By Funmi Ajumobi
My experience demonstrates an adage in western part of Nigeria that says, ‘’You don’t die before death comes”. Hearing of the US embassy is like a place where hope is always shattered. The story ranges from discrimination to denial; some even label most of the things that happen there as racism against Nigerians.
This has been the issue with many Nigerians who find different ways to cut corners in order to scale interview hurdles at the embassy, paying through their noses to agents to get visa. This has led many into debt and many died travelling through Sahara Desert and others in the Atlantic ocean.
My experience at the American embassy gave me another side of the story entirely which means seeing it myself. I decided to apply for visas for my children and I for holiday, filled all the necessary documents and we got the date for interview. Without hassles, after answering questions from the consulate official who interviewed us, we got visiting visas.
Few days later, I got accreditation to cover the United Nations 70th General Assembly, but it was unknown to me that I needed media visa. I went to the embassy and was told I needed to apply for media visa and, from experience I knew it will take nothing less than one month to secure an appointment for interview. That meant going to cover the event was not feasible because it was a week away.
I summoned the courage to present my case through the media department of the embassy and, to my relief, I was given appointment for interview the following day. After the interview, which turned out to be just a discussion, I was called the following day for my visa. Why I said three visas is because another visiting visa was stamped on my passport in error before the media visa was stamped.
Yes, there is no doubt that this is the favour of God, but I have seen through the processes that the US embassy is not as bad as people painted it. I saw a friendly environment with friendly people who were ready to go all the way to getting things done for you if you are truthful. Do not forget that these people are trained and through mere body language, you will be discovered if you are truthful or not.
My advice to Nigerians is that they should be truthful in whatever they do and stop pursuing travelling as a do-or-die issue. The money spent for visas on agents and swindlers, who themselves have never crossed the country’s borders, is more than enough to start a genuine business in Nigeria.
My experience in the US shows that Americans love truthful people and they can go all out to do anything for you. At the point of entry, as a first time non-immigrant, I didn’t remember the address of where I was going to stay, relying more on my friend who was to pick me at the airport.
When I filled the Customs forms, I didn’t put any address which could have meant automatic deportation. On getting to the Customs desk, the officer returned my form to enable me fill in my address of residence. I told him I didn’t know the address off-handedly as the address was long. I, however, explained that my friend was at the airport waiting to pick me. He just looked at me, released my passport and told me to have a nice stay. I am not trying to paint the picture of a bad situation.
To our youths, desperate to go to the US, there is nothing wrong in seeking greener pastures, but they should know that American is not a bed or roses. There are no dollars in the streets to pick up; every cent is hard earned money. You work for it. To those who think the US is an escape route, they are on the wrong lane. As Nigeria has the destitute everywhere for reasons of poverty and mis-governance, so it is with the US.
What welcomed me in America at the subway train made me think twice, I saw two middle aged Americans begging for alms. I asked myself if I was actually in America. I alighted from the train and saw a man with drum sets singing at the train station and people were dropping dollars in a carton which made me remember our own old Oshodi in Lagos. I said to myself, ‘So it is not only Nigeria’.
To me, it meant that life is a choice. You can decide to choose what you want out of life. Right on my way to the United Nations building, I saw young people carrying placards with the inscription: “ No house, no parents. Please help!” . But from outside, of the US, it is like government provides everything for residents.
What is the government doing to settle the destitute? The truth remains that I wasn’t expecting what I saw. This is a lesson that life is a matter of choice and that no government is perfect enough to provide for all citizens. God alone can. Honestly, youths of Nigeria, our nation is a place where you can live well and grow if you are focused. I can see the reason a true change is important here.
If government can provide even 50% of the platform America provides for her citizens, Nigerians will be better off and other countries will long to come here. Nigerians are generous, hard working and are good people. If our leaders can truly bring the change we want, the embassies will lose customers and advanced countries will lose their best hands in technology, hospitals, engineering and business, just to mention a few, because Nigerians are among the people developing their economies.