As soon as immigrants from Africa arrive in Maine, they are struck by how busy Americans are, and how fast the pace of life is here. In contrast, in most countries in Africa, life’s activities proceed slowly, in step with traditional routines and rituals. Even the most hard-working people spend some hours each day with friends, relatives, and family members.
Immigrants are often shocked by the long hours of the typical American workday. They don’t understand how, when people work so hard, they have enough time to rest. African immigrants say that time seems to go faster here and remark that life in America is very intense. They feel like they are constantly working, in an effort to make ends meet. Professionals are accustomed to working an 8½-hour day in Africa, which leaves enough time at the end of the day for socializing with friends before going home to spend time with family. They remark that many people seem never to stop working.
When an African immigrant moves to the U.S., family roles often shift. One spouse may work the day shift, and the other work the night shift, which means parents barely spend time together. This also means that husbands, who were completely free from childcare and household chores in Africa, find they must now share these responsibilities. In general, gender roles are very distinct in Africa. For husbands and wives to share household responsibilities is a big adjustment for African immigrants. This shift takes time and is often uncomfortable. Also, mothers who worked professional jobs in Africa, and whose children were cared for by housekeepers, find they must do everything by themselves here. This is also a difficult adjustment.
African immigrants who spoke to Amjambo Africa! this month expressed concern over the future wellbeing of their community. They said that, in Africa, parents and close family members spent time with their children as they matured, and prepared them for adulthood. Girls spent time with their mothers, aunties, and cousins and learned about different traditions and rituals that prepared them for their future. Boys spent time with their fathers and uncles, and practiced skills and traditions.
Some immigrants say they feel like they are raising two nationalities in one house here; their kids learn from their parents, but perhaps learn even more from the community of their peers. Parents feel that their children have become fully Americanized, while they themselves adhere to traditional views and values. They worry that they don’t have enough time to share their views and values with their kids because of their very busy work schedules, and the intense pace of life in the U.S. Their biggest fear is that kids will turn away from their parents and become involved in drug-related activities, drop out of school, or develop depression.
Relocating to the U.S. is not easy for families, and our sources asked for more help managing the huge cultural shift in their lives, and in the lives of their communities.