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Getting to Know Series: Chukwuma ‘Chuma’ Emesiani – from Nigeria to Trinidad

By Kaelanne Jordan

There is a man whose name embodies the bridge between two worlds. To his Nigerian family and friends, he is Chukwuma Emesiani, a name that carries the echoes of a distant homeland in Nigeria. However, in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, his colleagues know him as ‘Chuma’, a gentle giant who serves as the Facilities Officer. Chuma’s father, John, is Nigerian and his mother, Genevieve, is Trinidadian. They met in London while his dad was pursuing studies, and his mother, was a nurse. The union birthed nine children, six boys, and three girls. Chuma is the third child and second son.

Migration for better opportunities

The siblings arrived in Trinidad in December 2007 to meet their mother. Chuma was 26 years. Of the decision to migrate, Chuma told The Catholic News Nigeria was becoming a “very difficult” country to survive in and it was unsafe. “So it was always my father’s plan for his children to leave the country for betterment, to experience more exposure so that happened to be the appropriate time for it,” he explained. He further detailed the level of corruption in his homeland is “exceedingly high”. “It’s become like the norm for everyone to be corrupt and even those who speak against corruption are corrupted too,” he said. Chuma rated corruption as the “umbrella” with robbery, rape, and murders, “just like Trinidad, but when you really think of it, for what reason?” Responding to his own question, Chuma cited survival. “You have a lot of graduates with Master’s degree who don’t have jobs…. what can they do? They turn to the criminal element choice to survive which is I rob you or I take what you have to survive.” Chuma’s father’s dream for his family to all reside in Trinidad was bittersweet, as he passed October 2007. Commenting on his residency, Chuma said, “it was like welcome to paradise”. He recalled when he and his siblings arrived during the Christmas season, they were inundated with Christmas trees and lights, nothing like how they would usually celebrate in Nigeria.

“Christmas in Nigeria is more or less you or your parents buying livestock. So, they buy live chicken or goat or cow…killing the livestock and roasting it…When I mentioned it [here] they were laughing at me…”

Trinidad vs Nigeria

His overall perspective of Trinidad is that it is “very organised”. He said he was in awe that drivers use the roads/highways and obey the traffic lights. “That was fascinating to me,” he said, laughing. “Where I come from, people drive crazy, they drive on the shoulders, just careless, crazy…so just coming to a place where the lights change, and people obey…. If that can happen in Nigeria, that’ll be so good, that’s what you call order,” Chuma said. He said road traffic accidents are high in Nigeria. “The reason why it’s that bad is that there are no speed limits, no speed guns, no kind of order on the road so if you hit a full vehicle, you can imagine the result on impact. Everybody dead, more or less.” The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), in a May 2023 article reported that over 40,000 people die annually from road traffic crashes in Nigeria. The Corps Marshal of FRSC Dauda Biu said road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death and disability in the country. While the family adjusted to the newness of the Trinidadian culture, they continued their traditions from their homeland. This includes praying the rosary together, and attending Mass. He said in Nigeria, the family would share one pew. The ladies usually covered their heads, and the men would remove their hats upon entering the church. He observed the tradition of women covering their head is not practised here. Littering is commonplace in Nigeria. In fact, Chuma shared he was scolded on one occasion. He praised this country for upholding general maintenance and being environmentally conscious. This, he said is also observed in Nigeria, but to an extent. The last Sunday of every month is dedicated to persons cleaning in and around their surroundings. “…no one is allowed to leave their home until 10 a.m. …. if you’re found on the road, you’ll be arrested. No business is opened until after 10.” He added, “The problem with that though, you clean your own environment, but what about the rest of there, where no one living? Who cleans that? Who cuts the grass? So, it leaves the country in a very dirty, inhumane state still,” Chuma said.

Adjusting to and embracing Trinidadian culture

He said he and his siblings all share their experiences living in a new country. He told The Catholic News he is still adjusting to hearing Trinidadians curse when they communicate. He opined Trinis communicate very harshly with each other especially when there is an anger component involved. Chuma also spoke of shared experiences of the dress code at Carnival. “My Carnival experience was horrible. I was expecting some kind of costumes…I was like Wow…if they do this and the kids around…no limits when it comes to appearances in public. So, the question is, do people have respect for themselves here? Now you live in a country, and you acclimatise, and you get used to it…so does it change your perceptions on how persons are to appear in public? The answer is no…” Chuma said. But their discourse isn’t always centred on displeasing practices. In fact, Chuma said he and his siblings “catch kicks” [Trini lingo] together. “Trinidad is an interesting place, they say it’s not a real place…it’s a real place, very interesting,” he said. He underscored his family has never felt like outsiders. “People can say whatever they want. At the end of the day, our mom is Trinidadian, so we are Trinidadians as well. We have all the things required to be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Empathy for refugees

He highlighted he empathised with Venezuelan refugees and any refugees migrating to a new country “one hundred per cent and over”. He referred to his own experiences saying, “It’s only when you put yourself in the shoes of these people that you understand. These are people like me and you who are trying to stay alive…. They are looking for what to eat, drink, shelter above their head…they want the same thing too,” Chuma said. He made an impassioned plea for all to be welcoming. “I come from a place of abject poverty, suffering, and pain to the point people get used to it and it becomes their lifestyle. Why should that be the lifestyle of people whom God created?” he said. He said Venezuelans, just like other migrant communities, come with a vast skill set to which they can contribute. He reminded persons, if the tables were turned, they would want persons to be welcoming.

He shared the same concerns of Nigerians as he spoke of the stigma that Nigerians are criminals. “Why you think Nigerians are all over the world? Because they don’t feel a sense of safety and survival in Nigeria….” Chuma said. “And I think it was easy for me to apply to the Church for the job,” he said.

In May 2008, Chuma responded to a vacancy for an IT officer at the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI). He stayed there until 2017. He cited he was not content with the lazy component of the job. “For me to be happy, I have to be active,” he said. Chuma said he initially wanted to pursue Polymer Textile Technology Engineering but his father “didn’t allow it” because of the distance from the university to his home. In hindsight, he asserted, “The interesting thing in life is you feel you know what you want at the very point in time, but the Bible says, ‘man plans his ways, but God directs his steps…But every day you wake up and pray and hope God guides you as to what your purpose is and what He wants you to do.” Questioned if he misses his home country, Chuma gave a resounding “no!”. He does, however, miss the food. He named his favourite dish garri and soup and okpa. He said local food is more processed, unlike Nigeria. He especially commented on the use of salt in dishes, “My goodness…. the salt thing…How do y’all do that?”