Saturday, May 9, 2015

USA - Land of Dreams?

All my nine years in the United States were hard but perhaps the first two were the hardest. Living in America is an experience that requires one of those books in the series for idiots: 'How to live in USA - for Idiots.'
There were many challenges. You could not do much without a social security number. You needed one to rent a home, open a bank account, get a job, a phone line, or any utility at all.
Once you got the number you were now in the clear sight of the Internal Revenue Service(IRS) and you could be sure that they would haunt you for tax payments until the day you died, then they will come for your estate after you die. Once the banks knew you had a social security number and an address they start throwing credit cards at you before you were educated about interest rates. If you resist the credit card offers you will not have a credit history and without a credit history you couldn't rent a good house, get a mortgage or buy a car. Yet you needed a home in order to get a phone line before the Pay-as-you-go phones were available. The phone company needed to see your utility bills as evidence that you were staying at the address even if the lease was in your names.
Owning a car was not a luxury. You needed one to get to work in order to get a paycheck which you used to pay for rent, utilities, phone bills, credit cards, day care for the kids, insurance, gas, and of course the car loan. If you were lucky you might have balance to buy clothes and groceries. In the first years the idea of a savings account was a dream.
My pet peeve though was how the education system was set up to punish single parents. Since the minimum wage ensured that only the rich can afford a maid, I had to adapt to bringing up my own kids alone an idea that is quite foreign in Africa where a maid and a host of relatives are always on hand to provide child care. Preschool, Elementary school and Middle school all started and ended at different hours. This made pick up and drop off of kids at different school levels a tricky business so Americans invented day care. A place to keep your kids before and after school. You couldn't avoid it anyway because your boss probably expected you to report to work before any school opened and to remain there after school closed. So you had to pay a pretty penny for Before Care and After Care. At the end of the work day, single parents rush to After Care to pick up kids and avoid the penalty for being a few minutes late. At one place they charged $10 for every 5 minutes you were late. Then once you got the kids home it was time to help with homework, bathe them, feed them and tuck them in before leaving them in the care of a friend who wasn't working so you could report to your second job!

At 50 when I drive by US Consulates in Africa and see long lines, filled with hopeful people trying to emigrate to America, I feel like stopping and telling them my experience.

— feeling relieved.

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