Exam week arrives in early June. The year
moves on at speed. Stark blue skies, that sense of openness when Melbourne’s
omnipresent winter clouds are blown clear, when there’s a break from the cold streaming
up from the Southern Ocean. The corridors of the school are full of stressed
Year 11s and 12s. The younger kids have gone home early. Marjani, the
stick-thin traditionalist, is weaving past Dalmar and another Somali boy with a
soccer ball, working out her nerves.
Tim is waxing lyrical about the quality of his
dad’s beehive, claiming it can cure hay fever because of the pollen residue. On
that basis, he manages to sell a kilo to Bree. He looks at me. “You’ve got
something to answer for Doug,” he says. Oh? “Ever since you said that Ari and I
are becoming the same person, we’ve been getting sick together.” Could it be due
to the fact you share an entire box of Coco Pops together every Friday, I ask,
grinning. He pauses. “Hmm. Maybe. Still – we’ve decided to become two people
Ari appears almost as if summoned. “Really? I
thought we were still merged,” he says. “I’ve turned Tim vegetarian for the
week.” Ari has had an awakening. He watched a doco online and saw cows being
dragged to the killing zones, saw throat-slitting, leg kicking, blood-spurting
and decided there and then he literally could not stomach it. “My dad hates it.
Vegetarianism is not the islander way. But my mum and sisters have already gone
vego. And now me.”
Tim smiles. “If we’re going to merge, you have
to come to church.” Ari raises an eyebrow. “Uh. No. I’m not going to church.”
It seems that my words have real power, I say,
grinning. Maybe I can grant wishes. What do you want, Tim? He draws in breath
sharply. “To get into a good uni course.” And you, Bree? She’s passing by but stops
short. “Um. An ATAR of 99.95?” Tim jokes about the time he and Bree were
passing notes during class and everyone thought they were love letters. “We
should have trolled them,” Bree laughs. “It’s not too late. Let’s pretend.”
Bree and Tim take up residence on a couch
outside the common room while they work out their pre-music exam nerves. They
talk about the art of listening under exam pressure, about study techniques,
about practice exams and managing stress and whether cramming works. It’s a
very familiar conversation – I remember it from my own school days. Here I am, fishing for difference, a tourist
Bree tells us she’s thinking of closing down
her girls group. But why, Tim asks. She looks awkward. There’s been criticism,
she says, finally. Some are asking – what’s the point of it? Why do girls need
their own group? “I mean I’m a feminist, but we just watch movies, listen to
speakers and make collages,” she says. Tim raises an eyebrow. Nah, he says. Keep
it going. Don’t listen to the haters. Then he laughs. “I mean it’s not like
there are any boy’s clubs in society,” he says, sardonic. “Oh, except AFL. And
rugby. Oh and most of business. And the churches. And politics. Oh.”
The time for their music exam arrives, and I
push off. Outside, Amelia, an Ethiopian Christian, is sitting at a bench
despite the windchill. She pulls her black and white scarf over her face like a
keffiyah against the cold. Heavy brows, warm smile, two Princess Leia-style
hair buns. Her friends are nowhere to be seen. She often seems bored. It’s as
if she’s not sure she wants to be here. I often see her watching the hijinks of
the second-gen kids with a raised brow. But she always seems just to be
watching. “I’m an observer,” she admits. “I like to watch the dramas – there
are always fights. But I don’t want to get involved.”
Amelia’s friends are already planning their
lives – married in five years time at the age of 23 in a very specific dress,
followed by a pigeon pair of perfect kids. “Me, I’m gonna grow old with
puppies,” she says. What, like a cat lady? She nods, chin sinking into her
bomber jacket. The prospect doesn’t seem to depress her. In fact, solitude is
what she craves. “Ask my friends – they’ll say Amelia have a boyfriend? Never.”
The eternal farce is playing out nearby – two
flirting Anglo teens, trapped forever in banter, unable to make the first move.
Amelia watches with distanced amusement. It is, she allows, endlessly
entertaining. All the more so, because it’s so foreign. “I really would prefer a
dog to a boyfriend,” she says. “I think I’m one of those asexuals – I googled
it, and I was like, oh, that’s me. I’m just not interested in that part of life.
My sister isn’t either. So she’ll look after me.”
Amelia feels as if she is just passing through.
