Interview conducted with Nyema Morais on December 18, 2017 at MLK, Jr. Academy for Excellence in Lexington, Kentucky. Student interviewers were Anaya Franklin, Keyiona Webb, and Sierra Soper.
Anaya: Today is 12/18/17. My name is Anaya Franklin and I am conducting an interview with Sierra Soper and Keyiona Webb. And we are interviewing
Anaya: Who came to the United States as a refugee. This is an interview… I mean this interview is a research project on former refugees living in Central Kentucky on behalf of Martin Luther King Jr Academy, a school in Lexington, Kentucky. This interview is being monitored by my teachers Ms. Lisa Henry and Mr. [Tim] Middleton.
Anaya: What’s your name?
Nyema: Nyema James Morais
Anaya: How do you spell that?
Nyema: Nyema is spelled N-Y-E-M-A, James…
Nyema: Yes, that’s my middle name. And Morais… M-O-R-A-I-S
Anaya to other students: Did you all get that?
Nyema: You better spell it right. M-O-R-A-I-S. (laughs)
Anaya: What’s your age?
Nyema: 29, I’ll be 30 coming up in February.
Sierra: Happy early birthday.
Nyema: Thank you
Sierra: Where were you born?
Lisa: Okay, you’re going to have to talk louder because the mike’s got to pick you up. So talk in your normal Sierra voice. (Laughter)
Sierra: Where were you born?
Nyema: Well I was born in the country called Liberia, I don’t know if you guys ever heard about its spelled L-I-B-E-R-I-A. Liberia.
Sierra: What was your family like?
Nyema: Family life, like growing up so far like what you mean like? I had a huge family, you know, see. So we kinda like got along pretty good. So we had a big family, big family. I mean everybody was good. Huge family.
Anaya: What was your best childhood experience?
Nyema: My best childhood experience is growing up with my brothers and sisters, because I wasn’t raised by my dad. But we was always being taken care of… going to school and all that. So… and Mama always provided you know what I’m saying food for us. So it was kinda like good and going to school at the same time. That was one of my best moments back home You know had a lot of friends and all that, so just feels like home.
Anaya: Did you attend… well, he already answered that.
Lisa: Umm… How long did you attend school for in your home country?
Nyema: Well I think… I think for about about 6 years or so because I was little when I came to the U.S.
Nyema: So probably right around… I dropped out of school when I was about like 8, and then when I got here about 13 years old. Then started going to school in Chicago, Illinois. So I didn’t go to school too long back home based on my country’s situation. You know what I’m saying? So it wasn’t too long.
Anaya: What caused you to come to the United States?
Nyema: Well, to get a better life you know. It’s not like where I was living it wasn’t a better life. It was a better life, but having a luxury… having to wake up to have an easy day or have a hot meal ready to eat, it wasn’t like that you know what I’m saying? Plus, it was kind of like a rough country so I had to come to get a better life and something and get a better education.
Lisa: Was Liberia in their Civil War when you came?
Nyema: Yes, it was, it was. We was in the war because I remember 1996 I remember uh my daddy was telling me and stuff like that. The war it was kinda bad. It was crazy to where if you can’t speak this language, you know what I’m saying, if you can’t speak our language these guys come and kill you and stuff like that. And then when you’re about 8 years old, 6 years old, sometimes they’ll kidnap young guys and take guys away from their parents for like six or seven months, you know what I’m saying? To try to teach you guys to be a bad guys and stuff. So it was kinda like a little war country, you know? And it just now starting to get a little bit better because we got a fe- a lady president, you know what I’m saying? So she runs the country now so it gotten a little bit better.
Lisa: That’s good.
Nyema: Any question guys? Ask me questions.
Keyiona: Could you describe some of your experiences in your home country?
Nyema: Some of my experiences? Hmm… Well, it’s kind of like cool because growing up back home I mean you could go to the store, and you’re six, seven years old, and I’m sorry but you could buy a pack of cigarettes without an I.D. and all of that.
