When Saico was four years old, his mother had to leave him behind in Guinea-Bissau to deal with a family situation in Senegal. Two years later, she went back to get him and his brother.
It was hard for the family to adapt to their new country where they didn’t speak the language or understand the system. It was a family friend who, after noticing Saico was always at home, gave him a Senegalese name, Cheikhou, and enrolled him in a local school.
By the time Saico had gotten used to living in Senegal, his mother had to return to Guinea-Bissau. So as not to interrupt his studies, Saico had to become separated from his mother once again.
“I had to live with strangers, which wasn’t great because those were big family houses where you had to fend for yourself,” shared Saico.
He stayed with one family for a couple of years but had to find a new place to live after the father, the head of the household, passed away. This tragedy left Saico without options. If he couldn’t find somewhere to live in Senegal, he would have to drop out of school as his mother had feared.
But karma came to Saico’s aid.
“I had a friend that I used to help with his homework. His mom had seen me helping him at their house, and she liked that good deed. So, when she found out I had nowhere to go, she offered me to come stay with them,” said Saico.
Saico lived with his friend’s family right up until 2000, when his biological father, whom he hadn’t seen since infancy, came to get him. His father offered to bring Saico to Spain, where he lived with his new wife.
“I was there for a year, but everything got complicated. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him. We weren’t getting along, so he deported me back to Africa. I was there for six years until I could come back,” said Saico.
Although Saico was hurt by his experience living with his father, he knew he needed to keep going. Now back in Senegal, he accepted the fact that he’d never return to Europe. He got to work, learning how to make decorative art to sell and enrolling in computing school.
Years later, when Saico was already making a living fixing computers, his mother and step-father offered to sponsor his European visa. Saico accepted the proposition. He was young, able, and had no romantic attachments after having recently broken up with his girlfriend.
But Africa was not ready to let him go.
Upon arriving in Spain in 2007, Saico received a phone call from his former girlfriend, informing him that he was going to become a father.
Now, Saico had a purpose. He started by working with a group of Syrians in construction installing plasterboards. Every month, Saico would send money to his newborn daughter, keeping for himself only enough for rent.
The following year, Saico was able to get all his Spanish paperwork approved and got a job at a department store. Unfortunately, he found himself unemployed soon after.
“I moved to Portugal, where my mom and her husband were living, because I had no job and didn’t have money for rent or to send home for my daughter. But then, as I was getting ready to find work, I found out that my Spanish papers weren’t valid for work in Portugal. I didn’t want to waste more time doing nothing, so I went back to school,” Saico shared.
“I barely spoke Portuguese, but I would sit at the library trying to decipher the textbooks, asking for help on the internet so I could study for my tests. The problem was: if I passed the test, it still didn’t mean I had a job, and if I didn’t pass the test, I didn’t know how I was going to get a job.”
Ten days before his exam, Saico traveled back to Spain. To continue supporting his daughter, Saico stopped by the city hall to ask for a subsidy. To grant it, the government needed proof that Saico was sending money to Africa, so he went to the Ria store to ask for his records.
“The cashier recognized me, saying he hadn’t seen me in a while. I told him it was because I didn’t have a job, and he said I should leave him my resumé. They hired me a week later after they confirmed I spoke seven languages and knew some computing,” said Saico.
The best part? He also passed the test.
“After five years, I went back to Senegal to see my daughter. I had already moved on romantically, had dated around, and was now in a committed relationship with a woman I loved. But when I saw how my daughter was living, alone at home while her mother was in another city trying to make a living, I had to make a choice,” Saico shared.
“For me, that wasn’t living. I couldn’t bear to see my daughter grow up like I had, without her parents. So, to break the cycle, I married her mother and brought them to live with me. I could’ve just taken my daughter, but it wasn’t the right thing to do. Plus, even though I sent money every month, it didn’t mean I knew what they had been through. The other woman felt betrayed, obviously, but it’s a sacrifice I had to make so I could give my daughter what I never had.”
Now, the family lives in Spain. But, as luck would have it, Saico is currently based in Lisbon following a promotion to store manager. Still, he travels back and forth as often as he can.
When asked if he’d return to Senegal, he said it’s definitely in his plans for the future. He misses the quiet and admires the intellect of its people, who always work hard to ensure the country keeps progressing.
When we set out on our customer stories journey, Saico was the first person who volunteered. Strong-willed and service-oriented, Saico epitomizes not only the Ria spirit but the makings of a true, self-made migrant.
A true autodidact, Saico has measured up to face every challenge that has come his way.
“Life’s always had some new surprise in store for me, but I take it slowly. You can’t back down. You always have to think that you can do it. If you don’t, you’ll fall apart. I’ve lived through my fair share of things, like everybody, but I don’t complain because I’m doing good now. I always think that everything happens for a reason and that, if you keep strong in your faith and never throw in the towel, eventually your day will come, and you will be fine. You need to fight for what’s yours.”