I Was Homeless: How It Happened, and How I Got Out

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homeless girlI was born in Nigeria, and contrary to the prevalent view of Africa, I had a good life. My father was a high-ranking politician and my mother earned so much running a chicken farm that she out-earned my father.

But, during my childhood, my mother wanted me and my brothers to have better opportunities and a better education. First she sent my oldest brother to America. Then, when I was 10, she moved me and my other brother to England to attend a posh boarding school (non-citizens are not technically allowed to benefit from the free, public education system in England).

My father stayed behind in Nigeria at his job, but paid for the boarding school. My mother joined the two of us a year later, with plans to start her own business, a bed and breakfast. My father sent her money to help with the down payment and mortgage on a nice house in London. She studied for a master’s degree in tourism and hospitality to make her dream business a reality.

I settled in, made friends and was happy.

When Things Started to Go Downhill

In 2001, my brother living in the U.K. left to join my other brother in America and attend college. Now it was just me and my mum, and because I was at boarding school, I was away from home for long stretches of time.

My mother started attending the UCKG church, a controversial international church that tells its members that God wants them to be rich, drive a nice car and live in a nice house–as long as they donate plenty of money to the church. Her degree in tourism turned out not to be as useful as she hoped, and the only jobs that came her way were menial.

She was a cleaner, a home care assistant, a newspaper deliverer and even started her own home cleaning business. She could never stick to one thing, getting frustrated or “inspired” and moving on to the next, making about £8,000 a year. Because of her relationship with the church, she believed she wasn’t at her full potential because Satan was trying to stop her. She made me attend church with her and watch religious programming on TV. I didn’t believe in all this at first, but you just can’t say no as a Nigerian child. Because no one else was there to challenge her religious views, I gradually came to believe in them, too.

Seeing what was happening in our lives, I was terrified.

My mother became depressed. She spent all day watching televangelists, not leaving the house for weeks at a time. She tithed 10% of whatever she was making. That wasn’t bad, but when I saw a check for $1,000 in her checkbook, she told me, “I paid that thousand so I could pay your school fees.” She had watched a telethon where they said, “God told us that the next 100 people who call and donate will get their donation back to them 100-fold.”

They didn’t mention they had recorded the telethon days earlier.

Because of her tithing and low wages, all our money seemed to disappear right away, and our living conditions quickly spiraled downward.

Thank God They Can’t Shut Off the Water

In Nigerian culture, the parents talk among themselves and the kids aren’t involved in family conversations, so I never got the chance to tell my father what was going on. He wanted to come join us, but he couldn’t leave his job or even visit–he kept applying for a visa and was denied. Meanwhile, he was sending the bulk of his money to pay for my brothers’ college educations, thinking my mum and I were doing all right.

When I was at home from boarding school during the summer or weekends, I had almost no food to eat. I survived by eating one meal of baked beans and rice a day. The telephone and TV got cut off, so I went to the library to use the internet. Utility companies can’t legally cut off the electricity or water; they can’t let people die in their houses, thank God. 

Our car broke down, so I took the train to school extra early to prevent anyone from seeing me walking down the road from the train station. I couldn’t afford clothing, so I would rummage through the lost property left behind at the gym.

At home, we had debt collectors banging on our door, and my mother’s bank account was blocked. To its credit, the school never said a word to me directly about our unpaid school fees, and I kept going to classes, racking up a bill of £15,000 which never got paid.

When I tried to tell my friends about our situation, they would say, “Oh, all right,” and wouldn’t offer any help. I got angry and wondered, Why even bother? So I hid it from everyone.

When school ended, I didn’t even have £20 for the train ticket to take the G.C.S.E. exams, which are like the SATs. Finally, my father told me to use my uncle’s credit card, which up until this point my mother had refused to use, even to buy a train ticket. I barely made it in time, but somehow I scored all A’s and B’s.

Finally, my father visited for the first and last time. It was then he saw our living conditions and realized how bad the situation really was. He bought me a laptop in preparation for college. I thought perhaps now he would be able to help us, but he was powerless to convince my mother to hold down a job and stop giving away all our money. She didn’t want to move back to Nigeria, either, and never gave me the choice to.

