November 22, 2012

It's my second

It’s my second consecutive Thanksgiving in Kenya. Last year I was eating cabbage and streaked in mud, so this year there was really nowhere to go but up.

I convinced my coworkers to take me out to lunch after telling them that Thanksgiving was based on white foreigners arriving in a strange land and being fed a feast by the locals. They asked about the subsequent killing of the Native Americans, but I said we could discuss it after lunch.

However, around 12:30 I happened to remember that my 3-month visa expired yesterday, making me an illegal visitor to Kenya. An illegal alien on Thanksgiving. So I had to rush home to get my passport and rush down to the immigration office at Nyayo House downtown.


Dept. of Immigration.

 Last year when I went to extend my visa, it took 2 trips, several hours, several lines, an alien application form, 2 passport pictures, 10 fingerprints, and $25. This year it only took 5 minutes and $25. No application, no pictures, no finger prints, no waiting... Which leads me to believe that the money was directly pocketed by the guy that helped me.

Illegal alien for Thanksgiving.

The Kenyan police have been showing up in international news lately for a variety of reasons, mostly centering around corruption and incompetence. And it's true- Nairobi is a city, if not entirely fueled on bribes, at least topping up the tank with them. And I think a fair chunk of that is due to the inefficiency of the legitimate bureaucracy. If you get pulled over for speeding, the proper procedure isn't a site-issued ticket. Rather, you are supposed to go to the nearest police station, wait through trial with all the other crimes that day, and then pay your nominal fine. It's a process that can take an hour at best, a day at worst. Therefore, anyone who gets pulled over for speeding has strong motivation to just use that money to pay off the cop directly. If the government were as efficient as the guy who gave me my visa today, it would reduce at least a portion of the corruption.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I was too afraid of the military guys with assault riffles to take any more pictures inside immigration, so I took this one outside instead.  Pretty sure that's not what "clean drinking water" actually means.

Which is all to say- Happy Thanksgiving to me! I participated in unintentional bribery and saved myself several hours at immigration and oily finger pads!

Anyway, it's a day in which most of the people I know are ticking the list of things for which they're thankful. In addition to my speedy immigration trip, I'm thankful for... just about everything.

Life feels pretty charmed these days.


  1. I think that cement thing that says "Clean Drinking Water" is not offering clean drinking water. It is actually demanding that you clean the drinking water! - Wow! Your visa extension story makes me wish that we could get stuff in the US by using bribery, especially at the DMV. I know plenty of people who wouldn't mind slipping the clerk a $50 to get a tag with no line and no waiting! - Glad that you had an eventful Thanksgiving. It was really dinner and a show. - Rachel

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