Nyema: It was kind of cool and all that you know? They don’t got all of the laws like you got over here. You know what I’m saying? But it was a good time too when we were going to all the different different countries, all that travelling and seeing. Like we went to the biggest refugee camp in the whole of West Africa was getting it. You know what I’m saying. We didn’t get to see family and all that stuff. You know the Afro [UNKNOWN STATEMENT] where they speak French, you know what I’m saying. Because I speak French too, not fluently, but I speak a little bit of French. You know? But it was good moment because we were always out and about. We had a farm and all of that. Getting up in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon going out of there try to do all of that hard labor work. You know? So it was kind of an experience because you were being raised to be somebody on your own because your parents were not around. So it was a good experience that I had.
Anaya: Did your family come to the United States with you?
Nyema: Yeah, I had uh, there was about twelve of us that came to the U.S.A., uh the United States because I had three sisters and uh four brothers plus my granny who all came. But my mom and dad were… they left behind based on the war situation. Because we were all scattered everywhere, you know what I’m saying. So we was all together, and we could make the move. We couldn’t wait on them because we’d run out of time. I guess I still have family back home – my dad and my mom... I’m straight with my mom, and I lost my mom this past October.
Lisa: I’m really sorry.
Nyema: Yeah, but…
Lisa: Were you able to go home for the funeral?
Nyema: No. I wish I could. I wish I could. Trust me. It’s not as easy as you think it is, you know, because the reason why I didn’t went back home because when she died in October I was working and I didn’t… She was sick and all that and you just can’t jump in a car and say, “Hey, I’m going to Chicago. I’ll be right back. Or I’m going to New York, I’ll be back.” It’s like a long ride. It’s like eighteen hours on the flight. So sometimes you got to schedule the plane and all that. But I will go back in 2019. I plan to go back and see where she lay her head at. I’m saying, give my respect and all that. But I wasn’t there when she passed away. That’s life.
Anaya: How has living in the United States changed or impacted your life?
Nyema: Like you mean the United States or just Kentucky? Or just in general?
Anaya: In general.
Nyema: Well the United States really do. It changed my life because, trust me, you guys might not think how this country is important okay. Now, back home if you were to open up a magazine and see some pretty pictures you’d say damn I know those bitches came from America. This is cool, this guy dressed up nice, how did he get those shoes? You know what I’m saying? I wanna go. That’s everybody’s dream. You know what I’m saying? Kids growing up back home and stuff like that -- I wanna go to the United States because I mean a poor man can be a rich man, you can be a rich man and end up being a poor man if you don’t use your head right. So America is just ordered by like coming over here bettering up yourself and doing the right thing and you can go back and help all those people that need help and other stuff, like you know what I’m saying? So it really changed my life because when I came from Africa, we was living in New York City for like say 6 months then we moved down to Chicago. I mean back home I didn’t have what I like the shoes, jays, sneakers and all that. I didn’t have it so when I came to the United States I wanted it. You know what I’m saying. So, I was playing soccer in Chicago for a living -- teaching kids how to play and all that stuff you know what I’m saying, but I always try to do the right thing trying to work hard whatever it is. The United States really do change my life. My family over there and my granny over there she’s getting better treatment and all that stuff you know what I’m saying. Everybody’s good you know. I would like to go back and I plan to go back and help others you know what I’m saying to let them know that hey you can be who you are today and don’t never give up in yourself and stuff like that you know. So it really do change my life. It does.
Anaya: Do you want to ask a question, Sierra?
Sierra: What is your life like now?
Nyema: Now, it’s not 100%. I mean it’s good, it’s better than good. I just thank God every day that I can wake up and see my kids and talk to my kids and just you know just to get up and be on the go and stuff like that… pick up the phone and call my family say how y’all guys doing and all that. So that’s good.
Lisa: How many children do you have?
Nyema: Well I got four of my own plus 2 kids that I raised when they was little. So that’s six all together.
Sierra: Do you have a job?
Nyema: I do try to keep a job yes, but I do got a job.
Anaya: Where do you work?
Nyema: I work at S&S Tires
Anaya: Hmm I don’t know how to spell that.
Nyema: It’s right here. (points to shirt)
Anaya: Oh! (Laughter)
Nyema: I was on my way to work, but I had to stop over here and talk to you guys for a little bit before work, you know.