She left her small town in Ethiopia where she lived with her sister and
grandmother and came to Australia for a better education. But this city is
unfamiliar. She doesn’t know many people. And Melbourne is either too cold or
too hot. She pines for home – counting down the months until she can go for a
visit that may linger, become her real life resumed. Most of her family and
friends are at home. Australia is a good place to be, but it’s not home.
It’s more than just the weather, right? Amelia
nods. “I didn’t want to leave in the first place,” she says. Her grandmother,
though, was convinced that a Western education would give her granddaughter a
better life, a solid career. And when the news broke that that her son was to
marry an Ethiopian-Australian woman, Amelia’s grandmother had the chance to
boost the fortunes of her beloved granddaughters, who she’d raised after their
parents passed away young. It was with deep reluctance that Amelia was
airlifted from her place of comfort, the town where she knew everyone, where
she’d watch hiphop videos on MTV in the house where her grandmother loved her. Back
then, the West seemed exotic and rich. The reality was more prosaic.
“My uncle said – you guys have to come with
me,” Amelia says. “We came, we lived with them for a year, and then we moved
out, just me and my sister.” Moved out? “We got kicked out, I’ll be honest. She
didn’t want us there, we’re not her kids. I can understand, especially after
It’s no wonder Amelia looks at relationships
as a bad joke. Look at what happened to her uncle. An expensive wedding in
Ethiopia, his ceremonial trip to the new country, the beginning of wedded bliss
and the gold-paved streets of Melbourne. But the relationship that worked well
long distance foundered within a year in the flesh, torn apart by the new
pressures of money, loneliness, homesickness. They fought daily, snarling,
ripping at each other. The ending was a relief. But it left Amelia and her
older sister in a tight spot. “Our ex aunt said get out and we were kinda
homeless for a bit,” she says. A week in a motel here, a week in a homeless
shelter there, all the while still going to school. That was Amelia’s lowest
point. “I felt hopeless, like I couldn’t keep going with school. But then
things got better. The government found us a public housing flat. And you learn
to appreciate what you have. It was a hell of an experience.” She cocks her
head. “Mind you, I’d cry over a movie but I wouldn’t cry over this. At least I
had my sister. My friend was all by herself.” The sour-faced girl who ran afoul
of Helena had a near-identical experience – booted out by her step-aunty after
a divorce, forced to live on Amelia’s couch. The stuff these kids endure. I
would have crumbled.
Every week, Amelia and her sister call their
grandmother and feed her gentle lies about how well everything is going.
They’ve even hushed up the divorce. Because they know the sacrifice she made
sending them here, the debt she went into. They know – oh, how they know – the vastness
of the hope she had for their new lives. “She’d be heartbroken,” Amelia says.
“I can’t tell her the truth, so I just want her to think we’re doing good so
she doesn’t worry.” Her grandmother is 80, but refuses to slow down. Her market
stall keeps the whole family running, keeps money coming into the coffers.
“She’s tough, really strong,” Amelia says with admiration.
Amelia is very different to her countrywoman.
Jalene, the diffident big-hearted trier, determined to take the Western dream on
face value and aiming for great heights. The runner with her eye on the
horizon, her wooden crucifix bouncing round her neck with every step. Amelia
hasn’t bought into the migrant dream. “I look at Jalene and think she’s too
good to be true, how she’s positive about everything. She’s very dedicated –
she never loses hope, she’s so determined,” Amelia says. Then she shrugs. Not
everyone can be like that.
For her part, Amelia isn’t really into school, and neither is her sister, who is now working. What about the dream, though, of Western education and the ladder of opportunity? Amelia grimaces. She finds the curriculum at Middlevale too easy. It was much harder back home in Ethiopia, where all classes were held in the foreign tongue of English, where everyone had to do ten difficult subjects with no electives. “It’s too easy here, and it’s made me very lazy. I was smart there, I’m not going to lie. I’ve got dumber,” she says, laughing.
And right now it’s bone-cold and people are
odd. She tells me of arranged fights in the city, at shopping centres – how
stupid, all those people around – and about the bitching she overhears within
the Horn group. She’s a bit like Paul – floating through. Never been in a
fight, here or at home. She watches movies with her friends, holds herself back
from any great passion or interest. “I don’t get involved, but I know what
happens here – everything,” she says. “I prefer to sit back, watch and not say
anything.” But when she talks about
other people, her face lights up.
Even though it’s not really home, this school
is the closest approximation she’s found. Plenty of Horn kids, plenty of
African Christians like her as well as Muslims. Her first school in Melbourne
was Vietnamese-heavy – “a lot of Nguyens” – and she was the only black kid.
