Coming to America

(Photo: Heather McPherson)

From the Ivory Coast: A Persistent Writer and Publisher

By Heather McPherson

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

While on vacation in America in 1994, Sidibe Ibrahima met the lady who gave him the story for his first popular urban novel.

A native of the Ivory Coast, West Africa, Ibrahima, 37, is now writing his fifth book on life in America. And it’s all based on his unique perspective as a street vendor. He runs a book stall on Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem.

“I have managed to overcome most of the barriers because I have not limited myself to thinking anything is too big or too small for me to handle,” he says, “I always think I can do it.”

Although that lady’s story eventually became a hit, getting it published was not easy for Ibrahima. He was rejected by 35 publishers who read his manuscript and told him it did not contain the kind of material they were looking for.

But Ibrahima persisted. At that crucial time, he remembered an old saying his mother taught him: “Do not depend on anyone to do for you. Do for yourself.” He realized he had to publish for himself.

Ibrahima came to live in the United States in the year 2000. His first New York job, as a taxi driver, helped him to learn the city quickly. But it was so dangerous – twice he was shot by robbers – that he had to quit. His next job was as a jewelry store clerk, but only long enough to save the $600 he need to start his own business.

He bought a few books and opened his own sidewalk stall. And while he sold books by other authors, he started to write his own. His first book, “Fatou,” is partly based on a story he heard from a young African woman about her experiences in the United States.

Until that point, most of his writing was limited to poems he dedicated to his beloved mother. After all, his mother, an educated woman, had always been his mentor and inspiration. In spite of his limited writing experience, Sidibe completed the first part of “Fatou” in one year, and the second shortly thereafter.

Sidi, as Ibrahima is popularly known, reminisces that he initially published 500 books and they were sold out in a short time. He printed 500 more and they too were sold out quickly. He said that pattern continued, claiming sales of thousands of books in London and Jamaica last year.

“The most difficult time I had with distributing my books was to get to the large distribution companies such as Barnes and Nobles,” he says, “but when readers went to their stores and asked for my books the companies contacted me, so that is how I made a breakthrough to the large scale distributors.”

Since his books have been successful, Ibrahima claims he has been approached by many established publishers but has refused. He prefers self-publishing.

He has also been invited by a number of organizations to submit his writings to be considered for awards, but he has also refused. He says he does not want to be recognized by awards, but by his writings.

For Ibrahima, writing is a necessary outlet to describe the struggles he has endured through life.

“When you write something, it stays for life,” he says, “but when you talk, it is easily forgotten.”

His childhood dream was to become a doctor. In 1985, Ibrahima went to Germany to pursue that dream. But it was too expensive. His family could afford to put him though medical school, so he settled for a BA in Business, which is serving him well at the book stall.

“I do business with an honest heart,“ he says. “There is competition in the urban literature market but the competition is positive. I am lucky to have good people around me and I have the support of the people in the community.”

He has helped several young writers to self-publish their work and is always willing to mentor newcomers.

But he is also contributing to the building of a hospital in the Ivory Coast, and working hard to establish the “Harlem Book Center Publishing and Distribution Company.”

Ibrahima has expanded his business to five book stalls the New York area, and is negotiating with distribution companies in Germany and Sweden to have his books sold there.

He is now in the process of editing the French version of “Fatou” and is planning on doing a movie based on it.

“I have to try to stay on top,” says Ibrahima, a humble man who praises God for his success.

(Photo: Heather McPherson)

From Macedonia: Overcoming the Obstacles

Written by Emina Ajvazoska

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Before she even begins to tell her story, Nefiza Bajramoski slaps her knee and chuckles. Just thinking about how she and her family came to the United States more than 30 years ago brings a smile to her wrinkled face.

Bajramoski, 76, originally from Prilep, Macedonia, says her husband, Emin, 74, started dreaming about coming to the United States when they were both very young.

“I, like everyone else in the town, thought he was crazy,” Bajramoski says in Macedonian. “How were we supposed to just get up and leave everything, our jobs, and more important than anything else, our families?”

But even without support from his family, Emin persisted. In his homeland, he worked as a tobacco weaver along side Bajramoski in the local tobacco factory. However, his dream was to seek a better life for himself and his family in the United States.

Eventually, he decided to do something to make his dream come true. He sought the help of a church in Austria and they sponsored his trip to his dreamland.

“They helped a lot of people come here,” says Bajramoski, who noted that her husband was sponsored based on one condition which she thought was terrific: He had to bring his wife and five children with him.

“The woman in charge said it would be a shame if he just left his family behind, which was what he wanted to do,” she says jokingly.

However, the journey wasn’t easy. Just before they left Macedonia, things started taking a turn for the worst. “My daughter hurt her foot as we were preparing for our trip to Austria,” Bajramoski says, noting that she took it as a bad omen.  “It was as if God was trying to tell me something,” she says.  “I knew it wasn’t going to be fun at all.”

She let her husband come to the United States, by way of Austria, on his own. He settled in New York, where he found a job as a butcher in a meat market.

She was against the journey from the beginning. While her own family wanted her to stay, she said her in-laws encouraged her to follow her husband to the United States.

“They had an agenda,” she says. “Thinking of themselves, they tried almost anything to convince me to go.”

Eventually, she realized there was something to be gained from leaving her in-laws behind.

“I figured if I left the only home I’ve ever known, I would be far away from them, an opportunity for a decent life for me and my children without having them leaching off of me the way they always have,” she says, jokingly.

In 1967, Bajramoski and her five children eventually followed in her husband’s steps and left Macedonia. They took a train to Austria, where they lived for a month before making the Bronx their new home.  But they almost didn’t make it here.

