I sat nervously in front of the lady interviewing us with the rest of my family. Her dress was immaculate, I remember. And she spoke a perfect English, at least not the kind my ears were use to in Nairobi’s mixed lingo of Kiswahili and English. What was I doing in front of this Black-American (that’s what we called African-Americans back then) woman? This was our interview for our visa to the States. Now looking back I can’t help but feel how little I knew this interview’s result would impact my life forever.
We finally reached our final destination in NC around 3 or 4 in the morning. I already slept through most of the roadtrip but it didn’t help one bit, I still needed a lot more sleep. So I spent the next two days sleeping and only getting up to eat. My head felt really tipsy (no, I do not know the effects of alcohol but I’m guessing a hang-over does feel similar to jetlag), my appetite shitty, and my sleep incomplete. The following week we had our doctor visit – I think they call this “refugee check-up” – just in case the doctors in Africa missed some contagious disease that we were not suppose to bring to the U.S. Although they didn’t find anything, they gave us a pill for a month or two, which I think was suppose to “clean our” malaria-infested bodies for good. Not sure it did any good, though.
In late March I started high school. Clearly I wasn’t ready for high school but my age condemned me to early Greek Mythology readings that I was in no shape or form ready for. I didn’t attend school the previous five years but it didn’t matter. With less than three grade’s worth of formal schooling, I embarked on my education journey in the 9th grade. I wasn’t use to waking up early – not 5:30am for sure – in the morning. The first two months were quite tough: new country, new language, new friends to be made, and homeworks! It was quite overwhelming at times but I was determined to go through it, but more than once I though of dropping school and going into the labor force with fake documents. I didn’t. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents most of all.
I made friends quickly in my English as a Second Language (ESL) classes where students were from all over the world. From Africa, the Middle East , Eastern Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. My teachers were amazing – particularly my ESL and 9th grade English teachers. They spent countless hours explaining the smallest thing I couldn’t understand, help me with my homework, and most of all, encourage me. The transition wasn’t easy but caring teachers and good friends made it easy.
Today I sit here writing this post thinking about the kid like me who may sit in front of an interviewer tomorrow that will determine his/her entire future. Then I think about what my life would look like today if I didn’t get that chance. Perhaps already dead or carrying an AK-47 for some godforsaken warlord? I’m glad I didn’t go that route which millions of children unfortunately end up.