A year-and-a-half to the day that Neni Jonga arrived in the United States, she and her friend, Fatou, are in Chinatown trying on fake designer handbags. Neni loves New York, and being in Manhattan still feels like a dream. She’s no longer “a jobless, unwed mother, sitting in her father’s house in Limbe […] waiting for Jende to rescue her.” Jende worked three jobs to save the money that Neni needed for her student visa, for their son Liomi’s visitor visa, and two airline tickets. For two years, Jende shared a two-bedroom basement apartment in the Bronx with six other men.
Living in New York makes Neni feel, for the first time, like she’s playing an active role in her life. The fake designer bags make her feel rich and important, as though she can seize some of the wealth that seems abundant in her new country. Jende’s willingness to sacrifice his own comfort by living in a cramped apartment for a year is an indication of his commitment to his family and the realization of all of their dreams.
Two weeks after Neni arrived in America, in May 2006, she became “a respectable woman” and married Jende. For Neni, Limbe now feels like “some faraway town,” a place that she loved less with Jende no longer there. She felt nothing when she left Cameroon, whereas New York is now the place where all of her desires are harbored. She has a job for the first time in her life, as a home health aide. For the first time in sixteen years, she’s a student, studying chemistry at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She also has a dream beyond marriage and motherhood: to become a pharmacist. At thirty-three, Neni is determined to become something, to make herself proud.
Marriage is important to Neni because her father’s imprisonment of Jende made it feel as though their love was not only illegitimate but illegal. Limbe feels far away to her because it’s a place that she associates with a lot of bad memories—particularly the death of her first child. In New York, she can realize the dreams that were merely shriveling up in her in Limbe. Neni’s immigrant experience is one in which stagnancy has been replaced by possibility.