Career Growth Borders


By the time I arrived in Portugal, I’d been making videos professionally for several years. Yet, it wasn’t till Portugal that I felt — for the first time — that I crossed some sort of threshold in my growth as a filmmaker. It felt, for the first time, like I was genuinely a professional director of photography. 

The reason was because that was the first time that I had a gaffer and a grip on set that were there just for lighting and electrical. Before then, everyone basically did everything on the sets I was on. It was sometimes fun, but it was always low-budget, and that kept our ambitions relatively small. Portugal was the first time I rented equipment that came in a truck, and not in the backseat of a Proton Saga.

For two years or so before Portugal, my manager had been flying to New York and LA and working with crews who’ve worked on TV show and Movies you’ve probably heard of, learning and growing from their expertise, so when this event came along in Portugal, he threw it my way.

The end result didn’t look great. Or rather, it didn’t look as good as it could have. But it still looked a whole lot better than it would have if I’d shot it on my own, because the gaffer suggested things to do with lights that never even crossed my mind.


In 2023, the same event was taking place in Colombia, and I was going more or less for the same role. 

The Colombia visa situation was a bit tricky to navigate, partly because the process is in Spanish and we had to Google Translate everything – but once we got through that, the visa came through.

I was nervous though, when I saw that it was an evisa, because I knew I was going to be traveling from Nigeria. I just knew that I was going to encounter issues. I knew they were going to give me a hard time at the airport. I emailed the embassy asking if I can get the visa stuck to my passport the regular way, but they declined. For a visa less than 3 months, they insisted, it’s always going to be an evisa which I would have to print out on paper.

And sure as day follows night, I had trouble at the airport in Abuja. I got held up for about 20 minutes by people asking me about the validity of the visa and questioning my motives for going there. 

I think what saved me in part was the fact that I had all these other visas in my passport, and they probably though – if those are legit, chances are this one is as well. 

And when they let me through, I had a big sigh of relief as I boarded the plane to Istanbul because, I thought, if they can verify this evisa in Nigeria, they can verify it everywhere.


Right after Portugal, we flew to Croatia where, for the second time in my life, I had a team of specialists: a sound person and camera operator from Estonia, and a gaffer from Finland.

Because the shoot was longer, I ended up learning so much more on that set than the 4 days in Portugal. I saw the gaffer rig a light on one end of the room and then use black foil to shape it. I didn’t even know black foil was a thing before then.

We usually have lunch together, and sometimes we hang out in the evenings as well. Different people from different places, but we had this one thing connecting us. This one language. I’m not talking about English — but of course English as well — I’m talking about film. Cinema.


When we landed in Istanbul, there were cops waiting for us right outside the airplane door. This is not an unusual sight when traveling from Nigeria to Europe. I’ve previously experienced exactly that in Paris.

They make you stand on a queue as soon as you come out of the plane, and then bend your passports and look at them through a magnifying glass. They check the visas too, just to make sure you’re good before they even let you in the airport. It’s the first line of defence against… what? I don’t know.

My transit wasn’t very long, so I quickly took a shower, ate, and headed to my gate for what would be a 13 hour flight to Bogota.

At the gate, as always, they checked to see if I have a visa for the place I’m going to – which is standard – but the person checking said they could not verify it. They asked me to sit and wait, and as I sat there waiting, periodically checking the time and wondering why they haven’t called on me yet, I watched my flight leave.

What the actual fuck?! 

They said that they could not verify the visa because the system was down, and now, we have to follow them. We – a group of almost entirely black Africans, except for two Indians and a guy from Lebanon – followed them back to to the transfer desk, which is before the security check.


I returned from Europe in September 2019, and in October, we had an author fly in from Japan. And with my newly acquired experience from Croatia – which the team seemed happy with, and which in turn gave me confidence – I was asked to lead the shoot.

It was the first shoot of my life where I had a budget and a choice of which lights and lenses to rent. The experience was so new for me that I didn’t even know what to do with the money. 

But I tried my best. I hired a crew that was much more experienced than I was, and for the third time that year — and in a third country — I led a team that I learned a lot from, and together, we created something great.


When I got to the front of the line at the transfer desk, the woman at the counter took a photo of my passport data page and the evisa, put it in a Whatsapp group chat, and told me to come back in an hour.

An hour later, I came back, joined the queue again, and met a different person who — even after I explained what had happened — just took the photo of my data page and the evisa, put it on the same group chat, and asked me to come back in an hour.

