but once I went underground, I let them quietly flow. It didn’t help that I was (/am) such a worrier. What if they actually take back this offer? It’s too late to recruit. If they take back this offer, does that eliminate my chances of a full-time offer? I’m already locked into a 5 month lease – How am I going to pay this Manhattan rent? What am I going to be doing between now and May (commencement)? Do I have to edit all my grad school applications to reflect this new development? Also, what the hell do I look like right now on this train – Chioma, surely you know better than to cry with make-up on??
This was a very trying period for me. I spent my days checking my authorization status every 30 minutes, calling USCIS, vigorously cleaning the whole apartment, praying novenas, worrying and crying of course (one of my apparent favorite pastimes 😂) I was angry at myself for stressing myself out. I was angry at the Director lady, the firm, U.S. Immigration, Obama, everybody and they mama! I was angry at God too ngl, but thankful to Him at the same time because He and my friends & family were the rocks that helped allay my fears during this period.
Because my life is so dramatic, I finally received the authorization in the mail literally the Friday before the Monday that marked the END of my 14 day grace period. It was too movie-esque to not be God. Call me extra but I instantly got on my knees, thanking God with tears of relief. He had come through again! Ya girl wasn’t going to be sleeping on the streets. She had been set free from the shackles of unemployment. The new Caucasian work clothes she bought to stunt on ’em weren’t going to waste! The amazing year I’d planned for myself was back on track… Or so I thought.