ONE of the key mentally traumatising issues affecting the migrant community is what happens when they start to earn the British pound, or in the past, the punt Éireannach, the former Irish currency and now the Euro. Millions of people have been travelling to Europe from other corners of the world to study, work, run away from man-made disasters and those who can afford it come for holidays.
Ireland and Britain are the examples I will use here and, as usual, Belfast is my case study. We have travelled and finally decided, this is our home.
The thing you should know is this: home has not left you. You are bombarded by family to send money that you cannot even afford to send them. You are paying taxes, the road traffic warden on the streets of Belfast or Dublin wants his cut for your parking on yellow lines misdemeanour. That money must be paid, he or she writes you a bold note, yet you only just passed your time limit to park.
Skilled labor is valid export. Kenyan diaspora big source of revenue. India exports lots of skills abroad— TwitaMCA (@TwitaMCAAz) January 24, 2021
You walk into the local shop with a frowning face, even the chance of winning the lottery, another taxation, does not convince you to play today. If you went ahead and gambled with your life, you could win the prescribed official jackpot but, no, the family and friends back home want your hard-earned sweat because it is their right.
For many reasons, it is their traditional right. You are family and in our societies the blood of the extended family is always thicker than water. You haven’t met them for three or four decades but they can still claim that they remember watching you soiling your nappies. Yes, they do, so with a heavy heart, you are so kind so you click the mouse and bingo, you are what they call diaspora remissions person.
One young online African philosopher I know, Mr Phrankleen, has zero tolerance for conformists, he does not like people who say yes to the most foolish things. He says conformists can go get stuffed.
“Assuming the position of a God can be a very disturbing thing among immigrants,” he says. “You should have a strong backbone; your spinal cord is made out of jelly if you are a yes man. Your mother’s breast milk is still feeding you at the age of 40! She works hard like crazy, sending you money back home. Or you are the victim here. The extended family is telling you that you must send X amount of money to subsidise their wealth and poverty back home. This must stop. We people in the diaspora should now learn to say no to emotional financial family extortion.”
He means this, anyone accepting to be conned by relatives in the form of manifest fears is himself and herself the bigger problem. Just like the abundance of religion and its hollow promises, he says that the average migrant worker should not be penalised by family because, once upon a time, the family, parents, brothers, sisters, extended lineage would have contributed financially to their relocation in another part of the world. Actually, I agree with him up to a certain point. Help, but do not help as if you are God.
You are not God. Sending home a lot of money monthly is defeatist to your personal savings, you are not living or housed there, you are paying rent or have a mortgage here, how can you afford financially supporting people back home? Of course, it is reasonable to give funding to relatives but a monthly affair or limitless is problematic, it will just ruin you mentally like I have seen what it has done to some of my fellow African friends here. Some of the people these monies that we send don’t even do what they are supposed to do.
The Irish have similar stories to tell from the years of mass migration to other countries and the stories they got from their families here: we want this, we want that. It is not a scheme but it can be a project for those you have left behind to take advantage of you. It can also be a genuine call for help until you start asking yourself, how much have I saved myself? If we are not careful about emotional financial entrapment, we are going to die in poverty and no-one should die of abject poverty not just at home but also in a foreign country. No one has the right to make others suffer in the name of remissions of money to family.
Elly Omondi Odhiambo is a Kenyan writer based in Belfast.