“There, Asians only hung with Asians, black with black. I didn’t talk to the
Viet group there, but here I do. Here everyone’s your friend.” What has
surprised her was how the politics of home have lifted away. Somalia, Ethiopia,
Eritrea – three unfriendly neighbours. “It’s surprising how well we East
Africans get along,” she says.
So the school’s a happy family? She baulks.
“Hmm. It seems like everyone gets along at this school, but there’s lots of
tension under the surface,” she says. What do you mean?
Amelia smiles. “Ohhh. Ok. I’m gonna say it.
White kids are polite, conscious of what they say. There are the quiet black
kids, who work hard. But there are the noisy black kids, who scream, yell,
fight for no reason, and give the rest of us a bad look. And what that means is
that white people see them and judge the rest of us. They think they’re more
civilised.” She raises expressive eyebrows.
She spots a passing boy and gives him a wave.
“You know the craziest thing?” She tells me she knew him from the same small
town in Ethiopia, where they saw each other round the neighbourhood. Now
they’re both at the same school in Melbourne, twelve thousand kilometres away.
“Life’s weird, huh?”
All Eyes on You
If you listen in the schoolyard, you can hear
dim echoes of events outside. The Islamic State caliphate is collapsing, its
foot soldiers instructed to flee and slay bloodily in the West. It’s June 9th
2017. Six days after London Bridge, allahu-akbar, throat-slitting, reprisal
attacks on mosques. Four days after a Somali-Australian killed a Chinese man in
wealthy Brighton, shot three police, died. Raids this morning in Ascot Vale,
police looking for the man who sold the gun responsible. News that the killer
was an ice-addicted, hooker-visiting criminal seeking redemption through blood
– his own and others. Most of the white kids haven’t heard the news. “In
Brighton? Huh,” Bree says. But the Somali kids know precisely what has taken
place. In the common room, an oblivious Kevin teases Aadan: “Don’t get mad bro,
I don’t want you to fly a plane into a building or blow yourself up.” In an
instant, there’s a mob of Horn girls around him, waving long fingers to make
their point, only a little bit serious. Play, play, play, to soften the edge of
hatreds and far off horrors. That teenage all-in humour, seekers of the edge,
Then, a change. Aadan grips Kevin in a
headlock, produces a small paring knife. “You called me a terrorist,” he says,
and Kevin writhes in his grip, and his grin wavers for the first time. His eyes
widen. “That – that’s a sharp knife, Aadan,” he says, real concern. Aadan has
seemed on edge today. The Brighton killing is weighing on him. Being black and
Muslim just got that little bit harder. Has Kevin finally found soft tissue?
But Aadan relaxes his grip, grins abruptly, flips the knife onto the table. A joke
with a sharp edge. Kevin blinks to make sense of it, and then laughs
explosively. “You got me,” he says. “You got me.”
Two minutes later, Aadan is coaxing Paul, the
reluctant Muslim, along to prayer. The irrepressible Kevin bounces along to the
prayer room, places his forehead to ground, listens to the words. When he
returns, he boasts: “I prayed.” He’s been learning about Islam, he tells me,
about Mecca and pilgrimage and Ramadan. “I’m stirring and learning at the same
time,” he says, a shit-eating grin.
For weeks, I’ve been trying to catch Dalmar
when he’s away from his friends. He, perhaps most of all the African boys,
seems uncomfortable in his skin – a restlessness and quick temper that sits
oddly with his natural charm and quick smile. He’s the sensitive chameleon from
a white-heavy primary school, who hung around with white kids who didn’t like
black kids because there were no better choices. He’s the one who had to
pretend the hardest to be white. Finding his place in this city is by no means certain.
He carries himself as if he’s being watched much of the time. The sense that
all eyes are on him, police, teachers, authorities watching, waiting for The Inevitable
Crime That Is Black Male Teen Destiny. A frizz of hair, pulling his hoodie
around his whole face. We talk in a quiet room. He intertwines his feet, leans
back, plays with a fidget spinner.
What can you tell me about white people, I
ask, grinning. At that, he guffaws. “Man! White people are so different. The
ones in my area, that is. Here at school, I talk to them. But not where I live,
walking the streets.” What he means is that strangers watch him out of the
corner of their eyes. It’s not just white passers-by. A police car driving
slowly is cause for alarm. “They patrol night and day, and ask any black kid
for ID,” he says. “But some cops are nice to us. There are good cops.”
