C'mon, America, this ain't no way to treat major non-Nato ally

US flag. [iStockphoto]

From the title of this piece, you will attest that I have been busy rehearsing my long-faded, fake American twang. I studied there, you know, and stayed a bit for work, teaching at some of its finest schools, but do I say!

I was expected in the US, or the Yu Es, as Kenyans are likely to mouth, next weekend, for a symposium, where I hoped to display my academic pretensions. But I have run into what our people call kizaazaa (nightmare).

While I still had a Press card that said my designation was Head of This or the Other, I’d submit a visa application over a cup of coffee at the embassy’s air-conditioned offices in Gigiri or discuss impending trips at the ambassador’s well-kept lawns in Muthaiga, having wine and cheese. Not that I could stomach either the cheese or the wine, but I kept a straight face.

So, it was refreshing, even revelatory, to experience life as an ordinary Kenyan, mnyama mdogo, as our people say to rationalise their powerlessness, in the face of a complex US bureaucracy.

First off, filling in a form called DS-160, which I have done since 1999, when I first travelled to the land of the free and the brave, proved extraordinarily difficult because the pages “timed out” after every few seconds. And what should have taken an hour or so consumed many more hours spread over several days because I don’t fill visa forms for a living. The initial hints of the trouble ahead set in motion when I tried to make the visa fee payment, itself a dicey matter I shall revisit shortly. That’s when I rang the embassy, as I narrated last week, and encountered someone who helpfully asked me to spell out every word I uttered.

Fees paid, I proceeded to schedule a visa interview, after carefully reading the addendum that specifies folks who qualify for interview waiver. I thought I was one of them, having secured countless visas over the last 25 years, some of them initiated by the US State Department. My last visa expired about two years ago; the cut-off point was four years ago.

Since I am not as intelligent as the artificial intelligence deployed to screen the applications, I inadvertently picked an option that concluded I was required to take a face-to-face interview, so the computer asked me to schedule one. The earliest available opportunity was October 7.

Here’s the thing, the questions read like Graduate Record Exams, presenting multitudinous options. “Select what’s applicable…” came the invite, followed by a raft of ambiguous statements, such as: Confirm the name of your place of birth remains is the same in all your documents…

Well, I was born in Gatundu, as did Kenyatta I and Kenyatta II, but we now have Gatundu North and Gatundu South. Does this categorization apply to me?

Over the last week I have tried unsuccessfully to establish contact with a human being at the Consular section, at least to explain myself and seek an expedited interview. My emails have gone unanswered, while phone calls to the office evoke a Kafkaesque performance: “If you are calling to report death of an American citizen, press…” came the recorded voice note.

If the Consular section is fully funded by the visa fees paid Kenyans, as ambassador Meg Whitman told us last month - (Kenyans pay about Sh30,000, per application) - are we saying we are here to subsidise Americans in Kenya without providing any service?

Let’s not even get into discussions about how easy it is for Americans to enter our country, or even the chatter about Kenya being a “major non-Nato ally” or whatever, for being Washington’s factotum.

Where do we go from here? Well, my work is done; it’s off my chest. I know I’m speaking for many voiceless Kenyans when I say: This our land. Treat us with just a bit of respect. And I shall insist on it, going forward. As folks in the mount region are saying: Kama mbaya… ? Mbaya!!