We were put in a hotel when we first arrived, since no house was ready for us. To me, Worcester looked like the cleanest city in the world. I loved it.
I felt the hotel would be our home for a while, but it was only for three days. The children and I would leave the room to look at the trees that beautified the place like flowers. Flowers were not visible then, it was the colorful tree leaves that showed. Yes! It was fall — a season I would learn more about — and the leaves had changed colors. Our case worker, Chris Lamboi, was also from Sierra Leone. We thought he was going to be a very good source for development and enlightenment into American life.
Our apartment was ready, Chris came to tell us. I could not believe we were already leaving our luxurious room. Our bundles were not much; I had acquired nothing to bring over here. I had a few books and my neckties. And my photo album. Theresa, my wife, would tease me, saying, “You take delight [only] in [old] photos, addresses and phone numbers.”
This place was very cold for us, and we had no heavy clothes for it. We huddled in the corner of the room and waited for Chris to come back and take us home. Once he picked us up, we drove across the city, looking everywhere. My two kids asked me loads of questions. I didn’t know what to say, except to make up answers from what I’d learned.
For example, Mary asked, “Daddy, what seasons do they have here?” I tried to say what I knew. I said with confidence (but not in correct sequence), “Summer, winter and spring. We have the dry and wet seasons” in West Africa.
Our new house was on Ellsworth Street, not far from Kelley Square. The traffic was quite confusing. I had never seen such crazy traffic like Kelley Square, with no traffic lights. That was not my worry because I had never seen a traffic light in Sierra Leone. In Senegal and Gambia, sure, but never in my homeland.
Chris spent a long time talking big during our ride. He said he had been driving in Worcester for ages with no accident record, and that Kelley Square was no trouble for him. But we sat at the intersection for more than 10 minutes waiting for Chris to drive through. At last, we were free. It was evening.
Augustine’s last chapter: Goodbye, Gambia Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale
We moved on to our house. I was impressed, as we entered our very clean street. I thought no one must live on the street because I saw no one moving about, not even neighbors. We got out of the car and followed our host to our room on the third floor. I thought going up and down the stairs was going to be a challenge.
I asked Chris if it was possible we would get another house rather than that one. “Oh, yes!” he said: When we start to work and can provide for ourselves, then we can go for a better house. There was nothing significant in our new house. But at that time and from our experience it was a very good place. It was 100 percent better than what we were used to as Sierra Leonean refugees in The Gambia.
Soon, in the morning the next day, we were stuck in the house the whole day. Behold! Snow had accumulated overnight. We had no clue. We had eaten well, so we slept well and woke up late. The cold was too much.
The snow was new to us. I decided to just go and see what it was like outside. Late in the evening, I decided to bring Mary. She was excited to follow me. There was quite a heavy snow outside, so much that we couldn’t open the front door without forcing it. The snow was quite beautiful. We returned to our apartment to tell Theresa and Glen how beautiful the snow was. I had a heavy coat that I found in the house. I shook it well and put on other clothes before having the comfort to go out. Mary also wore a lot of clothes. She had no thick coat, though; she was just anxious to get out and play in the snow.
Mary and I left again without either joining us. Glen said he would not go. Theresa boasted that she had seen snow in England when she was there once upon a time.
I took my old camera out with us to take pictures. I took Mary’s pictures but her happiness was overwhelming. She did not take mine. I entered the highest snow, and I went deep down. I got stuck, but it was over quickly because I felt very cold. Mary climbed on top of the snowbank and said she had broken the world record for climbing the highest snowy mountain.
I took more of her pictures and she liked them. We made snowballs and threw them at each other. That felt good to her, but it was too cold for me. We returned home when it got too dark.
Indeed, that was my first and last snow play. I realized many people were surprised seeing me, a grownup, playing in the snow so vigorously. It was satisfying. I wish they knew what I was fulfilling in my heart. I thought about the cold winter’s night when Jesus was born, and how it snowed then. I never thought I would see snow or touch it. This was going to be our school.
The place was quite cold. One day we stood in front of City Hall waiting for a bus back toward Kelley Square. We did not get the right number for the bus to that area. We then started walking back slowly. My ear was numb and I thought I was about to lose it. It was biting hard.
Some friends told me I will get frostbite. I did not know what that meant, at first, but I made sense of it. Chris was kind enough to have taken us to the Cathedral Of Saint Paul, the church we belong to still. We were excited. Sunday came as usual — we left the house late and arrived very late due to Theresa’s unnecessary waste of time which has persisted to this day. The snow was slippery and my leg was still not quite good, but no one knew it.
The next day we were registered at Lutheran Social Services [now known as Ascentria Care Alliance]. Our classes started the day we registered. This was a school where we all wanted to go to. They would eventually direct us to go to either a training school or to attend Quinsigamond Community College.
Well, Theresa and I were in the same class. It was apparent that we were better in English than the others. I thought the teacher, Monica, was going to pave our way to college. But she instead put us on a path toward medical training and had us take an English exam. Theresa was ready for the exam, like me. I was excited. We sat in the exam room. We did our work separately, but came to the same results.
They did not trust we did it separately. We were separately placed to retake a different test. We scored the same marks again. We were congratulated when we left the place, but we were stuck on a waiting list for two years. We did not hear from them again, it was not our luck.
Monica did not seem to think we should be sent to college. We were ready for it, but others who seemed less prepared were sent ahead of us. We were all shocked. Well, God touched Monica one day, I think, and she sent me to go take a pre-entry exam for QCC. I did quite well and she was surprised that I was eligible. She did not believe her eyes. I attended QCC and did quite well, surpassing those she sent there ahead of me.
The roads continued to be very cold and slippery. I managed to get boots. Our allowance was quite small, not enough for our pocket, but enough for our rent. I found a job at FedEx; it was an unstable job. It was difficult working there. I stood the whole night. My leg was still in pain from my long-ago injury and it was difficult standing on it for so long. Who would listen to me in that case?
My wife had complained that since I was a journalist I should not be working as a laborer. It was not true that she was worried about my profession; she was unhappy because I did not bring home enough money for her to do shopping. She eventually got a job with Target. She enjoyed it but it was too far, in Marlborough on Boston Post Road.
I bought a car for $700 from a man called Amos Woloba. He said $1,000, but I begged him to reduce the price. I contacted a friend of mine at the church, Richard Burke, and he gave us $500. We added the $200 to get the car. There was no insurance and we could not keep the car in good standing without a number [license] plate. I talked to a friend called Artie. He registered my car under his name and allowed me to pay only $50 a month.
I had no driver’s license, only a permit. But I had got my African license in 1996, and I had an old jeep that I drove often before gas became too expensive and I sold the vehicle. I was quite an experienced driver. Based on that, I drove my new secondhand car safely around to seek employment.
I drove to North Brookfield with Theresa one day, and on our way back I was pulled over by police, who questioned if I did not see the officer parked and people working on the road. I apologized, saying I did not see them at first but saw only when I approached more closely, too late to slow down. He warned me not to do it anymore. We left in prayer — I still had no license! God was quite good. We both got jobs and we worked there, too, at the shoe factory.
Our life started to modernize. Our kids did well in school, and we started to excel. Mary was 10 years old and in sixth grade. Her teachers could not believe it. She was tested and did quite well. They repeated the exam and she got a very high grade again. As if we were cheating on her behalf, she was taken to a room alone and she got a better mark than the previous two. Glen had no problem. He went to North High. Mary went to Chandler Elementary Community School.
We were all settled in, it was only left for us to excel. The snow was not a good partner for that, but we could smell Christmas in the air.
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