Who’d have thought that Rwanda could ever be so serene as to make you dread the thought of venturing into another country? Especially a country in which you lived, like Kenya.
Even if it is a country which, on the unexpected but welcome expiry of your sojourn, you did not particularly feel any regret for leaving.
Don’t get me wrong. That is not to say that Kenya is a bad country: far from it. For, if I were to choose any other East African country to live in, apart from Rwanda, I’d go for Kenya any time and, when I say that, I talk for many.
However, it has its good share of scary moments. Like an encounter with the ubiquitous ‘pair of officers’. My latest visit to Kenya was last Christmas holiday, and I was bursting with confidence as I entered the airport.
My confidence had been securely buttressed by the knowledge that I was now a member of the East African Community citizenry, and the dignity (thanks to our heroes) that was accorded me sure bore me out…..
First, however, bear with me as I take you back to the years just before 1994. I was a teacher then, ‘eating chalk’ in one of the Kenyan secondary schools dotting the country.
I was with a number of my brethren and ‘sistren’ who were similarly engaged, in a protracted effort to create knowledge, sometimes in impossible establishments known as ‘Harambee’ schools.
As a teacher then, with inducement of some extra dough from parents, you’d sometimes do extra work to try and force some wisdom down the throats of these ‘Harambee students’.
In turn, that extra weight in the pocket gave you the courage to ‘wet your coxcomb’ (kwinyara mw’isunzu) and buy an air ticket.
With which air ticket, you could be airborne and go see your people – and maybe also dispense some futile effort to seek out a bride! – in the refugee camps of either Uganda or Congo Kinshasa, or even Burundi.
It is on your way back that, once at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, you fell into the horns of dilemma. At the Immigration desk, there was a sign marked “Kenyans”, another, “East African Community Members” and, another, “Tourists”.
You were none of these and hence, your dilemma: where do you queue up? You were titular holder of some paper similitude of a passport called ‘Refugee Travel Document’, which cynically described you as a ‘stateless, prohibited immigrant’.
In your pedagogical wisdom, you opted to queue up at “Kenyans”, since you were a teacher in Kenya, and then presented yourself at the counter.
One glance at the familiar, blue hard cover of your ‘passport’ and the immigration officer possessively put your document to the side.
But you were prepared for that. So, you removed your clenched fist from your pocket and, with a lot of noisy familiarity, proclaimed in that Kiswahili they call ‘Sheng’: “Sa, ni aje, Ofisa? Ka-job kanaendela, mazeee?”
In case you’ve not been to Nairobi, ‘Sheng’ is a corrupted mixture of English and Kiswahili that comes out as no language at all! The above greeting simply means: “So, how are you, officer? Is the job going on well, old friend?”
As for the meaning of the clenched fist, those who know the language of corruption à la Kenyanne will tell you that in that pretence at greetings, money will have changed hands. And, of course, the immigration officer will have come out richer.
You, then, as a stateless teacher in Kenya, retrieved your document and morosely proceeded to catch a public bus to your ‘Harambee School’, your pockets feeling as if they’ve never entertained any pecuniary visit!.......
Anyway, back to my last Christmas visit. At the airport, I proceeded to the “East Africans” counter and was treated with all the privileges of a ‘stateful’ person. But trust a Kenyan ‘officer’ to somehow always get you!
On our way to the Nairobi city centre, the driver of my taxi was nabbed for ‘pointing the nose of his car’ in the round-about!
How ‘pointing the nose’ was a mistake, and how I came to be the one to cough up KSh. 2000 to the two police officers, you can only appreciate if you’ve been to Kenya!