The third time I came back…

The fifth time…

Literally 16 hours later, I finally got through to someone who acknowledged that visa was right and valid, but then told me that I would need to buy a new ticket. Even after I protested that it wasn’t on me. Even after I reminded them that it was they who denied me boarding when clearly my visa was legitimate.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” she replied. “visas are always the responsibility of the passenger”.


The shoot with the Japanese author went exceedingly well. It was — at least at the time — the best thing I’d ever shot. I had another big budget shoot in November that same year. I hired the same team, and I could almost physically feel the exponential growth I was experiencing.

I remember telling a friend at the time, how I felt almost heartbroken because of the the loss I feel of the me I would have been if I’d gotten this opportunity even just two years ago.

“I cannot wait for 2020,” I said to her. “It’s going to be my fucking year!”


There was a lot of back and forth regarding the flight tickets, but ultimately, I had to buy a brand-new ticket for close to two thousand dollars. It was too short notice to go through the office for it, and I sure as hell didn’t have two thousand American dollars just lying around. So I asked a colleague, who graciously bought the ticket for me.

I remember telling the woman at the counter who was booking the new flight for me — a flight which would leave the same time as the flight I missed, only 24 hours later — to put it somewhere in their system that my visa is in fact legitimate, and that I’m clear to fly because I don’t want a repeat of what happened. 

She assured me it would be fine.

“You have nothing to worry about.”


2020! The pandemic. I found myself grounded at home. Not only was I not getting big budget shoots, pretty much no one was getting any shoots at all.

Not too long into the year, my boss — the boss of it all — decided to pack up and permanently move to Estonia, and given that he was the person I shot the most with in KL, it meant that effectively, there were no longer going to be shoots in KL even if the pandemic ended. 

And if I was ever going to experience anything close to the growth I got a taste of in 2019, I would have to fly to the places where the shoots are happening.


“This visa is fake!” The man at the gate screamed in my face, practically throwing my passport back at me. It was exactly what I feared would happen. 

For the second time, people were boarding the plane while I was to the side, trying to get my visa verified. The guy wouldn’t even look at me while I was trying to speak to him.

But I was determined not to let it happen again. Not only because I didn’t want to spend another night at the airport, but also because I still didn’t have two thousand dollars lying around, and I’ve about exhausted all the colleagues I could ask for that kind of money from.

At that moment, my mind went to people I’ve seen screaming at airports. The kind of people whose eyes seemed glazed over and almost in some sort of trance while screaming at people in uniform. At that moment, I understood why. Exactly why.

Thankfully, before I did anything rash, I saw the guy who took my passport the day before, and I explained to him that the very fact that I’m back here again — that I got a new boarding pass and made it past security — meant that I was cleared to fly. He took my passport and ran the visa again, and somehow, this time, it worked.

Later, I was telling my mom about it on the phone, and she sounded concerned.

“What if the office stops sending you to all these places because it’s too expensive and you’re too much of an inconvenience?”


Unfortunately, my prediction about the lack of post-pandemic shoots in KL proved to be correct, given that my boss no longer lived here. I’d essentially became a director of photography who didn’t photograph.

When travel opened back up again in 2022, I had a shoot in Jordan, which — as usual — I learned a lot from. Afterwards, there was another one in Estonia, which I couldn’t go to because the embassy didn’t approve my visa for sham reasons.


After a 13-hour flight, I eventually made it to Colombia. I arrived tired, angry, and a day late — meaning I didn’t get to rest like the rest of my team before the shoot started.

As I’m writing this, I’m the only member of my team currently in Malaysia. There’s a big shoot happening in Los Angeles which I cannot go to because… visas. And then right after that, half of the team will be flying to Estonia for another shoot, which I wasn’t even considered for out of consideration — “ we don’t want you to get stuck in the airport again.”

This struggle, once a learning curve, now feels like an insurmountable wall, its shadow falling heavily upon my aspirations. Every rejection — every denial — serves as a reminder that I’m living in a system that refuses to see me as a person worthy of choices, opportunities, and recognition.

I’m many things: a writer, a filmmaker, a son, a friend, a runner, a climber, a hummus-maker; I’m a colleague, a brother, a podcaster, and an event organiser. I’m a learner, a teacher, a listener, a swimmer, and a storyteller. 

I’m many many many things, but in the eyes of this system, I’m just a visa status.

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