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I have always wanted to see the River Thames. It’s the only thing I have ever really wanted to see in England. I am not interested in seeing the Old Trafford. Or Soho. Or China Town (what with the thousands of Chinese coming to build our railways, we will anyways soon be sending SMSs in Mandarin). Or the London Eye. I don’t even want to see the Tower of London, which just looks anaemic. Or Posh Spice (who also just looks anaemic, besides America took her away). I would however like to meet AA Gill.
All I wanted to see was the Thames.
Last week I spent four hours applying for a visa to travel to the UK. Yesterday when I picked up my passport, with it was a letter from the Home Office denying me a visa. The letter reeked of British snobbery, delivering underhanded “insults” with words like “onus”. The letter made me feel like a criminal, like I unknowingly belonged to some underground movement which despises anything British.
“You have not provided any evidence to demonstrate your financial circumstances in Kenya. I am not satisfied that your financial circumstances are as claimed,” suggesting that a.) I’m a liar and/or b.) I’m living off hand-outs. Before I could fully process this affront, the letter continued, “There is no evidence that you are supported on a daily basis/you have not provided enough evidence for your personal and economic circumstances.” Basically implying I’m one of those chaps who NGOs claim live under a dollar a day. Please. My car ignites with 56bob.
The Home Office wasn’t done with me yet. “You have also not provided evidence of any strong family and social ties to Kenya.” It proceeded breathlessly, “I am therefore not satisfied that you are a genuine business visitor or that you intended to leave the United Kingdom at the end of your proposed visit.” I’m reading all this in my car, parked at the parking of 9-West building. And I’m trying not to get irked, because then they will have won. And they can’t win. The Mau Mau said they couldn’t win.
“In light of all of the above, I am not satisfied as to your intentions in wishing to travel to the UK now,” the missive went on, rubbing insult to my now festering wound. “I have therefore refused your application because I am not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that you meet all the requ…” I had had enough. There was no signature at the end of the letter. Like those cowardly guys who use anonymous twitter handles to pick fights online.
I had submitted a letter of invitation from my host (a respected British company), confirmed flight details, hotel bookings at the Grosvenor House Park Lane (I hear it’s swanky as hell), an itinerary, and even a letter from my employer. But it seems it is easier for a camel to go through a needle, than for a young luo man to access London.
You know, maybe the chap from the Home Office was right. That homeboy saw through me after all. He saw that all I ever wanted was to leave the comfort of Kenya, disappear in the UK, and never return to my homeland. I love the way the letter occasionally refers to it as the United Kingdom and not just the UK. So imposing. The Kingdom! It sounds biblical: Let thy Kingdom come. A place where milk flows from the taps, and people chill with deer in green meadows. A place where you are healed of all sickness. A place of white waterfalls and butterflies. A place where nobody sits in jams and the harp plays continuously in the streets. The United Kingdom!
I’m not worthy of the United Kingdom because of the risk I may refuse to come back home. Because I may cling onto the next white man’s leg, as immigration drags away me to Heathrow, to toss me back to Africa on the next flight out. The lure of the United Kingdom is so overpowering that once I step on that hallowed soil, I will instantly forget my wife and two kids and all my friends. The homeboy at the Home Office isn’t convinced that I’m content with what I have at home. He thinks I would just about give up my kidney to snare a pale, grim-faced bloated minger from Sherbourne, and sire her with her a litre of Rooney-worshipping pointie Zulus. My social ties didn’t impress the boys and girls from the Home Office. My social ties are weak. I don’t have friends back home. I sit in bars alone, staring at my empty glass of whisky (remember my financial position is dire) wondering when the United Kingdom will save me from such a desolate existence. The Kingdom in its unfailing wisdom assumes that if you are an orphan, you must be desperate to leave, because nothing could possibly keep you here. The same goes for the unmarried. Or those in-between jobs. Or if you are mad about Manchester United.
It pontificates that I’m desperately unhappy with this glorious weather of ours. That I wake up in the morning, stare at the rising sun in the east and grimace in sheer annoyance, because what I want, what I really really want is to be in the United Kingdom with its dreary, gloomy, wet weather. That I want nothing more than to be stuck in my house, unable to leave because the snow is piled up to my window. That I hate elephants and the Mara. That the Lion King is a stupid cartoon for pubescents battling acne. Mufasa my ass. That I will never start living until I set foot in the Kingdom. The United Kingdom is my saviour. It’s in the Kingdom that we shall all seek redemption. I’m ready, ye great United Kingdom, please swing open your pearly gates and honour me with an entrance so that I can thrive with your friggin’ pigeons that waddle everywhere.
