I didn’t appreciate the horrors Nigerians go through to obtain an American Visa until a blue eyed, middle- aged man, last Thursday, hissed in a disembodied voice coming from a speaker that I have been denied one. For a split second, I stood there dumbfounded as the man derisively observed me from the glass compartment separating us, obviously relishing my agony. I’m sure those are the moments he lives for: That moment when he superciliously declares you have been deprived of your chance to see paradise.
He is the gate man at the door to Nirvana and loves the sadistic roles he plays. He probably feels more powerful than President Barack Obama himself each time he turned people back. After his cruel announcement to me, the consular official leaned back, satiated as if he has just performed a ritual required by the American gods. Perplexed, I watched as my dream to go to the renowned God’s own country vanished before me.
I wanted to yell at the man and lecture him on the niceties of freedom, human rights and decency- attributes Americans like to talk about all the time. I wanted to appeal to his humanity and tell him what it cost to even stand before him. But that wicked glass separating us was the symbol of how robotic and inhuman some of those US Embassy officials have become. To them, happily declaring that one has been denied the Visa is just all in a day’s job.
The applicant is just another statistics in the long numbers of men and women daily denied entry into Promised Land. They are not bothered that lives, destinies, dreams and much more are at stake. They even probably harbour a certain hatred for the applicants whom they see as a loafing parasite going to feed on the lush fields of good old Uncle Sam’s backyards. But how I wished they knew that each applicant represents a dream and a hope; and that the journey to even get to their fortified embassy is tedious.
Ok, I agree it is not such a big deal for big people travelling to the states or elsewhere. I mean, there are people reading this and saying, haba Emma, visa again? When I was a big man too, I got some visas without any hassles. My office processed them with me only perfunctorily doing some biometrics. You see, in these matters, even Oyibos dey respect big man! But for the ordinary Jack and Jill out here, the process of obtaining visa starts with going to pay the non-refundable fee at the Guaranty Trust Bank (Haba! America. This should be free for the poorest of the poor in the Third World nah).
After this, it would be time to endure the ordeal of a gruelling application online where one is asked all sorts of nerdy questions. The inquest could only mean that the United States is very careful about those who get to its shore. They are right about that in all honesty. Everyone, they think, hates them. Forget that the Statue of Liberty is extending an almost open invitation, getting to America is a Herculean task. Surviving that thorny application is probably the first hurdle.
I found out it is the main key to getting the elusive visa. I would later find out that a slight, almost negligible error on the application probably decided the consulate against my application. What happened was that a friend who thought he was experienced in the matter helped in filling the form for me. On the question of if I have ever lost a passport before, he said “No”. And that escaped me as well. This was unfortunately at variance with the answer I gave Mr “Donald Trump” who interviewed me. He asked if I’ve ever travelled before. I said yes but not with the passport he was holding. He asked if I had lost my other passport. I said yes. And that was the Inter Ballistic Missile he needed. I saw a wicked grin flash across his impassive face as he prepared to launch the drone. “But your answer here on the form is a “No” to the question I just asked you. My attempt at redemption by telling him someone else filled the form was met with a scornful glare. He has his prey in sight and was about to shoot, cowboy- style.
From the way his blue eye shimmered, I’m probably one of the dark million con men he has been sent here to stop from stepping into the land of the free. He kept me sweating for a few seconds as he typed away at his computer while darting from the screen to another gadget by his side. You would think he was writing a judgement in court after proceedings. At a point he asked me if I knew places in my destination, San Diego, California. I told him I don’t and wanted to use the trip to know places. I found his question exasperating and almost retorted if he knew places in my state Taraba. What arrogance makes these people think we must know places in their country? I sometimes wonder when I hear our youngsters reeling off the names of American states and their capitals when they have no idea that Uyo is the capital of Akwa Ibom or that Jos is not another town in Benue. I can’t understand the idea of someone who never left Mararaba in Nasarawa state wearing a T-shirt announcing “I love New York”.
Fine, love New York all you want but please also find time to wear a T-shirt that says “I love Mararaba”. So I told Mr. Trump that as a journalist, I’m curious to find places for myself. That didn’t wash with him. He just glowered through the thick glass barricade, bent closer and mockingly said through clinched teeth “well, if you were that curious you would have at least tried to read up on where you are going!” Oh, yeah? So what about surprises and the joys of discovery. I mean what body of literature, for instance, did Christopher Columbus read as he set sail to discover the Americas? A criminal can read up even the American constitution just to impress all those consular officers at the Embassy. In any case, the guy just kept me sweating as he typed away. At last he made that infernal pronouncement and wished me a good day as he leaned back to supervise my misery. A yellow paper he handed me added to my misery. It said that I have been denied because I have been “found ineligible for a non-immigrant visa under section 214 (b) of the U.S Immigration and Nationality Act.” Before you start to wonder if I were on the Taliban or Al-Qaida watch list, this is what the paper further told me. “A denial under section 214 (b) means you were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the United States would be consistent with the classification of the non-immigrant visa for which you applied.”
The next paragraph explained that I have not demonstrated that I would return to Nigeria if I went abroad because they could not find “ties that would compel you to return to your home country after you travel to the United States.” Chai! Me? I would not return to Nigeria? First, this is an insult because, dear America, in as much as I’m a lover of your country, I love Nigeria to pieces. This is the land of my birth and one that is bristling with hope of a better day. I have held positions of authority in this country and have a family to look after. The purpose of that trip was clearly spelt out. My estranged other half, a medical doctor is over there for her annual workshop. We were to travel together but because of this same issue of visa. So I planned to join her there if I got one. The trip, we were hoping would have helped us sort out some serious issues the union is experiencing and find healing in the getaway. I wonder if “Trump” at the counter, wanted me to tell him all of that to the hearing of all the other people. You see, Africans love secrecy/privacy. A situation were applicants are forced to be reeling out personal matter to everyone hearing is incongruous with our culture. And when we don’t maintain eye contact, we are not hiding anything.
In Africa, locking eyes with a superior is a sign of disrespect. The consular yellow (fever?) paper ended with a deadly paragraph: “Today’s decision cannot be appealed. However, you may reapply at any time. If you decide to reapply, you must submit a new application form and photo, pay the visa application fee again, and make a new appointment to be interviewed by a consular officer. If you choose to reapply, you should be prepared to provide information that was not presented in your original application, or to demonstrate that your circumstances have (sic) since that application.”
No wonder Williams told me he has been praying and fasting for the visa. He was a young man that I befriended at the embassy. He looked really sad and told me how he has been on this for years now. At least, I can share my story. But Williams and millions of other probably don’t have the chance as they continue to writhe away in agony.