The Beginning of the End

One day when I was cleaning the house, I found shopping bags stuffed full of two years’ unpaid bills. The mortgage company had been trying to repossess the house but had been denied twice by the judge because they didn’t have the proper paperwork. I tried to convince my mother to move to a smaller home–we had a modest four-bedroom–closer to school so we could save on the cost of boarding at my school.

But she saw the two court rulings as a sign from God that he wouldn’t let our house get taken away.

We had no money for me to go back to school for my final two years, but my G.S.E.C. exams count as SATs and compulsive schooling ends at 16 in the U.K., so in January of 2007, at my family’s urging, I applied to a small college called St. Cloud University in Minnesota. I don’t think they could have afforded it, but they thought they would trust God and wing it, and since my brother was living near the school, I would be okay. That was pretty typical thinking on my father and mother’s part.

In February, the mortgage company wrote a final letter, telling us our eviction date was May 18th. We just prayed. My acceptance email from St. Cloud came, and I made plans to attend college in the fall.

The day of the eviction, they gave us one hour to pack everything up. We took very little, just clothes and my computer, because my mom said, “We’ll be back in one week, tops.” The eviction company left a note on our door asking us to call them and get our stuff, but eventually they gave up and burned all our possessions. My passport, exam certificates, prom dress, childhood possessions … my entire life, gone.

We were officially homeless, though we hadn’t hit bottom yet.

Out on the Streets

When my father found out we lost the house, he sent money for rent … but instead we spent it at cheap hotels. My mother continued to tithe. She thought that the only way to get out of our situation was to send money to religious organizations, and God would help us.

My father got frustrated and stopped sending money for about five or six months. When we ran out of money, I spent my first night on the streets of London. My mum and I wandered around all the tourist places, until we finally fell asleep in a train station. I sat in a photo-booth and drew the curtain, shivering. My mother called my father and said, “We slept on the streets.”

What could he do? He sent money.

The Turning Point

One day, I passed our old house and I went to look at it. When I realized someone was living there, I walked away crying. When I told my mother, she started sobbing. “I wish you hadn’t done that. You just messed up my faith.”

That was when I finally realized her faith didn’t make any sense. And yet I wouldn’t fully accept that she had a mental illness for several more years.

We continued to bounce from place to place. Because I was barely getting enough food to eat or the basic necessities, I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be on earth anymore, and I wanted to leave a record of this homelessness and what drove me to this point. So I started a blog, posting every month or so using the laptop my father had given me. It wasn’t much, but I wrote when I could. I started getting traffic, and I did a couple of anonymous interviews on smaller internet radio stations. I went to great lengths to hide who I was, using different email addresses and hiding my IP address. My friends were reaching out to me via social networks to figure out where I’d disappeared to, but I ignored them.

Meanwhile, we went from hotel to hotel all over southern England, wasting the money my father sent us. When the money ran out, my mother called family friends she hadn’t spoken to in years and we would stay with them until they asked us to leave. We did this to four different families. One time, we were supposed to get a wire transfer on a certain day from my dad, but it didn’t come through on time. We fell asleep in the market, and while I shivered in the dark, somebody who was drunk and didn’t see me peed right next to me.

From there, we moved into a dingy hotel room with one bed. It was 2010 and I was 21.

How I Got Out

It would be the perfect ending to say I got out of homelessness because of my determination. But the truth is I got out because I asked for help. I met a man who was doing repairs for the landlady whose room we were renting. He and I started dating. But eventually he said, “There’s something really wrong here. I don’t know what it is.”

I told him about my homelessness, about my mother’s delusions. And he said, “Why don’t you come live with me?”

“Why would you want to help me?” I asked.

“Because you need help,” he said. I realized then that I could ask for help and receive it. I needed somebody to believe in me, and he did.

Severing Ties With My Mother

I thought by now this whole saga would be over, but the crap kept coming. My mother disapproved of my boyfriend because he was the wrong religion and older than I am. When I moved in with him, she stalked us, peering in his windows. She cared more about my dating the wrong guy than my getting off the street.

Now she’s a week away from being homeless. She’s known since April that she needs to leave her apartment but refuses to move in with us or even let me find her a new place.

My gut is telling me maybe I should just let her make her own decisions. I know that is cruel, but I can’t even convince her to take a free eye test, much less get her to go to the doctor and get medication. In Nigeria, mental illness is something we don’t acknowledge or admit exists.