How do you feel after the incident in
Brighton, I ask. He shifts on his seat, chooses a distanced point of view.
“Somalis felt he stuffed up their chances of being in Australia. That his
actions make them look bad.”
At school, the kids get along. But a few
teachers, Dalmar claims, treat black kids more punitively. A couple bring down
the full weight of authority on African banter. “Let’s say a group of black kids
and a group of white kids are talking. The teacher will tell us to stop talking
– and nothing to the white kids. When we say what about them, she says – at
least they were listening.” He halts. Plays with his spinner idly. “But we were
listening too. They’re harsher on us. And when we try to talk to them about it,
these teachers say they don’t want to hear it.”
Is it common, I ask. “Nah – most are good,” he
says. Still – it’s happened enough times for it to get to him. What needles
Dalmar is the sense of unfairness. He can’t just be judged as a kid mucking
about, like a white kid would. He’s judged for his group. “If I piss off a
teacher, they look at every single other black kid and judge them too,” he
says. “But with white kids, they only judge the person. It’s very annoying.”
It sounds like it’s a lot harder growing up
black in Melbourne than, say, it was for me to grow up white. Is that right?
Dalmar’s permanent smile droops. “Yeah. It’s way harder. And most of us were
Afterwards, I analyse my own reaction. I’d
found myself wanting to defend the teachers – there are good ones, right? –
because what Dalmar is saying doesn’t gel with what I’ve seen, the way I move
through the school. Is it Anglo solidarity? Am I reacting like this out of a
sense of unjustified attack?
Can’t be – the teachers are a veritable United
Nations, not an Anglo bloc. It’s not white cops patrolling black areas. But
perhaps what Dalmar is describing has emerged out of the contact between
African bounce and pushback and the teachers’ desire for command and control.
The more the African kids push, the more the teachers push back. I remember the
principal talking quietly about this, his attempts to reframe the relationship
as collegiate rather than a top down You Must Comply mindset. It does seem to be
improving – the younger crop of teachers bantering with students, guiding
rather than shoehorning them into an education.
Anglo-Ukrainian boy Peter told me once that
he’s thought a lot about what it must be like for the African boys. What models do his black peers have to draw
on in a white majority country? What does black male success look like in
popular culture? African-American rappers or sportsmen, that’s who. “You don’t
see a lot of African role models in the media, so they just have rappers,” he
says. And as for academic success – that falls afoul of not-cool-to-try.
“They’re supposed to be the dominant, strong ones. And any show of weakness –
like trying in class – you have to avoid,” Peter says. I pondered this. You can
succeed, but you can’t be seen to be succeeding.
I told Peter it was exactly the same at my
Anglo-heavy school. Failure was cool – until Year 11 and 12 when the
non-academic kids left (or, as rumour had it, were asked to leave so we could
keep our average marks high). Then, belatedly, the boys had to try.
Peter shrugged at this. “Maybe. But there are
other challenges.” He remembers sitting in class when a studious Somali boy
first came to the school. Their crusty old teacher told the new boy not to work
with the African kid he was sitting. Why, he asked, perplexed. “Because sitting
together, something bad will happen,” the teacher said. And the kid left the
school soon after, fleeing these confines of thought.
Dalmar invites me to sit in on his Year 12
English class, and the teacher okays it. It’s late on a Friday afternoon and
everyone can’t wait for the week to be over. This is a native English class, which
means all the second-gen African kids go to it, as well as many of the
first-gen African kids who learned the global tongue early. But Eastern
European boy Alex has to go to EAL. His pride is wounded. Is his English not polished
through hundreds of hours shouting at rivals in online shooter games? His
accent is only mild. And he knows the affectionate Australian usage of the C-bomb.
It rankles. “Why are YOU going to English?” he asks Michelle at the bottom of
the staircase. She shrugs him off. The
subtext: white = better English. “Very annoying to be asked that,” she says as
we walk into the classroom. “Born here. Borrrrn here.”
Dalmar gestures at the teacher as I take a
seat near him. “This is one of the good ones” he says quietly – meaning the
teacher, meaning she’s non-judgemental. Fatima nods. “She’s good,” she says,
loud enough for everyone – including the teacher – to hear. “We like her.” The
teacher is right there, listening as they rate her, smiling awkwardly.
The class is practising essay writing. I hear
a whisper from Aadan. “Hey Doug – you know that Somali who did terrorism?”
Yeah? “It was Omar’s cousin!” Omar widens sleepy eyes. “RELAX cuz,” he says.
