Nadia Lejaille
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I was born in Kpalimé. I have six siblings and my father has three wives. My father passed away in 2016.

I did my first level certificate (BEPC), and I studied industrial mechanics for cars and big industrial machines. I also got my car driver’s license, but I didn’t find a job in Togo. I tried really hard, but no one hired me.

I went to Latin America for work, to Brazil to be precise, to Sao Paolo. I didn’t go to visit, but to work. Because strength wears off with time, I wanted to work because things weren’t going so well back home.

A friend from Brazil told me that there was work there. That’s why I went there. But it’s a developing country, it’s not very developed.

I left for Sao Paolo on April 4, 2016. From then on, I did all the paperwork. It was not complicated. I got my visa with the Brazilian embassy; it took two weeks and it only cost 22,000 FCFA (€33). You make the deposit, and I got the visa very easily because I did everything right. And I had enough money in my account at the time. I paid 650,000 FCFA (about €1,000) for a round-trip ticket. They had given me a visa for three months, but since I returned later, I had to pay penalty fees to extend the visa. But I had the money with me, so I was able to pay it. To leave, they check if you have 1,200,000 FCFA (about €2,000) in your bank account.[1] If you don’t have that, they won’t let you leave. That was my money, from my work, my savings of ten years. Nobody had lent me money.

It was the first time I was on a plane. But after what I had seen on television, I was not afraid. The flight lasted nine hours. We made a stopover in Ethiopia, where I stayed in a 3-star hotel. The next day we flew another nine hours. I was traveling all by myself.

At the airport in Sao Paolo, some Togolese fellow citizens were waiting for me. I had met them on the Internet. We got along well and when I bought my plane ticket, I informed them, and they picked me up. They were also the ones who helped me get the residence permits (CPF protocol). If the police catch you, you have to show this paper. The passport is not enough. For the first few days I had booked a hotel before I left. However, without knowing the hotel and Sao Paolo being very big, in the end, I didn’t go to the hotel but stayed with Togolese nationals. You pay 1,000 FCFA (1.5 €) for one night. I stayed for five days. After the five days, I had met a Haitian friend, Jean, through Facebook. He was a maintenance technician, and he was the one who had taught me a lot about maintenance. So, I worked with him. He taught me how to ride the subway, the train, etc. And because I have my eyes open, the next day I went to see him on the subway by myself. I’m a quick learner. There are many Haitian nationals in Brazil because France didn’t want to take them in when they had their first earthquake, so they went to Brazil.

There are also many Togolese citizens in Brazil. In the beginning, they taught me the language a little bit. There are also places that take in refugees to sleep and eat. But that’s not my way. It’s not safe for you to live with bums. So, I still attended classes to learn a little bit and to be able to express myself a little bit. In this country, they speak Portuguese. They don’t even speak English. Even the policemen couldn’t understand me.

Since I couldn’t find a job in Sao Paolo, I made a plan to go to Santa Catharina. That’s on the border with Argentina. But in the end, Jean and I didn’t make a stop. We went straight on to Argentina. And then we went through Panama, Peru, and Mexico. We traveled the distance by car, by train… and finally had to cheat at the Brazilian border to re-enter because we didn’t have a visa. That’s not easy. I thought it would be better in those countries. But in the end, it was best in Brazil.

I had the work permit for Brazil, and I used it to look for work. Since I had learned mechanics, I went to a garage to show my experience. I changed a tire. The garage owner liked it very much, but he told me he couldn’t hire me. There was no work. I scoured Sao Paolo, but there was nothing. So, I decided to return home. Things are better at home than anywhere else. I stayed in Brazil exactly three months and two weeks.

There were pretty brides, and the food was good. There is life there, but not work. But that was the reason why I went there… What I didn’t like is that there is too much violence. They are too aggressive. They think that because we immigrants want to work, we will take away their jobs. But they are just alcoholics and drug addicts.

[1] Togo has almost 9 million inhabitants and is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank, 28% of the population had an income of less than $2.15 per day in 2018. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was only $973 in 2021. In 2020, nearly half of the population had no access to electricity (

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