A Visa Worth a Thousand Words

John gets his Kenyan passport

I rushed out of the house last Friday with a million things running through my head. An unusually hectic schedule for a Friday, I had new clients coming in, clients starting jobs, and interviews to attend. I knew I’d be in and out of the office all day. Only two minutes away from work, I get a phone call from my client who is to start a job in 10 minutes. He’s sitting in my office lobby, rather than at his new job, because he has lost the directions I gave him for the bus route to work. I rush in to pick him up and catch our receptionist on our way out so that she can pass along messages to my boss and my colleague. Scrambling to get to the new job site before my client is considered unfashionably late, I remind him that I even dropped these directions off at his house two evenings prior and wonder where he could have put them. We rush into the fruit production facility, and I see a smile on the supervisor’s face. With a small sigh of relief, I ask my client for the remaining paperwork required for him to officially start work. He opens a folder and the first thing I see are the map and directions that I have printed, highlighted, and color coded for him. With a sheepish grin on his face, we just look at each other, as I laugh and shake my head. I don’t even have to say anything- this is the scramble that is a daily part of my job and the life of refugees. I have him sign on the dotted lines and hand him off to the supervisor, with a quick (and straight to the point!) piece of advice to ‘Work, work, work! Do a good job. Don’t be late!’ I then (literally) run out the door and rush back to the office. With two clients waiting for me in the lobby upon my return, there’s not a moment’s rest… or time to check my emails or voicemails for that matter. I screen two women for housekeeping jobs, explain the meaning of ‘overtime’, give a quick rundown of interview questions they need to prepare for, and send them on their way… only it’s not quite that straightforward, as I have to explain some things to one of the women in Swahili, and she in turn needs to explain it to the second woman in Kinyarwanda. I then quickly see a Somali client, who needs information about a workshop, and as I get up to walk him out, my cell phone buzzes. By then, I had nearly forgotten that I had called John on repeat this morning and he hadn’t picked my calls.

I stepped outside and answered the phone to hear nothing but laughter, excitement, and pure joy on the other end. John was sitting in the airport in Nairobi, eagerly awaiting his flight to Amsterdam… his first flight that would take him out of the country for the first time. You see, months ago John was invited to attend Model United Nations at an international school in The Hague. I was beyond thrilled but John’s excitement was of course ten-fold.  An orphaned boy from a Kenyan village, who became a laborer and high school dropout at an orphanage, then becomes vice president of his high school and is jet setting to Europe for a conference. I always knew he could do it… I always knew of his potential. But to have it happen in real life is still hard to reconcile.

He had just passed through security at the airport and was waiting by the gate for his name to be called when he phoned me. He was excited for takeoff, anxious for the bird’s eye view from the airplane, and preparing himself for the unknown. He was ready to land in Amsterdam, try new foods, and sightsee. It was a pinnacle moment and finally a time when he could truly enjoy the anticipation of the trip without the stresses of preparation he felt in the months prior. I wished him a nice safari (journey) and hung up the phone knowing that a beautiful experience awaited him.

Planning for his trip…

After getting over the initial giddiness of an invite to The Netherlands back in April, there was real work to be done. John needed a passport and a visa… which sounded easy enough. We had a solid invite from the school and six months to make it happen, so how hard could it be?

In a nutshell, it took four trips to Nairobi for him to get his passport, and eight (8!) trips to the Dutch Embassy to get his visa. Oh yes, and three trips to the hospital, and multiple letters and documentation from his school, his hosts, the conference organizers, etc. While I was in Kenya last month, he had just gotten his passport and had tried to apply for his visa but was lacking documentation. For starters, he needed medical clearance. This involved x-rays, a blood test, a urine test, and a physical. We tried to get this done when I took him to the hospital for a nasty infection in his arm (a result of his dislocated wrist from a soccer injury a few months back) but he needed a special appointment for it and a follow-up to pick up the letter. He got really discouraged after he kept going to the Embassy and kept getting sent home. He didn’t understand all of the documentation he needed but once I went through the requirements, we made sure his application and supporting documents addressed every possible loophole. And, he hung in there. When John got his passport, I was of course thrilled, but I couldn’t really get my hopes up until he had his visa in hand. Sure, we already had his plane ticket booked (a requirement for the visa) and other plans in place, but none of that matters until his passport has been stamped. 

I will never forget that phone call with John when he got his visa. I was on my way to the grocery store and his brother had texted me that his visa came through. I called John, and what is normally a more reserved and articulate young man was suddenly a bubbly guy overflowing with raw happiness…

“Even me, I’m so happy. When I walked into the Embassy, she said ‘Are you John Ndung’u?’ And I said, ‘Yes I am John Ndung’u’ and she said ‘Your visa is ready.’

I yelled. I YELLED. All of the people in the embassy probably thought ‘Is this guy crazy?’ and they turned and stared at me. But I had to yell because I was so excited.

Then as I took the matatu home I kept asking God how this is possible. ‘How is this possible?’ And a tear came out. I cried because I was so happy.”

I am proud. Overjoyed. And lacking adjectives to describe it. Because he’s becoming the young man that I always knew he would be. His life is so full of opportunity and a big, bright future awaits him.

He has been in The Netherlands for four days now, and while I have seen so many photos of him touring places in Amsterdam and trying new foods, my favorite photo by far is this one. He is buying a suit, for the first time, that he will wear to the Model UN conference this weekend. I can see it in his eyes- pride, strength, happiness, humbleness, courage. With a power suit in his closet now, this is only the beginning.

4 thoughts on “A Visa Worth a Thousand Words

  • Laura, thank you for this post!!! I’ve had a tough couple of days and this news is FANTASTIC! I saw your posts on FB already, but reading this post and seeing these photos brought some tears to my eyes (which I’m quickly wiping off of my cheeks as people can see directly into my office).

    I’m so proud of the awesome work you do, the clients you support, and John. You’ve made my day.

    • You’re welcome! It makes me so happy to pen stories such as these and I love sharing them with others. He’s an inspiration to me and I hope will be an inspiration for others too :)

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