Tim: Do you have a hard time keeping a job or getting a job because you’re from a different place?
Nyema: Naw, naw, naw, naw, look I never had a hard time getting a job and stuff. Sometimes I might be out of a job for like a month or two, but I’m always on the market looking for a job, and stuff like that you know what I’m saying. But with My job I been there for like 5 years now, so I do a lot of stuff for that job an all that. It’s a good place.
Tim: Which one is it S&s Tire? Which one?
Nyema: Its right off JingleBell Lane, right behind Paul Miller Ford. It’s the corporate office and stuff like that. That’s where I met her dad at he comes over and picks up tires too. Not her but her dad.
Anaya: Umm… What do you want other people in Lexington, Kentucky to know about refugees? (11:41)
Nyema: Well, just kinda like don’t look down on refugees cause we are all human because we’re all the same people no matter what color you are and all that stuff. You know we can just all help each other out. Just be a better person in society, you know what I’m saying. Because at the end of the day, God created everybody you know what I’m saying but at the same time everybody got a different way of how to think, how to comprehend things and stuff like that but we all refugees. The war refugees don’t mean that you was born to struggle since the day your mama had you or since the day your father had you it’s just a struggle thing and stuff like that. But when you see a refugee or you see somebody who you feel like they from back home or whatever whatever country they from they need some help you know just open up and help them out and stuff like that because they never had that. You know? Just don’t look down on refugees and stuff like that because we are all human. Just treat everybody with respect and equal and with love and stuff like that
Anaya: How old is your oldest child?
Nyema: My oldest child he’s uh 13 years old. He be turning 14 by next year in May. Then my youngest boy is about nine I mean 8 years old. He should be going to nine years old sometimes next year in June, and then my other son my stepson is 12 years old. So and then my oldest daughter she just turned 7. Trust me I got my hands full we keep her down. Yeah the oldest one is 13 years old. They all just back to back.
Tim: Do you talk to them about home?
Nyema: Yes, I do. Yes, I do, because at the end of the day my kids only one of my sons my oldest son was born back home, but my other 3 kids was born in the United States. So they got to know what culture I’m from, where I’m from where my background from. so I do try sometimes to speak my language to them. I speak African language to them. They look at me like Daddy what you say. You know what I’m saying. Like sometime when I say close the door they laugh but I try to speak it more often so they can learn it. And sometimes my boys I bring them to the warehouse just to help customers load tires in the truck you know just to give them an idea that hey money doesn’t grow on trees but that you can come to work. I never had it when I was growing up with my dad so let me give it to these guys and stuff like that. But I try to show them where I’m from, being from my country and all that you know.
Lisa: I’m curious what was it like traveling to the US without your parents? I mean just I know you were with your grandmother.
Nyema: That hurt. That hurt a whole lot. Speaking of my parents I just talked to my dad last night sent him 50 dollars for Christmas. They out there trying to do better, but it was just so hard cause when war comes in Liberia it’s crazy. It’s just like we got war, I mean I hope it never happens. But let’s just say some war comes to Lexington everybody you know just crazy to figure that stuff out. Everybody just kind of in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes you sleep in the bushes for like 30 days because you don’t wanna to come in the city cause you afraid they gonna kill you and all that stuff. You know what I’m saying? So it was just and no phone service you can’t call, you can’t look, so it was just kinda hard. But they doing good. They in the family house -- one house where you can call on one phone and be able to get hold of anybody you wanna talk to. So they doing god just by the grace of God you know? But they doing good.
Tim: So Liberia is an American colony from the get go. They were a lot of ex slaves from the United States settled is Liberia. Do they talk about that part of their history when they teach?
Nyema: Yes, they do. Even the lady who runs the country Eddie Johnson that’s her name Eddie Johnson. She went to college over in the United States. You know what I’m saying? She ended up running for president. She won it because she was well educated and all that stuff, outspoken and all that stuff you know what I’m saying. So…
Tim: Ex slaves left the United States and they went back to Africa and they settled Liberia, Liberty Liberia. So Liberia was settled by ex slaves who left Africa and came back.
