Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15, 2008 - An American Visa

Last night I had a very funny phone call around 7pm. It was from an offical from the Ministry of Education who Kristoffer and I both deal with in our respective positions at the UN (for school feeding and post-election emergency). He did have a piece of work-related news to tell me, yes, but the main purpose of his phone call was to share a personal story. You see, a few months ago he had applied for a visa to go to America and visit some of his family. The US Embassy has been taking forever to process it, and he basically anticipated being altogether denied. This is a Kenyan man from the Somali tribe (there are half a million Kenyan-Somalis) with an obviously Muslim name, and in the US there is a problem of Somalis going into the country with false names, out-staying their visas, etc. So he was at least understanding as to why the US Embassy might take a long time, or deny him , and he was in relatively good spirits about the situation considering that he really wants to go to the US.

So, when I get this phone call last night he told me that US Embassy informed him that he could pick up his passport and that he was granted a visa to the US for one year! Now that is almost unheard of! One month is the typical length of a visa, but he happens to be friendly with the director of the Peace Corp over here who gave him a glowing recommendation and, I assume, helped get him such a long visa.

He thanked ME many times on the phone, because he says I am his favorite American and apparently by affiliation he feels like I somehow helped him get this visa. When I asked him if he was going for the whole year (because we have a lot of work to do over here and he is a big player in getting things accomplished!) he said that he would be going for just a few weeks in November to get married in Minneapolis.

I said, "Oh Congratulations!" and he said, "Yes...I am taking a second wife, and when that business is finished I will come back. But then I can at least travel back and forth a few times in the next year to see her. It is very good."

Whoah! I mean, after thinking about it and recognizing that he is a Somali, Muslim man I am not surprised to hear that he is taking a second wife, but in that moment on the phone with him I was a little thrown off. This young American woman is not used to hearing that everyday (nor do I really with it, either)! I actually felt a bit like the conversation was taking place in a parallel universe, where this man was thanking me for helping him get a visa to America so that he can take a second wife. Crazy!


p.s. I bet you didn't know that today is the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, which is sponsored largely by UNICEF! To quote the official website,, "The guiding vision of Global Handwashing Day is a local and global culture of handwashing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at the critical occasions." Make sure you always wash your hands with soap - to be able to do so is a privilege that many people don't have (approximately 120 million children worldwide) and one that could save many, many lives each year!

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