Getting Back on My Feet

Now I’m technically a visa overstayer (something else my mother said God would take care of) and can’t work, so temporarily I consider my blog, which I’ve taken back up regularly, my job. I’m applying to get a visa, but without a passport, it’s difficult. I have to prove that I’m more English than Nigerian now.

I feel a bit of an anti-feminist admitting that my dad and my boyfriend support me, but I’m not spending much, and I’m not in any debt. I think that’s an amazing accomplishment. I’m petrified of credit cards.

My boyfriend, whom I will have been dating for two years this month, encouraged me to start studying again. I’m self-studying for the exams we call the A-levels, which I will finish in January. Then I’ll be able to attend university.

I would like to be a writer. If that doesn’t work out, I’m going to try to do something in sociology or science.

I was once homeless, but I am not hopeless.

Editors note: Since the writing of this story, Natalia’s mother has found a place to stay for now. 

  • thepixinator

    Here in the US we also have something called Legal Aid, which is free legal advice, and I would encourage you to find the UK equivalent to get help with your immigration status, and the fact that the bank burned your passport. That can end up being a very serious situation if you don’t address it, and in the US a person would need attorneys to sort out that kind of mess. I would also do this while you are underage – if you still are – because you might have more rights as a child that as an adult, in terms of staying in the country.

    You are young, but unfortunately you are now on your own, and you should have your own money, and if you can work legally I think you should.  I read your story, and feel great empathy for the ordeal that you have been through.  I would encourage you to perhaps find some work, at least part-time, and save money in case you should ever have to leave your boyfriend for any reason.  I don’t know how the UK laws deal with your situation, but in the US we can sometimes work “under the table,” meaning an individual pays  ap person cash for doing work like house cleaning and yard work, without filing tax documents.  But for heaven’s sake don’t get in any legal trouble!

    I get an over-all sense that you are a bit passively floating along, waiting for things to happen, and I would encourage you to take charge of your situation in a more active manner.  The religious fanatacism you have been subjected to has unfortunately taught you that a person just waits around for God to take charge of things that you are actually responsible for, and your mother clearly is incapable of taking responsibility as a parent, so you are your own parent now.  I feel like your mother probably was frightened when she arrived in the UK, and instead of taking steps to do practical things that could have alleviated her fears, she allowed herself to be lulled into the false security of vague religious promises that are unreal, and which are also criminally manipulative.  If you have to distance yourself from her to take care of yourself, do it.  Do not feel guilty.   You may also find that this distance forces her to learn to take care of herself, or at least to get help.  There may also be legal ways to force her to get help if she ends up homeless, and a forced psychiatric hospitalization might seem traumatic, but it could be beneficial for her in the long run.

    Please take care of yourself, and write an update.

    • Booktique

      I agree with your comments, but the individual is already over 21 — “It was 2010 and I was 21.”

  • Elana Robinson

    This story of getting back on your feet is truly impressive, in so many ways, for so many reasons. Bravo to you for getting back up financially, emotionally, and making a difference. Amazing.

    • homelessgirl1

      Thank you Elana

  • dee

    You are not an anti-feminist just because you receive help from men. 

    • Nadia Gomos

      I know but I was always obsessed with being equal and being independent, I do know that feminism is about choice and being a stay at home mum or anything else does not make you more or less feminist. That would be  offensive. 

      I just would like to be in charge of my own money and not let men determine my economic future

      • Jen

        Before my husband and I were married (or even engaged) we moved across the country together for his work, which meant facing having no income of my own for awhile, and likely always making a lot less than him. I too struggled with the the idea of becoming financially dependent on a man, and it took a long time for me to realize that he and I are a team, and we collectively determine our financial future. 

        • Nadia Gomos

          Wow, that is such good advice and a great way to look at things. I think I’ll look at it like this from now on

        • Cathswart

          I just had a similar experience with my fiancee. We only got engaged 2 days before we moved across the country, so the entire time we spent planning and preparing for the move we were not engaged. It was a stressful thing to deal with at times, realizing that you are putting yourself into someone else’s hands, but really made us develop a stronger ”team” mindset. And that’s really what a marriage is about, so it’s good practice :)

  • Pocaroseh

    Your story is very inspiring to me. I, too, have been homeless in the past( due to a long hard battle w/ intravenous drug addiction and mental illness ). I have been clean from drugs and mentally stable for almost 5 years now. However, it took me about 2 years before I was able to get off the streets and rent a place of my own. Your story brought tears to my eyes, an intense feeling of GRATITUDE to my heart, and helped realize the yearning I have to share my Blessings and help those who need it. Thank you, sincerely and may you continue FORWARD on your current path!