Nyema: If you really look at it we got the same flag color as you guys, the only difference. You guys got like 52 stars, if I’m not mistaken, but we got 1 stars in the middle of the flag. Same color and all that because it has something to do with the United States. You know what I’m saying. Even the currency the money we use, our money we use like 5 dollars. That’s the name of it, that’s the same how you guys pronounce it all the time we call it 5 dollars. The only difference is when we change the 5 dollar bill in African money, you probably got like 300 dollars American money. That’s the good thing about it, so 10 dollars probably give you 600 dollars in American money. You can live off that for lie a month, or whatever it is or something. You know what I’m saying. That’s a good thing about that. The American money over there is more valuable you know what I’m saying. Its huge. I’m lucky to be here. You know what I’m saying.
Tim: Do you wanna go back home? Would you like to go back to Liberia to live?
Nyema: To live there, well, actually I wouldn’t live there cause would go there to visit. I would buy a house out there so I can go back or go there on vacation. I can go home and stay there. You know what I’m saying. But yeah I”ll go back that’s home you know? It’s home. I don’t know what it looks like now cause I was little when I left there but I’m pretty sure. I know things have changed over there a whole lot.
Tim: So basically have you been treated well since you’ve been here as a refugee? I’m sure there have been some incidents where people haven’t treated you well. But basically if you had someone else from Liberia who wanted to go somewhere in the United States or Canada or somewhere, would you say the United States would be the best place to go?
Nyema: Like what you mean? Like?
Tim: Have you been treated well by Americans since you been… as a refugee
Nyema: Yes, yeah in a lot of ways yes I have, but at the same you gotta make that decision. Now if I were to walk outta here, and say I was going to go rob a gas station, I’m not going to be treated right, right? They going to put me to jail right so you got to make that decision So, you gotta be consistent in your life, you gotta know what you doing every day and all that stuff keep yourself out of trouble. Yeah, but if you got a clean record and you go anywhere in the United States, they going to treat you right. They gonna be fair to you and all that. You know what I’m saying. Like I say, it’s all about the decisions you make. You know what I’m saying. You know I had some bad times and stuff when I was in Chicago getting raised up and stuff. You know what I’m saying. You know getting kicked out of school probably picking on and getting in fights in school. But yeah it’s not that bad you know what I’m saying.
Anaya: Do you want to ask us questions?
Nyema: Yeah, so I’m going to start with you first. So since you was born and raised in the United States right? What you think is you grew up where you wanna be or how you wanna help other people or what you can tell other people right, would you like to go out and visit? Would you like to leave the United States and go visit other countries?
Anaya: Yes. I’ve been to Jamaica with my mom.
Nyema: Jamaica. That’s a life experiences over there. It’s the same over there too.
Anaya: Uhh it’s fun. It was really hot.
Nyema: It was really hot. But back home back in my country the temperature over there is like 120 degrees, sometimes like 220. Stays hot over there all the time. You know what I’m saying.
Anaya: So y’all never really got a chance to experience snow in the winter?
Nyema: We ain’t got winter. (laughter) We got 2 seasons back home. We got rainy season back home and we got hot season which is summertime all day long. (laughter) There ain’t no wintertime or nothing. But you know what’s so crazy is cause that’s how God created war and stuff. Because He knew what he was doing because I guess the United States people got the equipment for the temperature or just passionate people just smart knowing how to make things for cold weather and all that stuff. But we don’t have that technology back home. So if it had been wintertime back home then people was gonna die because those people don’t live in stable houses like you do over here. They live in a mud house and some of these people live in the [UNKNOWN STATEMENT] in the bushes. Do you know what I’m saying? That would have killed them. Remember when Ebola or Zika whatever that was whatever happened in Africa a couple of years ago? You know what I’m saying. Could you imagine how many people got killed off that because we didn’t have the right medicine. That’s how I lost my mama too cause she was in the hospital and she didn’t because she didn’t have the money. You know what I’m saying. So to pay for the treatment and all of that. So they gave her little doses just to keep her going and that’s how she passed away. So I mean it’s kind of like that. You know what I’m saying. But we only got two seasons man... you know. So I’m saying though. How old are you?
Nyema: So what do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to be?