“RELAX.” Aadan snickers and withdraws.
Now Kevin challenges the teacher on grammar. “Lucky you got it right. I
was testing you,” he says, bold as you please. No wonder the African boys like
him – probing, humour, banter.
Latecomers knock on the door, and the teacher tries
out her schoolmarm growl. “Should I lock
them out”, she asks. Maria laughs. “You’re Greek. Be tough like your grandma.”
The teacher snorts. “Grandma’s a racist though,” she says and the class howls.
Later that week, I gatecrash a staff morning
tea. I’ve been invited out of kindness. The staff mostly don’t know what to
make of this 30-something hanging out all the time. I snag a plate of food and
stand awkwardly until a senior teacher stands to praise a stern-looking teacher
near me. “This morning, the plane to Port Moresby left – and Eric was on it. It
wouldn’t have happened without your help,” she says. The stern teacher looks relieved
– and knackered.
I sidle up and ask her what she had to do. “Oh
boy. Where to start? Where to start?
I thought it would be simple,” the teacher says. She snaffles a cupcake as a
reward. The challenge: get a boy onto the plane to do Kokoda with his mates.
But soon, she was drawn into a web of bureaucracy across three countries – Eric’s
country of origin, Australia and Papua New Guinea – forcing her into battle
with ever-greater volumes of paper. Eric’s passport couldn’t be signed by his
parents, as they’d passed away, and he’d come here alone. And so Eric’s teacher
became his surrogate mum, bouncing between consulates in Canberra, Australia
Post, the Department of Immigration, chasing him to get his fingerprints done
to prove his identity, begging for help. “By the end, the consulate staff knew
me by name,” she says.
I’m amazed. You went above and beyond, I say.
“It’s fine,” she says. “It’s done.” She made certain of it. That morning at
5am, she’d gone to the airport to make absolutely certain his new passport
would get him on that plane. Eric gave her a proper bear hug, and told her that
this was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Ever. And for a moment,
her game face – that teacher-for-a-lifetime face – slips.
A Friday, late June. The winter has been dry
and surprisingly warm so far. A pale sun glimmers behind clouds, leaving a
faint warmth on the skin when it emerges.
Tim is at his locker talking to Bree. “There
aren’t that many high achievers here,” he says, looking around speculatively.
What led to that topic, I ask? He tells me presenters have been coming to pitch
their university. Scholarships are on offer. “Maybe I’ll go for one,” he says.
Bree, deadpan, bats it back. “Actually, I’ll enter. I think I might do your
course. Maybe I’ll get the scholarship instead?” Tim grins. He’s calmly
confident as always, no false modesty. “Why don’t we split it? We were both
school captains.” I didn’t know this, and my puzzlement shows.
After Tim saunters off, Bree tells me she was
elected last year but quit because she was overcommitted. I raise an eyebrow.
But you live for too many commitments, I say. She acknowledges this truth.
“Well, that and the fact there were people here who didn’t like me getting
leadership positions. This was the icing on the cake for them. So I quit. But
then I got offered more positions.” She smiles sweetly. “I’m off to choir. Want
to come? You’d have to sing.” She hasn’t entirely given up trying to get me to
stop being a tourist, trying to spread the gospel of overcommitment. But she
can sense I’m a lost cause.
Dalmar is on a rampage outside, piffing purple
slime at his mates. This batch was made in Bree’s girls group and spirited out
to the schoolyard. He’s piffing it at Michelle as she hides behind me. A
pleasant stickiness – like a frog’s pads – that releases when you pull at it.
Dalmar jerks Aadan backwards – a tall stick – down on to his knee, tries to
force slime into his jaws.
Ramadan isn’t passing fast enough. I watch the
Horn boys in the gym, trying their hardest to avoid the beep test. Running
means your thirst worsens, becomes a gnawing thing. In the corner, a game of
staff-student volleyball is in full swing. Helena peers around the corner,
shouts out – “I just want to say SCREW YOU ALL” and disappears again.
That afternoon, I sit in on the Year 12
history class. The teacher tells me he’s a frustrated actor. He’s hamming it up
royally, putting on a posh British accent to talk about redcoats and blues in
revolutionary America, when Zahi bursts in, waving his hand over his nose. “A
joint – someone smoking a joint in the toilet!” Aadan sniggers. “They gonna pin
it on a black kid.” I tease Zahi for recognising the unmistakable herbal scent.