  • Amber

    Thank you for sharing. I was sucked into a similar religious organization for a couple of years and know how much they try to brainwash and manipulate people. I am so glad that you got help and are getting on your feet. I wish you the best.

  • anonymous

    We have a lot in common as I was homeless for a while due to my parents mental illnesses.  I have to cringe at some of the writing as to how you sound almost angry and let down at your friends for not helping you more and that they just said, “oh, ok” and you still ignore them.  The sense of entitlement is huge.  ”I went to boarding school, I got a laptop, my friends didn’t help me.”  It sounds like you expect people to hand you things and always help you.  Nobody owes you anything.  I’ve been working since I was 13 to support myself, saved up for a car which was also my home for a while.  Not everyone has parents who care about them.  I don’t have a mom anymore and yet you have one that wants you around and loves you and you act like she made life so tough for you.  Yeah, her choices aren’t thrilling but parents don’t do everything right.  Get a job and get over yourself.  You will miss your mom when she’s gone.

    • harumph

      Just because you claim to have had it worse does not make her situation any easier to bear. I suppose you are just a stronger person, at least a more judgemental one at that. 
      I don’t think the writer felt entitled just surprised at how apathetic the world and your “friends” could be.

    • Nadia Gomos

      wow, the fact that you don’t know me, have never met me or experienced what I’ve experienced makes all you have said even more ridiculous and inaccurate. I have no problem with criticism, but to call be privileged is ridiculous. Do you know that when you move to the uk on a student visa you have to enrol in private education. No you didn’t. A laptop is not a luxury good. 
      It’s sad you feel that way, I know my life and what I went through and the pain and suffering, one annoying comment isn’t going to change anything about the truth

      • Cathswart

        It is just one person’s uninformed opinion. It can be especially hard to break away from a parent who is on a destructive path. I think you deserve a lot of credit for getting out of your situation and trying to find a new path. It can be really hard for people to accept help from others, but sometimes it is the only way. Good luck getting your visa! It’s great to see that in the meantime you have found another way to put your talents to work with your writing.

      • anonymous

        Nadia, thank you for your reply.  You’re speaking directly to the point I was making.  You don’t know me either and yet you call me ridiculous, inaccurate, and annoying.  You even question what facts I know about the UK; having no idea about my nationality.  I’m happy that you don’t have it as bad as you did, that you’re in a better place now, and that you have a blog where people are supporting you.  However, the first reaction you have when someone doesn’t behave in a way that is to your liking is to lash out at them and criticize their behavior. I read your blog, this is a reoccurring theme. We’re both in the same boat; bad situation through no fault of our own.  You’re right, only you know your life and for you, this is rock bottom.  However, to expect more from your friends and family than they’re able to give is unhealthy as is depending on a boyfriend rather than standing on your own two feet.  My point is to quit waiting for dad, boyfriend, uncle, whoever to bail you out and do it for yourself without being bitter and defensive of those who in your eyes fall short.  You may not agree with my opinion but I do have a free and clear right to say it even if you are not willing to listen.  Feel free to post back if you’d like but I’ve made my point and there’s nothing more for me to add.  I’m sorry you are so angry and defensive about my observation.  Best of luck to you.  I will no longer be following your blog.

      • LeAnne

        Actually, we did know that you had to enroll in private education for a student visa in the UK.  You mention that in the article. 

        That aside, I commend you for finally getting out of your situation.  I think what is surprising to the previous commenter is that you do not mention once what you did for employment during this time which makes it appear as if you didn’t work as a teenager or young adult. 

    • http://twitter.com/rinoakes Leah

      Well of course you’d expect your friends to help you!!! They are your friends. I think YOU should get over yourself, of course she is going to be angry.

  • Inspectnet1

    Thank You LV for posting this story. Nadia is a good writer and very intelligent. I read so many times about how well off so many people are with homes, cars, vacations, families, and so on, but there are so many that are not as fortunate. It takes so much courage to write about real life and be very open about life’s situations. You will do well Nadia, keep at it.   

