31+ years of living in Nairobi. 3+ years since the application was submitted. Today, I became a Kenyan citizen. After three years of being told ‘Be patient and wait,’ we were called last week to collect the certificate.
No fanfare, no pledge of allegiance, no questions to answer. Just an overworked lady in a tiny, overcrowded office on the 7th floor of the infamous Nyayo House. I paid. I signed. I carried it away.
The day was so typical, but in ways that are iconically and uniquely Kenyan.
- We left the house at 6 a.m., trying to ‘beat’ Nairobi traffic. While driving along, suddenly oncoming traffic was speeding down one of the lanes that would normally be ‘ours.’ No signs. No warning. Only large cement blocks in the middle of the road that made it impossible to mistake the new traffic pattern. Whew – we got through safely.
- At some point, 2 policemen on foot crossed the road two cars in front of me and stopped a vehicle. Both lanes of traffic remained at a standstill while the officers had a not-very-friendly conversation with the driver. After 3 or 4 minutes, the car pulled to the side of the road. Great – we are moving again.
- After 2 ½ hours on the road (distance of 11 miles with a short detour), I arrived at work. Our new term in college was scheduled to start today. Two out of seven returning students were present. But starting dates and times in academic institutions, including the best of them, are very relative and often just pretense here. Okay – no cause for alarm.
After class, and wanting to avoid the impossibilities of parking in the city, I boarded a matatu (public mini-bus) to go to the immigration office. Music booming and vehicle often off the road – but we arrived.
- At the first counter, I was told I would need to pay 10,000 shillings ($100) to renew my alien registration prior to getting the citizenship certificate. But after a short conversation in Dholuo about where our “home” is (rural tribal roots in Luo-land) and how many children we have, I was told “Bring 5,000.” Tribalism, or what? But I did not object.
- After going to the second and third and fourth desk, I was told that the person who could help me had gone out and would be back at 2 p.m. It was around 12:30. Oooh – I hate waiting!
I wandered to a nearby Christian bookstore to pass the time. A magazine titled “Africa Leadership Today” attracted my attention. But how disturbing to find that all the articles were written by Americans, with examples about “a growing church in Colorado,” “the pastor from Fairhaven Church in Dayton, Ohio….” on and on. Africa leadership? ‘How dare they?’ I moaned.
- Back in the immigration office at 2 p.m., nothing was happening. When I ventured to ask around 2:30 if I would actually be served, I was told “people are on lunch break.” Listening to the Swahili conversation around me, I realized that there had been someone would could have helped me in the morning, but just didn’t feel like it. Not in the mood, I guess. “Do I really want to be a citizen of this country?” I fumed under the courteous façade.
- The high-in-demand clerk arrived around 2:45 and scolded those in the office for making me wait. She had left someone to take care of clients, she insisted. Anyway, within about 30 minutes, the certificate was in my hands. WOW!
Now back to the bus. On board, a crippled beggar was circulating with a letter, stamped and signed by a local hospital, saying that he was in need of financial help for medical treatment. I gave him 200 shillings ($2.) He was elated. After collecting donations from a few other passengers, he literally fell out of the bus at the next stop. But he was still smiling as we drove off. Such harsh realities.
Nearing my destination, the driver cut through a corner going the wrong direction. The conductor motioned for me to get out, in the middle of the busy intersection. I was just glad the bus had actually stopped for me.
Now, back home, I am deeply thankful. Okay – I missed several other appointments, but not a big deal; it’s normal. Yes, this is the frustrating, unpredictable, intriguing life and country I have come to love. And now I officially belong.
P.S. The certificate is date 23 October 2015. Apparently they were not in the ‘mood’ to notify us until January?