This should have been the first thing to talk about, but I wanted to give a strong introduction to hustle life in Germany as a stranger.
In Cameroon you have few options after finishing highschool. The first thing most people do is to participate in government examinations to enter the best state universities and institutes. Unfortunately some parents bribe their children’s way through these universities. Thus many names just magically appear on the results´ list, people who were not even in Cameroon when the examinations took place. It´s really hopeless to write those exams, however many of us still do. I did write one of those, not because I thought I had a chance, but because I wanted to please my family. The truth is I had other options and I really didn´t care trying. The second option is finding a means to travel abroad. It doesn’t matter where you go as long as you leave Cameroon. Either you find a stipend, which is really rare or you find money for the visa procedure. This could come from your rich family or your struggling family who has to burrow it all or partly, because hey, once you arrive that country you can work and refund the money. Well that’s what they tell you. Your purpose suddenly becomes paying back the loans, but you don’t know that yet. The excitement is beyond reasoning. Lastly, you could enter a normal university or a private one, being well aware that your chances to find a job with that kind of education are little if you don’t have a relative who works for the government.
My best option was coming to Germany to study mechanical engineering. Not because my family was rich, but because some of my brothers were living here already and could easily sponsor my studies. Also in Germany most importantly, you can work legally as a student and be independent financially. So Germany sounded pretty obvious for me. I have many friends who planned to study in Germany as well. Some were granted a visa after their first, second or third application and others weren’t. I’m thankful it took me just one application to have my visa. Joy and excitement are understatements. Everybody was as happy as when a new baby is born, especially my mum. She would have one kid less to worry about, because once you leave you can already take care of yourself, theoretically.
Nevertheless it was going to be my first flight ever with a transit at Brussels airport. Nobody gave me instructions on how to proceed to catch the other flight and I didn’t ask either. The only thing I was worried about, was all the food I would have to travel with. Foodstuffs I wouldn’t be able to find or cook in Germany. Also it was really kind of scary to arrive in winter. Was the cold going to kill me ? Leaving 28° C of sunlight for snow in a glimpse. What did -10° C feel like ? Anyways I was going to discover in real life what I had already seen and heard of.
At the airport in Yaoundé, it felt like dropping one of my relatives for their take off. Those who had been travelling over the years and were used to planes. I didn’t realise I was leaving until they called all the attendants to another room from where you couldn’t see your family anymore. Literally everybody burst in cries and I couldn’t hold it in either. It was like a big choir at a burial. I hugged them goodbye, because I didn’t know when I would come back. Some of my sisters had visited 5 to 10 years later and I instinctively didn’t expect to come back earlier.
As soon as I entered the plane it smelt different. A little bit like a clean and well furnished office with A.C. . A very polite staff and comfortable seats, but all I could think about was the fact that I was actually leaving Cameroon. I cried a lot in the plane and I was extremely dizzy. I knew I was car-sick and just found out I was also plane-sick. Even the snacks I couldn’t eat. It was the worst journey ever and it was only starting.
We finally landed in Brussels and I didn’t have a clue which way to go. I thought at first it would be better to follow the mass, unfortunately we were not all going to the same place. Dumb as I was, I stopped at the baggage claim to search for my 2 bags for maybe 20mins and couldn´t find any of them. Nobody had explained to me that I would get my stuffs by the time I would arrive Germany. The only thing I was told was that I had a 1h transit and that it would be enough. As I figured I couldn´t get my stuffs, I started walking around randomly. Eventhough I am fluent in French, I was too shy to ask for help. However when I got tired I finally decided to talk to someone. I saw two officers and I thought they would definitely help me. Unexpectedly, one of them waved me away when I started speaking. This broke me so badly I shed a tear. I had heard how racist people were in Europe, therefore I asumed these officers didn’t just like black people. And realising that I had just experienced my first racist encounter, made me shed more tears.
After that, I kept walking and saw some signs that showed directions. I felt so stupid for initially thinking that the airport would let everyone just search for a terminal without signs. I must have been really overwhelmed, to walk around all this time without seeing the arrows. Finally, I got to my terminal 30mins after the flight had taken off. This was really too much for me. I sat in the attendance room and cried all the water out of my body. I didn’t know where to start and was afraid I might have to buy another ticket. Foolishly I didn’t think of calling someone and even if I did, I wouldn’t have left where I was to find a phone box. Also, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t ask anyone for help anymore. I didn’t want to risk being rejected again.
Fortunately for me, an old black man was waiting for his flight. He saw me crying and decided to ask me what was happening. I explained how I had missed my transit and had no idea what to do next. He was so kind and spoke in a way that stopped me from crying. He told me there was no reason to cry, that I should talk to the Brussels airlines staff about my missed flight. So I went to them immediately. To my surprise they said it was not a problem and that I would take the next flight 2h later. My heart slowed down and I started breathing normally again. I told the old man the good news and thanked him for helping me.
That flight was much better with the small plane. I wasn’t feeling dizzy and my appetite came back. When I arrived Frankfurt I went to look for my bags again, but this time somehow certain of finding them. All I could think of was my freshly smoked chicken in one of them, because it would get bad with the storage facilities at the airport. After searching unsuccessfully, I decided to just look for a comfortable place to sit down and meditate on all my problems.
As ssoon as I sat somewhere I suddenly remembered one of my brothers was scheduled to pick me up at the airport. He must have been waiting for me for hours and probably thought something bad had happened to me. Anyway, there was nothing I could have done differently. Okay sure, I could have asked for more help in order to catch my second flight. And without knowing which way to go, I went searching for him. The dumbness was at its highest, but I probably just had faith that I would find him. And fortunately, it’s exactly what happened. After walking for minutes and going in and out of the terminal, I saw a black person waving at me. With my short-sightedness, I could honestly not tell who that was. The only thing I was sure about, was that somebody had recognised me and that whoever that was, they could help me.
It was my elder brother and he was with my nephew. He was happy to see me, but also mentioned the costly parking ticket we would have to pay for, because he had arrived way too early to pick me up. You can imagine how sad he was, when the staff responsible for the baggage told us we would receive my bags a few days later. All that food was definitely going to spoil before the baggage delivery.
I entered Germany in a problematic way and it is only normal that crazier stuffs have kept happening to me after that episode.