    • Kristy Hall

      It doesn’t take any courage to write about real life, or to be open about one’s situation via internet writing. To get people to read what you wrote, and to keep them coming back for more, takes a lot of self-introspection and creative writing. The girl can write, I will give her that much.

  • Liz

    Thank you Nadia for inspiring all of us. It takes a lot of courage to share such a hard story. I really hope your mom gets better and accepts your help. 

  • doris

    this is a sad story.  churches have made more people hoeless now than ever before

  • Cmoody975

    Nadia take heart, you will get through as long as you keep moving forward. Once you break free, just keep going and you’ll get through — my personal mantra since my mother decided she no longer wanted to speak to me. She has threatened me with this estrangement for seven years now. I am only starting to see how much her mental illness (I believe borderline personality disorder, probably what your mother has as well) has ruined my outlook on not only the world, but also myself. EVERYONE is allowed space in this world to call their own, whether for a moment or a lifetime. We are each allowed to make our own choices… I hope you are learning these lessons as well. “you have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!” ~Dr. Seuss

  • kgal1298

    Well good for her for getting out of it. Never take shame in asking for help because everyone needs help at some point. You learn, then, to become stronger and self-sufficient in this way and you don’t even realize it until later. 

  • Bella

    Glad you are in a better situation now. But my only concern is what would happen if you were ever left without your boyfriend or father to help you out?
    My mother was a stay at home mom and when my parents divorced my mom had to get a job otherwise would have had nothing so it is hard to have to depend on others.

    So I am just trying to understand why your father keeps sending your mom money and supporting her bad ways?

    • Heed0985

      First i think he keeps sending her money because its his fault that she’s away from Nigeria. If he could be with her he would but there’s only one way he can help her and that is with money so she’s not homeless and in danger.

  • Logan

    Wow – your story is heartbreaking.  I’m glad you found a positive way to get off the streets and away from your mother’s mental illness.  I hope your relationship with your boyfriend continues to be a positive one.  Good luck to you -

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A2DOBTCOWOSNEXSOLUUDBWTXH4 Rachel

    Nadia, I am so impressed by your strength and your candor. I work in mental health, and it is often so hard for the families of very sick clients to know what to do. Often people don’t realize for years that their loved one is ill, as it sounds like was the case with your mother. It’s so hard to support someone who cannot support you back and who has been, unintentionally, the cause of so much pain. I’m so sorry that you’ve had such a hard road, but it is inspiring to hear that you have found a way to begin a new life for yourself. You’ve somehow found the strength to build something of your own out of your experiences, and I think that’s very brave and admirable of you. Thank you for sharing your story! 

  • Ossie Marie

    What a story, what an adventure and so clear.  Looks like the makings of a writer.  Looking forward to your next chapter.

  • MzNatural

    I’d like to thank you for sharing your story.  I truly appreciate your honesty and take my hat off to you for doing what you could with what you had.  I also like the approach I use now “Taking it one day at a time” This is another serious topic that I’m happy LearnVest decided to explore because  many people are one paycheque away from being homeless. Thanks again and know that someone in Canada is smiling and wishing the best for you :)

  • cca.

    I am moved by your story. You are so strong and you have a huge heart. I hope your mother gets some help.

  • alohamom5

    Small world!  St. Cloud State is only 20 minutes from my house :-)  I am so glad things are turning around for you and I wish you all the best for a successful life and I also wish for your mother to get the help she needs.

  • LeAnne

    Thank you for sharing your story.  I also came from a religious family who made sure tithing was a priority even when money was tight.  Thankfully, it did not go to the extremes that you mentioned.   I wish you the best of luck in getting out of the situation.

  • Tjones09m

    Nadia, your story is sad but shows you are a determined woman. Not all churches are this way. The Bible teaches about tithing but it also teaches about wise decision making, investments, work, helping those in need, etc. The message has been twisted. You and your mother should have been able to go to your Church for help. Please don’t believe that this is what God is about. Your mother’s choices are foolish and went way too far. You must make wise decisions as well. Remember that education alone doesn’t equal a good life. I’m sorry that you have been shown such a wrong and extreme view of the Church.

