NEWS | Feb. 19, 2014

A new home ... a new life

By Eric Sesit Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

How do you begin to tell the story of someone so inspirational, yet so typical of many foreign nationals who have made America their home?

How do you put a face on someone who has overcome a life of poverty with absolutely no hope for a better future?

How do you express in words someone's love and admiration for a country he had never seen, and yet, despite all odds, was determined to make his home?

You listen to the tale of Petty Officer 2nd Class David Oba.

Oba is a hospital corpsman currently stationed at the Naval Health Clinic Charleston on Joint Base Charleston - Weapons Station, as a preventive medicine technician. Tall and slim with an infectious smile and an immaculate uniform, he could easily be the poster boy for Navy recruiting.

Oba was born in Nigeria and raised by his grandmother in a typical Nigerian village with limited electricity and no running water, but maintains this lifestyle while growing up was considered "middle class" by Nigerian standards.

"People are happy depending on their status," Oba said in impeccable English. "If that is all you know, then why wouldn't you be happy?

He finished high school and then went on to a university in Nigeria where he pursued and earned his bachelor's degree in geology. While Oba says the education he received was top notch, the daily struggles of merely existing in Nigeria made for difficult times.

"Housing at college is available only for freshmen and seniors. So during your sophomore and junior years, you are basically on your own," said Oba. "Imagine going to school and the first thing you do when you get up each morning is try to figure out where to get clean water for a shower, or sitting in your room studying for an exam and the electricity goes out."

And all the time he was working hard on his education, he kept his thoughts looking west to America.

"There is still a very strong belief in the rest of the world that America is the land of opportunity," said Oba. "It is the belief that there are always greener pastures and I was raised to always aspire to do better and to seize any opportunity for a better life."

Oba was familiar with a program for foreign nationals wishing to immigrate to the United States, but unknown to most Americans; the congressionally mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Each year the State Department makes available up to 55,000 diversity visas, drawn from random selection among all entries to persons who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Basically, Oba won the immigration lottery.

"I applied every year," Oba said. "Even before the application forms were available on the internet, I would fill out the paper forms and send them in."

Finally in 2005, during his junior year in college, he was notified that he had indeed, been randomly selected to travel to America.

"When I got the news, I was happy, but thought to myself, 'what am I going to do now?' I had one year left to get my degree and then, by Nigerian law, after graduation I was supposed to do mandatory government service for one year," Oba said. "But I came to find out that even though I had the Visa, the paperwork and logistics takes time. So while I finished college, I continued to make plans to go to America when I graduated, and, I was able to leave Nigeria without doing the mandatory service."

He borrowed money from friends and family and made arrangements to move to New Haven, Conn., where a long-time family friend had settled after emigrating from Nigeria.

And two weeks before he stepped on an airplane for the states, he married Oluwabunmi, with the promise that she would join him as soon as he was able to bring her to his new country.

He arrived in America in Sept. 2007 and got his first job at a shoe store. He didn't know about the recession, not that he would let that stop him, and then found a better job at Target. He paid back the money he owed his friends and family and moved into his own apartment.

"From day one, I was sending out resumes," Oba said. I had a degree in geology and I wanted to work in my field, but no one would hire me. So, I started to look on the internet to find out where the big oil companies were located and realized I needed to move to Texas. I asked my manager at Target if they could transfer me to Texas and his response was, 'Do you know how big Texas is? Where do you want to go?' So, I did a little more research and told him Houston."

In Jan. 2008, Oba packed his bags, moved to Houston and rented an apartment. But there was one snag ... his transfer paperwork from Target had not been approved.

"I didn't have a job, all my money was gone. It was the hardest time of my life," Oba said.

"I went from three meals a day, to two then to one. I would go to a fast food restaurant, get a small burger and coke and keep refilling the coke so I could get filled up.

"America was starting to lose its appeal. Even my friends commented that it wasn't this bad at home in Nigeria. Then I lost my phone because I couldn't pay for it and no one could contact me. I was completely cut off."

At this point, many people would throw in the towel, but not Oba.

"I just thought to myself that my situation cannot get any tougher than me," Oba said.

He found a job at World Market. Then he found another job at Office Depot. Then his job transfer worked out at Target. Unable to juggle all three, he quit the World Market job and plugged on with just two jobs.

And he never stopped sending resumes to oil companies.

Then, either by fate or by grand design, as he was walking down the street to use the public internet at the library to check on the status of his applications, a Navy recruiter stopped him on the street.

"I was frightened," Oba said. "When you see people in uniform in Nigeria, you know it is a bad thing. But this recruiter did his job well. He told me about the pay and benefits, and then he told me that the Navy would even help me continue my education. But the biggest factor was he told me I could become a citizen which would speed the process of bringing my wife and new child to America."

During the short two weeks David and Oluwabunmi were together before he left Nigeria, Oluwabunmi had become pregnant.

He called his wife. She was adamantly opposed, not wanting to lose her new husband in an American war.
"I was very, very scared. I didn't know what to say," Oluwabunmi said. "I thought it was a dangerous profession, in that, he's putting his life at risk of warfare, shootings, bombs and the like."

He called his mother. She told him the same thing.

"I thought to myself, I am here alone ... why not? So I made the decision to join."

In October 2008, Oba found himself at Great Lakes, Ill., for basic training.

"The first week was very hard. I had never had anyone in my face yelling at me and even though I knew English, I heard some words that were new to me. So, I just followed my shipmates' lead and did what they did. And I fell in love with the Navy."

Oba became an American citizen while studying to be a hospital corpsman and then reported to his first duty station in Pensacola. His wife and son joined him there Jan.1, 2010.

After Pensacola, Oba attended Preventative Medicine school in San Antonio, Texas, before settling here at NHCC. He has completed his master's degree in public health and Oluwabunmi, who already had a degree in microbiology is now a Licensed Practical Nurse working on becoming a Registered Nurse. They bought a house to accommodate their growing family as they now have another son.

"Every day I remember where I came from," Oba said. "Many people are used to having things given to them. Where I come from, you have to fight for it. If it isn't worth fighting for, it probably isn't worth having."

And with a look of satisfaction on his face, Oba said, "I am home."