I wonder what they meant about my “personal and economic circumstances” being unimpressive. I wonder how poor I must look. How desperate my financial situation must appear to them. They probably don’t need any more beggars on the streets of UK. The lads from the Home Office probably don’t know or care that I’m from Kendu Bay, and that down, although we are poor, we don’t know how to beg. We sleep hungry until one of two things happen; it rains, or the wind blows the hyacinth towards Siaya.
But those words, “balance of probabilities” stayed with me. They will haunt me for a while. The Home Office meant that the probability of me hiding in the United Kingdom was too much for their great kingdom to fathom. That I would leave my flourishing career, my family and my friends, our sandy beaches to disappear among the unappealing misty rain soaked hills of England. That Kenya is too dangerous, too poor, too lacklustre, too stifling, too unimpressive, too uninspiring for me to possibly thrive.
I was a tad peeved to be honest. I don’t mind being denied a visa, but their reasons really got my goat. They almost made me feel desperate and poor and unworthy. They made me feel like a “chav”- to use their slang. They made me feel like I was in a sinking boat and I stuck my hand out for help, and they put a croissant in it instead. Like they think so little of my country or what I think of it, that they imagine I would walk away from everything I have worked for, everything I own, every relationship I have built, to start out at the very bottom of the barrel in the United freaking Kingdom. It’s utter poppycock.
I read that email again at night, but this time I read it aloud with a cockney accent. I stopped in the middle, made a pot of tea and then read it some more, slapping my thigh as I went along. All that was missing in the ensemble was a pipe. Then at the end, I noticed again that it wasn’t signed. That’s like knocking on your neighbour’s door to borrow their pliers and them slipping a note under the door written, “We don’t have.” So cold. So Bri’ish.
It’s at times like these, you want Dedan Kimathi to buy you a drink and tell you not to worry. I wonder what Dedan would drink anyway, apart from Murats of course. I know he would want to meet at Njuguna’s because Dedan is the kind of guy who would know which part of nyake to cut. I need Dedan to tell me the Thames isn’t all that anyway. And to tell me that my “financial and economic circumstances” aren’t that grave and that with all the “balance of probabilities” I’m still a child of God, and I won’t need to spend four hours on some questionnaire to access a kingdom on earth because there is only one Kingdom. Can I have a hallelujah?
And to the lad from the Home Office, I want to tell you something, and be sure that unlike you I will sign it off, because where we come from, we don’t hide behind pretentious words like “onus”. We sign our shit because we stand by our words no matter how uninformed they may be.
You aren’t sure about my social ties? Here are my social ties. I come from Kendu Bay, Kanyasoro, from a long line of gentlemen who stand for something. My great grandfather fought in World War II, your war, not ours. My grandfather was a doctor. He was simply called H.J. You know a man is great when he is referred to by his initials. How about that Smith? My father, Ougo, is a scholar, a lover of history and English, your language. And I’m Bikozulu, the bearer of the long spear. My son is called Kimani; the son of a monkey is a monkey, which means he is Kanyasoro at heart. Those are my social ties, rooted firmly in Nyanza. We may not have blueblood, but we are who we are and I would never walk away from that for all the chips and gravy in London.
Now, it is your prerogative (turns out I can also write in English) to deny me entry into your Kingdom, but I’m also putting you on notice. You can go to Kisumu. You can go to Siaya. You can even go to Migori (if they don’t throw shoes at you). But as for Kendu Bay, it will be a different kettle of fish. In fact, when you get to Sondu, you will find a desk with papers, where I will require you to fill in a questionnaire longer than the Thames. You will prove that you are worthy of setting foot in my humble village. That you are worthy of touching our children. Let’s see how you like that. Smith.
Maybe I will never set foot in the Kingdom of Great Britain. Maybe it will be my eternal loss. Maybe in my final moments on earth, my failed dreams to see the Thames will wash up before my eyes, filling me with horror, as I’m sent off to my maker clutching desperate on this English mirage. Maybe the Thames would have finally healed my British itch. But all that isn’t nearly enough for you to use the word “onus” on me because it’s too close to the word “anus.”
– Biko Zulu