  • Hannah Rose259

    Hang in there, Nadia! I’m glad you have support from your father and that you live with your boyfriend–and who cares if it’s feminist or not! What’s important is that you’re off the streets now and taking steps to improve your life. I once was homeless, too, until my family finally decided to step up and help me rent a tiny studio. Now I’m able to focus on creating a new life for myself, too. I support you!

  • Achill

    Getting a degree in English, sociology, or some sciences would land you in the same boat as your mom when she got a degree in hospitality. It’s not a really marketable degree. Don’t take my word for it either, do the research yourself. If being financially responsible and independent means something to you, go out there and see what job postings these days require. Usually the jobs aren’t exactly glamorous – teaching math, engineering, nursing.
    Good luck.

  • luv2graze

    This [being homeless] could happen to anyone of us.  For some people all it would take is one catastrophic event (ie. losing a job, car accident, a terminal illness) and they could be in a similar situation.

    I try to remind myself of this and am grateful for what I have worked hard for but also not to take it for granted.

  • Fatty Behr

    Hi Nadia, I really respect you for sticking with your mother through that long. I know what it feels like to have a mother who is going in a different direction than what is best for the rest of the family. Like you, I also followed my mother for a long time without realizing that it may not be the best decision. Finally on my own after college, I struggled a lot with identity and what to believe it. To this day, I am still struggling with something as simple as deciding for myself. I struggle because I am afraid of making choices that would reflect my mother’s poor choices. The struggle is becoming less and less as I learn from my mistakes and my experience. Keep going Nadia and get yourself to a higher place! :) 

  • Anon

    You are a disgrace and a Jezebel

    • Nadia Gomos

      Aww thanks, and your anonymous too. Wow so brave.

      • The New Mrs Gomos

        Will knowing my name make you feel better or worse I wonder

        • Jill

          Go away. You are rude for no reason. This author shared her personal story, she does not care what you think.

      • The New Mrs Gomos

        I am Mrs Gomos

  • loc_dawg

    Trick

  • Soraya

    Hello I am Nancy ,I am out here to spreed this good news to the entire world on how I got my ex lover back.I was going crazy when my love left me for another girl last month, But when i meet a friend that introduce me to Dr Sango the great messenger to the oracle that he serve,I narrated my problem to Dr Sango about how my ex love left me and also how i needed to get a job in a very big company.He only said to me that i have come to the right place were i will be getting my heart desire without any side effect.He told me what i need to do,After it was been done,In the next 2 days,My love called me on the phone and was saying sorry for living me before now and also in the next one week after my love called me to be pleading for forgiveness,I was called for interview in my desired company were i needed to work as the managing director..I am so happy and overwhelmed that i have to tell this to the entire world to contact Dr Sango at the following email address sangospelltemple@gmail.com

  • Krista

    Because of a complicated family situation much darker than yours, my boyfriend and myself are going to be homeless. We live in a small town in california and well everyone knows that california is the brokest state in the US. Since i’m already in a relationship and most stories I keep reading about people getting out of homeless is through some kind of love story… how else do you suggest I reach out? I have a “working homeless” friend in the bay area who says she knows a few people who can help us out in terms of finding work and housing. Plus there are free classes for the homeless out there but i don’t know how well that will work out.

    • guest

      i think you should try both of those options mentioned in your post, the working homeless friend and classes, and at the same time between you and your boyfriend aren’t there ANY ‘other’ family members not involved in the family situation you mentioned that can help, or ANY other friends that can help/put you up?

      I believe one should ask every single person they know for help, the worst that can happen is that they say no. Otherwise I don’t think one could say they have done their best to get out of the bad situation.

      Although this is not related to your situation, I have a hard time sympathizing with those who have not asked for help from every possible source, if pride gets in the way then one has no business saying ‘poor me, look how bad my situation is/was’. I of course appreciate that there are those who have tried everything, and i know that it’s very difficult

      I work with a homeless charity in London, and one of the things they try to do with the newly homeless is reconnect them with family/friends from the places they have left/been forced to leave – often there is someone in their family or social network unrelated to the circumstances who is willing to help, only the homeless person didn’t ask.

  • Ryan

    I wish I was a woman and could use sex to change my circumstances as you have.

  • Abba Okoro

    Wow I’m Nigerian too so I know how that stigma feels but good luck hope you and you’re mother make it