Zahi grins. “I know it from Kenya. You smell it everywhere. No rules
there.” Omar raises his head. “Kenya? I
spent two years there studying the Koran,” he says. He cocks his head. “I
wonder if I’m on a terror watchlist? Hope not. Be hard to get a job.”
When the teacher sets a group assignment, Omar
uses the opportunity to lift Kevin’s keys. “I’m used to it,” Kevin says. Aadan
pulls on a mock-frown. “What, you think it’s a black person? Doug’s here too.”
Back to playing with race with broad smiles. “Wasn’t me,” says Aadan. “I’m
contributing to Australia.” Zahi scoffs. “Yes, by shanking people.” Now Zahi
levels a finger at Kevin. “This guy’s parents just told him how he was
conceived. Like, all the details. Where and when. Who would do that? Who?”
Kevin shrugs, that slide-off grin, rain off an umbrella.
There’s a superbrain Anglo kid who launches
into a monologue on the American Revolution. “You got this,” says Aadan, egging
him on. Zahi is writing laborious notes as the brainiac speaks. “Do you see
anyone else writing?” he asks, and pats himself on the back. Getting an edge on
When Zahi gets an assignment handed back, he
holds it high in evident satisfaction. “I’m going to ace the rest of the year,”
he tells me. Time to do well without complaining, hand his work in on time and
hold his head up here and at home. Is his new approach seeing results? He
signs, shifts his weight. “Well, teachers stopped nagging me.” He seems
deflated, as if he wanted something more. His parents expect good results, but
they don’t pressure him. “They told me go well, do well, make yourself and us
proud. But they say at the end of the day, your results affect you the most.
They value education a lot – back home, there are many problems. Here, there’s
high quality education, opportunities for everyone. I don’t want to take it for
And yet what I’m noticing is that the first
African generation are often those with eyes on the prize – here they are, onto
their second lives with memories of harder times elsewhere. But for those born
here, Australia’s casualness has crept in, that shit-talking,
lower-your-expectations cool to fail banter that I remember well from my
school. When you’re born into it, you disdain it. You take your foot off the
It reminds me of a chance encounter with Femi,
a burly West African boy who does VCAL. He has an eruption of hair, like a
Japanese anime character and a US accent he gained from old school American
hiphop. When the Horn girls saw me talking to Femi, they threw taunts his way.
“Be careful Doug, he’s part of the Apex gang.” “Femi – show us your gang
signs!” At this, Femi shook his head. Slow, methodical, careful, a planner, a
dreamer, a boy who escaped the long and horrible war in the Congo via a refugee
camp in Rwanda, who had the luck to come to Melbourne, who pinned his hopes on
the migrant dream. Why do these second generation girls not dream the same, he
wonders. “These girls are extra,” he
tells me when we’re alone. “The type who really crave attention. I don’t talk
to them much, because I’m not into gossip.”
For Femi, like Jalene and other first-gen
migrants, this chance at a new life is too important to waste in banter or a
thriving social life. His father was a dedicated student who earned a Masters
degree in a ruptured country. He died before Femi was born. “I want to make him
proud, wherever he is,” he says. “I only know him from pictures and my mum’s
stories. But he knew the value of education, and in a world like this, you need
Like many of the other first gen migrants, he
sees racism as a minor inconvenience compared to the hardships of the past. At
his first school out in Melbourne’s north, he was the only black student. “It
was a white area, but I didn’t feel I was different,” he says. “I had a lot of
white friends and I went to their houses, kicked around with them, played
basketball games on Xbox. It was great there, and great here. I like the
diversity here – I chose to come here because of it, and stayed because of it,
and how well the teachers treat people from different backgrounds.”
Femi’s dream is to start his own business. In
that, he’s like second-gen Zahi. But Zahi wants a concrete business based on
something people want and will always want. Fitness, food, or a place to sleep.
Femi’s dreams are different. They began as wisps, wonderings, what-ifs, and
took firmer form once he heard a speech by the head of a startup incubator. “That
speech really motivated me,” Femi says. “He was a troublemaker in school but
rose to the top by studying and working hard, getting enough money to start his
own business. And now he’s got something great.” What do you like about
business, I ask. “You go out in the world, and you have nothing,” Femi says.
“Business teaches you how you can start with zero, turn that into one, one into
two, two into three.” He beams. Zero is how he started – new country, new
rules, clawing his way into English fluency, into the habit of studying, into a
rhythm. “I will get there,” he says. “I
will reach my goal.”