Anaya: um... I kind of want to be a nurse like my mom.
Nyema: A nurse like your mom...? You want to save people’s lives. That’s big money you going to make that money.
Nyema: But you’ve got to stay focused on that you know.
Anaya: Yeah I know.
Nyema: You are?
Anaya: Kind of. I’m good.
Nyema: So what you good at just nurse things?
Anaya: Umm… before I came here I could have ran track.
Nyema: Well what happen?
Anaya: I came here... (laughs)
Nyema: Uh, okay. I don’t know how to say your name
Nyema: Sierra. Okay that’s an easy name right there Sierra. How old are you, Sierra?
Sierra: I mean 16! I’m 16!
Anaya: I was about to say you just turned 16.
Nyema: What do you want to do when you grow up? What you want to be?
Sierra: I wanted to be a cosmetologist but that’s hard!
Nyema: Yeah... Why is it hard? Because you can.
Sierra: I don’t know. It’s just hard. Because you got to learn how to do all types of stuff to be a cosmetologist.
Nyema: Yeah. Let me ask you a question. If you was a rich lady right now if you had lots of money right? What would you do with that money? Would you help all the people? Or I know your family come first. What would you do?
Sierra: I would help other people...
Sierra: And then spoil myself a little. (laughter)
Nyema: Yeah that’s true. That’s fair. Okay what about you? Umm. Hold on. When you grew up.. Well I know you’re growing up already but where is your mind in the future? What do you want to be in the long run?
Keyiona: Like what do I want to be?
Keyiona: I want to be an um... a corrections officer.
Nyema: True... so do you got what it takes to be that?
Nyema: So you not going to go out there and drown?
Anaya: Speak up.
Keyiona: No... I want to do that. That’s what I want to be.
Nyema: So would you like to travel all over the United States and see different countries and different things and stuff like that?
Keyiona: Yeah mmhmm.
Nyema: You afraid of heights? To fly?
Keyiona: O, I don’t know if I’m afraid. (laughter) That’s the thing I don’t know.
Sierra: That’s the one thing that I’m afraid of is heights.
Nyema: Yeah, so what you majoring in school right now? What you learning? What’s your favorite subject right now in the school?
Keyiona: Umm. History.
Nyema: History? So I’m pretty sure all of you all out here getting good grades in your class and all that A & B’s in your class and all that?
Sierra: I’m working on it.
Nyema: You working on it to?
Nyema: Well I’m pretty sure man that we all gonna get there one day and stuff like that but um yeah... So far so good that’s the question I got for you guys. You know.
Anaya: I have another question. So when you went to Chicago and you seen snow, how did you feel?
Nyema: Oh wow, you won’t believe what happened, okay. When I first seen my snow in Chicago okay this is how my auntie got me. She lived in Chicago so I was staying at her place. It was a lot of snow in her backyard so I got out there in the yard so I’m playing with the snow with no glove on you know? Making a snow ball and throwing it. So I came back in the house and my hands was cold, and she said why don’t you put some hot water on your hands and you might get it together quicker. Being the guy that just came from the bush I don’t know nothing about the snow. Went and threw some hot water on my hands that was the worst pain I ever went through. Like it took some minutes to go away because it was burning so bad and stuff like that. But it was kind of a little crazy because I was like dang! You know what I’m saying that’s so cool how it... How all this just piled up together overnight like this? How that happen? You know what I’m saying.
Sierra: I be thinking the same thing
Nyema: And it it’s just so crazy man, it’s just so crazy! And I’m like this snow is actually going to stick on this car and I got to scrape it off trying to get out of here, but it won’t even come up like damn that’s crazy! Know what I’m saying? But it was kind of amazing man, I really liked it. You know that was my crazy moment with my auntie that day I was like man auntie man you should have never told me that. You know.
Anaya: I use to do that
Sierra: What put your hands in hot water?
Anaya: yeah it didn’t work
Sierra: no it didn’t!
Nyema: Sometimes I would turn the stove like and keep my hands a little ways to loosen it up a little bit.
Anaya: See that might work, but the water didn’t work.
Lisa: Do you have any questions?
Anaya: Un uh.