SASKATOON — In this bustling prairie city, a tale of determination and family-first values unfolds, embodied by the story of Michael Afenfia. Trading his former career in Nigeria for the prosperity of his family, Afenfia embarked on a journey to Canada, lured by the promise of enhanced prospects and a brighter future for his children. Arriving in 2019, he, like his fellow immigrants, initially took on survival jobs before committing himself to aiding newly arrived foreign nationals in adapting to their unfamiliar surroundings.
Afenfia, who has a background in law, was the speechwriter of former Bayelsa State Governor Henry Dickson in Nigeria from 2016 to 2019 before moving to Saskatoon. He also became the chairperson of the Bayelsa chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors while serving on their state’s library board.
Canada’s educational system and the opportunities their children have when they reach adulthood were two of the reasons why he chose to move from Nigeria to Canada, putting his family first and making the sacrifice of leaving his career behind.
“I like what Canada offers in terms of education. That was a great motivation for me and my family. As my kids grew older, I knew what I wanted for them in terms of education and career opportunities available in this country, so we had to make the sacrifice of leaving everything behind and starting all over again in Saskatchewan with the opportunities I wanted. If I am being honest, [moving to another country] is not always easy,” Afenfia told SASKTODAY.
“I think the first step is accepting that you have embarked on this journey of relocating and that things can never be as it was in your home country. Once you can process that, then I think you are on your way to making meaningful and lasting adjustments. Making [new] friends, finding [a] community and locating places and things, like groceries and food that are associated with your culture, are also quite helpful for a newcomer.”
They endured homesickness, culture shock, and isolation when they first arrived since they had no friends or relatives in the city, and their children were adjusting to everything new in their lives. Afenfia thanked Saskatoon for its welcoming spirit, especially to newcomers, adding that finding work immediately to pay their bills was a big boost and helped him personally.
“For the kids, adjusting to their new school was initially challenging. Now things are better, but it wasn’t easy at the start. Though they didn’t experience a language barrier, their accent was different. Then there were new things they had to learn about curricula and navigating the dynamics of a new schooling system and environment,” said Afenfia.
“For us adults, it mainly was finding work because, as you know, Canada has this thing about Canadian education and work experience to fit in. This constitutes an obstacle, not just for me, but for thousands of Canadians who come to this country every year… Saskatoon is a great place, for sure. I have made many amazing friends and met nice from diverse cultures. I have also met people who have not been very friendly and welcoming, but overall, it has been fantastic.
And, the life of a newcomer or an immigrant, based on his own experience, is what inspired the Port Harcourt-born author to pen the book Leave My Bones in Saskatoon returning to his first passion of writing and storytelling. The story is seen through the eyes of the main protagonist, Owoicho, a news presenter in Nigeria who successfully applied for permanent residency status for his family in Canada. His story is about immigration that spanned two cultures and continents.
“From the start, I set out to write a story that captures a bit of the newcomer/immigrant experience. Being a relatively new Canadian, I realized when I first arrived in Saskatoon that I didn’t know as much as I should about the experience of settling into a new country and culture. For anyone searching, you might find certain resources, maybe even tools that help with the integration process for newcomers and refugees; what I thought was missing, however, were stories of actual people and actual experiences of what this vacation might look like,” said Afenfia.
“There just weren’t enough of those, and for whatever reason, many people choose to be private about what that journey truly feels like and is for the person living the experience. My hope in writing Leave My Bones in Saskatoon is that someone out there – new or old Canadian or visiting from another country will read this book and see a side to the immigrant experience that they might not know or be reminded of an experience they might have forgotten and that too is important.”
He said he misses his former life as a speechwriter and chapter head of the Nigerian writer's group. Still, he and his family had already settled in, living in the prairies. Plus, he got the chance to continue his writing career and joined two writers’ organizations.
“I miss that life [in Nigeria] because writing is like oxygen for me, and being with writers and my peers in that community balances me. Fortunately, since moving to Canada, I have joined the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild and The Writers’ Union of Canada,” said Afenfia, who now works in the settlement sector where he helps newcomers get the resources needed to start a new life in Saskatoon.
“I love writing and discovering what it means to be a Nigerian-Canadian writer. I’m not sure what lies ahead in terms of working in politics and supporting political leaders, but I know that I have a lot of transferable skills that I have been able to use in the four years I have been here.”
He is currently working on a collection of short stories and might write a new novel to add to his published books When the Moon Caught Fire and The Mechanics of Yenagoa. He is busy with speaking engagements and mentorship but plans to write a new novel soon.