Before flying to Kenya I was told by the Kenyan Embassy that I'd be able to ask for a short extension to the 90 day travel visa I was to purchase for $50 at the airport. And I arrived in Kenya expecting this to be the case. After three days of travel, a day walking the streets of London, and minimal amounts of sleep, my walk into the Nairobi airport felt like more of a vague dream than reality. I handed over my passport, asked for the extension, and was flat out denied. The woman was rude and downright unpleasant and rather than argue with her I figured I'd just sort it out later.
So here I was in Nairobi, two days before my visa was supposed to expire. After unsuccessfully trying to call and email the US Embassy in Nairobi, I decided just to show up. I asked the front desk of my hotel if they knew where it was located and a maintenance man standing nearby told me it had been relocated further out of the city after the "bomb blast". Great.
I took a cab to the Embassy, realized I'd been dropped off across the street at the a UN building, and walked over a busy road to get to it. My passport was checked twice by armed guards and the woman who dragged her magical, beeping black wand across my arms and legs told me i'd have to make an appointment.
"It's after 10:00" she said.
I checked my phone, it was 10:35 am. Really? "I came all the way here from Meru, I need to do this today."
"Let them know."
I walked up to the building, and after a third passport check, was told that I was at the wrong place. I had to go back to the opposite side of town to the immigration department.
Back in a taxi. Told to get out and switch taxis. Bag checked at the gate of the immigration department. Went to the wrong side of the building and was redirected to the other side. Waited in line. Got a form. Filled it out. Got back in line.
"You're at the wrong window. You need to register as an alien."
"You can't extend your visa. If you were only here one extra week I could waive it, but you're here for two" she emphasized the last syllable. Way to rub it in.
I was given a new form and instructed to bring it back with 2,200/= and 2 passport photos. Walked to the customer care desk. Asked where I could get photos taken. They made a call. A man came, picked me up, walked me to his photo shop. Sat down. Smiled. Blinded by two flashing lights. Filled out my form and made faces at a little girl while waiting for the photos to print.
Asked for directions to the bank. Crossed a four lane road. Waited in line at the ATM. Got money. Walked back across the street and back to security at the immigration department. Walked to the correct side of the building. Waited in line in front of Window 3, redirected to Window 4. Submitted 2 forms, 1 passport, 2 passport photos, and paid 2,000/=. Sent to Window 6 to pay the additional 200/=.
Called back over to Window 4 while waiting in line at Window 6 and told to take my receipt to Window 5.
“Why are you here?” asked Window 5.
“Because he told me to” I said, pointing to Window 4.
Incredulously, “Is there a problem” said Window 4 to me. Didn’t he just send me there? Was he really blaming this on me?
If there is a hell, I bet it’s just like this, an eternity of waiting in line, filling out forms, and switching windows.
Back at the end of the line at Window 6 when called back to Window 4 again. I hesitantly left the line.
“Just pay here. 200/=” I handed it over. “Now sit down and wait.”
“How long will it take?”
“Thirty minutes”. In Kenya that means 1-2 hours, miraculously it only took 15 minutes.
While waiting I sat next to a tourist who was talking to his Kenyan friend, “It would probably be easier just to marry someone” he said, obviously getting frustrated. “Professional occupation…does ‘hobo’ count?” he asked.
“What did you write last time?”
“On! On!” a woman shouted from behind yet another window. It took me a moment to realize they were looking at me…Anne? I’ve never been called by my middle name before. I walked up to the desk.
“You are Anne, we have your picture” said the woman.
“That’s not my name” I stupidly replied.
“But you have written it here.”
“I mean, no one calls me that. Where I am from everyone is called by their first name, not their second. That’s why I was confused, sorry. I go by ‘Gwen’”.
“Why not ‘Anne’? Anne is beautiful.”
I was feeling feisty, “Is ‘Gwen’ not beautiful?” I said, laughing.
“No, it is like for something big” said the man next to her. He repeated, spreading his arms wide, “something big”. These fat comments are getting old.
Signed a form twice and sent down a hallway to another office. Waited outside in a chair.
“I have been calling you and you have not heard?” said the man in the doorway. Must have been calling me Anne again.
He rolled ink across a metal bar and ran my fingers across it. Twenty fingerprints. Cleaned my hands with cotton balls and turpentine in a bottle. Then back to the main room to collect my passport. In line at Window 3 and sent to Window 6. Got my passport.
800/= cab to US Embassy
1000/= cab to immigration department
2000/= registration as an alien
200/= renewal fees
4,200/= for the best day of my life? Totally worth it.
Move over Katy Perry, there's a new alien in town: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Sd5c4o9UM