While still in Austria, Bajramoski and her children lived in a small apartment with a little tub they used to take baths and wash their clothes. She says they didn’t have anything to eat their first night there. “We stayed hungry for that night,” she recalls.

It was during their stay in Austria, Bajramoski says, she cried herself to sleep every night. She wanted to head back home.

It was the first time in her life she was away from her mother. “My mother took care of my children while I worked,” she says. “With them being sick, I felt helpless because I had no one to turn to.”

Even on the flight to the United States – her first time on an airplane – Bajramoski wanted to turn around.  She says she was terrified the entire time they were on the plane. “I was squeezing the arms of my chair, but then I realized everyone else must have been feeling the same way, so I decided not to pay any mind to it,” says Bajramoski.

She tried to keep busy by concentrating on her children. “My second-oldest son was air sick and one of my younger sons had his fingers caught in the doorway of a train on the way to the airport,” she says.

Even after they arrived, there were difficulties. At the airport, finding her husband was quite an adventure, especially since she couldn’t speak a word of English.

“There weren’t any people who could help me because no one spoke Macedonian, so we just waited around for a while once we got off the plane,” says Bajramoski.

But they didn’t have to wait too long for Emin. “My husband was walking around the airport looking for us and he spotted a little girl with bright red hair and missing teeth,” she says. “If it wasn’t for her, I think we would’ve have ended up living there.”

Bajramoski and her family briefly lived in Manhattan before they moved to the Bronx, settling in right next to Yankees Stadium at 161st Street. “It was a different neighborhood while we were still there,” she says. “It wasn’t what it is today. But we loved the neighborhood anyway.”

They now live in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx. Bajramoski is now retired, after working for many years in a bathing suit factory.

Emin still works at a beer and soda wholesaler.

After Bajramoski and her family got comfortable in their new home, her husband’s family was looking to follow in their footsteps. “I realized why they insisted that I should join my husband,” she says. “They were looking to come here as well. I wasn’t excited about it, but I was forbidden from speaking my mind.”

According to Bajramoski, her family’s migration started a chain reaction. When people back home heard that their journey had been successful, they all wanted to join them.

“I can’t even begin to tell you all the people we brought over from our town,” Bajramoski says. “It is a story in itself.”

From Brazil: He Teaches ‘How to live in America’

By Kalicia Parkes

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Even as a young boy growing up in Brazil, Ricardo Barbosa remembers he was always fascinated by American culture.

“Every child in Brazil, at my time, was very connected to the American culture,” says Barbosa, now a 46-year-old teacher and director of a learning center.

But in Brazil, his knowledge of American culture was based mostly on what he saw on television. And he wanted to go much further than that. He wanted to be part of what he saw on TV.

At the age of 12, he decided that he was going to make it to America and took the initiative to begin learning English.

Now, as a director of the Civic Center, with offices in Manhattan and Mount Vernon, N.Y., his drive to learn the English language has made him a success.

“My parents thought I was crazy,” he says laughing. “They’d ask, ‘Why do you want to learn English when you live in Brazil?’”

(Photo: Heather McPherson)

But Barbosa continued the classes anyway. “The American culture was part of my childhood, even the language,” he says. “Although I spoke Portuguese, I was always eager to understand what John Travolta was saying in the movies.”

Even at 12 years old, his teaching capabilities were evident. “Suddenly all my friends were asking me for translations of songs or things like that,” he notes.

Barbosa began teaching at 20, while attending the Hebrew College for American Literature in Sao Paulo. After college, he taught Portuguese to children in elementary schools, “so I could make money for my big trip to America,” he explains.

In 1987, Barbosa saw his dream come true. He came to America, but he was shocked by what he found here.

“When I arrived here I realized that the America I knew, from movies and TV, was not the real America,” he says. “The language, with all the street expressions, and pronunciation was hard to get used to. The food was different than I thought it would be, and it was much colder that I ever dreamed.”

Upon reaching America, Barbosa needed to work. “It is difficult to say what I didn’t do because besides selling my body and drugs, I did everything: dishwashing, cooking, cleaning, construction, agricultural work, janitorial work, garbage picking, and so on.” Yet, teaching followed him to America as well.

“When I got to America I made friends with lots of other Brazilians living here who could not speak English and then I started teaching them“ he says, “first informally and then as a volunteer in my Seventh Day Adventist Church.”

When he realized how much he enjoyed teaching English, he went to Andrews University in Michigan, where he obtained a degree to teach English as a Second Language in 1994. “Since then, I have been a Berlitz teacher, pedagogical coordinator and school director,” he says proudly.

Barbosa’s biggest achievement has been creating the Civic Center, which was opened in 2002. “The Civic Center started with this idea of helping people to live in America,” he says, “and learning English becomes a very important part of that.”

Barbosa says that he was stunned by the high price of education in the United States. “So I was always sad that I could not help my own community with this important aspect of living in America,” he notes.

The Civic Center goes beyond just teaching the English language. Hiring mainly American teachers, it aims to project other characteristics of the American culture.

“Because of my experience, I am always concerned about teaching the ‘how to live in America’ subject,” he says. “Things like the significance of a traffic ticket, financial debts, education, American expressions, culture. Like what is Broadway? Who is Oprah? What is an Oscar?”

Barbosa wants even more, not only for the Brazilian community, but for all immigrants as well.

“At this moment we are working with the Alcoholics Anonymous of New York and developing a center for emotional help as well,” he says.

Being recognized by the Brazilian Consulate is what Barbosa is most proud of.

“When the Brazilian community recognized us as an important service that is helping our people to understand better our place in this diverse community,” he boasts, “that makes me proud.”

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