From the bottom to the top... and back again
For my remaining time in the UK, I did what I had set out to do - work and study. I managed to secure a job as a cleaner. I remembered cleaning our old family home in Cameroon for hours, and so I assumed the same would be expected of me here. Everyday I scrubbed, washed, dusted and wiped all three floors of the big building. I was only supposed to clean one of those levels. Nobody told me, not even my fellow cleaning colleagues. They just sat back while I naively did all the work.
One day my supervisor came in and noticed that my coworkers were taking advantage of me. Justice was swiftly served as I was given a promotion! My salary doubled and I no longer had to worry about balancing a second job with studying. Shortly after, I got a job as a nanny and this is when my mindset really started to change. Suddenly I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and all the sacrifices leading up to this point seemed like they wouldn’t be in vain.
As I became more confident in London, I started to explore more. I ventured into the world of Ebay and my eyes were opened to online shopping. I would go to TK Maxx to buy my stock and then list them in my free time. This was my first glimpse of what it was like to run your own business online and had it not been for this experience, Grass-fields might not exist! While I was enjoying all these firsts, I was always conscious of our original plan which was to bring Michele to the UK to do her masters too. This is why it was such a big blow to us when her visa was denied the first time we applied. We had put so much hope and money into the process so it was a huge setback.
To add more stress to the situation, my visa had expired and I had six months to do something with it. I spent so long applying for jobs that it honestly felt like an eternity. As an immigrant who would need visa sponsorship, perhaps I was not the most appealing candidate, but I kept trying. One day I came across a job ad calling for ‘exciting accountants’, I knew I would be perfect for it but I was aware how easy it would be to reject me if I applied through traditional methods, so I thought out of the box…
I asked myself repeatedly, what can I do to get their attention? I had a lot riding on this and I was determined to land the job. I decided to go to their offices and observe the workplace. I signed in as a visitor and kept my eyes peeled! After my observations, I wrote a report on what they did well, what they could improve on and what I brought to the table - shortly after, I was invited in for an interview.
I was on such a high the morning of the interview, I knew that the job was mine. I went armed with confidence, knowledge that I could fulfill their expectations and my African print blazer. This blazer was very dear to me and I wanted to present my African heritage as I was extremely proud of where I came from! I set off on my journey with a spring in my steps but by the time I left, the spring was broken.
Here’s what happened…
The interview went great. I answered everything well. They even reassured me that my visa wouldn’t be an issue which was a huge relief. I knew I had got the job and it felt like I was turning over a new leaf, until the final few minutes. The recruiter asked me “will you always be wearing colourful clothes?’, he looked at me as he searched for words to explain what he meant, expecting me to come to his rescue, but we both held our silence before he explained that they had ‘a formal dressing culture’. I was confused and upset, I didn’t understand why I had to conform when I had seen others be accepted for who they were. I questioned how far would this ‘formal dressing culture’ strip me of my identity - would my hair be policed? My personality? I knew I had a big decision ahead of me, was I going to pick my identity or security?
I yearned for security but I knew, deep down, after all I had been through, there was no way I was going to let my identity be controlled by corporate culture. I chose to live in uncertainty, but to be true to myself. I turned the job down. It was a decision I am so grateful for every single day despite the hardships that came after. The rest of my time spent in London was a ticking time bomb; I had received no other job offer and with three weeks left to renew my visa I had no options at all. The last day to renew my visa came and I watched in tears as the clock moved towards midnight and I knew it was all over. My time in London, along with my hopes and dreams of a better life, had seemingly vanished before my eyes...