By Mukurima X Muriuki
My name is Peter Lentini Efezokhae, and I was born and raised in Nigeria.
Life was tough growing up in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. The first challenge that life threw my way was the death of my father, who passed on when I was one year old. In a sense, I never got to know my dad. All that I know about him are through photos and the stories narrated by my siblings and mom.
Growing up under the tutelage of a single mom who was earning a meagre pay meant that I had to compliment her struggle and hustle, by selling water on the streets of Lagos. In fact, I did all sorts of odd jobs as a young boy to help mama out, and in order that I would not have to run to her for money. At the same time, because of how hard she was working, and granted I could see she missed daddy- sometimes, even with my tender age, I always wanted to be in a position to buy her cool things like candy and coke. It was priceless to see her face glow and light up anytime I did this.
Later on, in order to make more money, I started working as a conductor. But this was not generating what I thought was ‘enough’ money, and so I ventured into polishing shoes, which just as you would imagine, was not any profitable! I soon started offloading containers and did a lot of street hawking. All this time, I was still going to school and my mom required me to score good grades.
I managed to get a good break in 2001 when I got an opportunity to migrate to America. While many people would opine that such a move is meant to chase the American dream, I would safely say that I did not make the move to chase that proverbial and cliché-ridden dream-I moved to America to make a living for myself and help my family back home, while chasing my own dreams.
At first, the transition was difficult. I was welcomed by the biggest culture shock of my life! I was already a grown man before moving to California, yet I had to re-learn a lot of things like mannerism, way of life, and living alone without family. It was like a baby learning how to walk. Life in America was totally different from the jungle way of’ ‘survival for the fittest” that I was used to in Nigeria.
However, and on the flip side, I quickly learnt to be patient with things as this was the only way out. I also started appreciating the local culture while maintaining my identity as a Nigerian.
Before migrating to America, I did not have a career in Nigeria, or put differently, my career had not taken off. Nonetheless, I had studied mass communication at the Ibadan Polytechnic before pursuing Political Science at the University of Ibadan. In America, I joined San Jose State University where I continued with my studies in the same field.
Life in America has been good. The country has availed me many opportunities to become whatever I choose to be. In America, you get to determine the path that you want your life to take because of the prevalent endless possibilities.
Currently I am working for a cool brand called TOMS. At the same time, I own the Ankara Fashion and Music Festival which is held every year in Los Angeles and brings together leading models, fashion designers and artistes from Africa to showcase their talent.
In addition, I moonlight as an event promoter, and as a DJ. I have hosted Davido, Sauti Sol, Sarkodie, Tiwa Savage, Mafikizolo, Ice Prince, 9ice, Neato C, Shatta Wale, Samini, Diamond Harry Song and other A list musicians from Africa. Anything that I have ever had a passion for, I just do it.
Last year, I had the opportunity to hold discussions with the Haitian Prime Minister on his plans for economy of Haiti. He told me that his priority was to bring back business to Haiti. Already, my employer TOMS, Sony, Apple and other companies are already doing business in Haiti.
For Africans in America, we are more than ever before aware of ourselves and this means we have grown the confidence to start businesses even while a world away from the motherland. But we must not stop there; we need to invest back in Africa and join in efforts to make our continent the darling of the world.
To those thinking of transitioning to America; if you get the opportunity, take it. But you have to be prepared to do the work. Before I migrated to America I thought it was easy-land of milk, sugar, honey and that the streets are paved with Gold. This is not the case. You have to work hard to make your life as sweet as that honey. In America, if you work hard and smart, you can adorn your street of life with gold. But nothing is given on a silver platter. The destiny is in your hands