So this story has to be told. How I found myself dripping with tears at a modest corner office at Kikuyu. How I learnt so much about my church just sitting at its office. I had planned to take my passport for months. I even filled in the application on ecitizen and paid but just left it until the day I’d take leave from work just for it. That day finally came last week. And because I had a feeling something would go wrong somewhere, I took two days off. Let me tell you feelings are solid things.
I woke up and suddenly realized I hadn’t asked dad and mum for their IDs. I rummaged top secret locations for them but found nada. I called them. Mum couldn’t remember the exact location while dad had his on him the whole time. I was like, fine, tomorrow is another day, lemme do some other things today. So I set out to my good ol church to seek that recommender’s signature. For you who might know what I’m talking about, you might want to read this article on Hapa Kenya. It’s the first thing Google spits out when you ask her to tell you about applying for a passport in Kenya. For some strange reason, the only people who can recommend you when you apply are either religious leaders, bank or legal officials or established civil servants,whatever that means. This part of the application had kulad me kichwa like you have no idea. So I printed the form and invoices and got to the church office.
First of all, a bit of background. I’m not a known person in church by any measure. The only people who know me are the little babies who attend beginners’ class and a few of the parents. Get stopped by a child on the street for a high five and you’ll understand why I’m perfectly fine with familiarity with just this tiny population. It’s delightful. Otherwise when I’m in church, I sit at the back right corner where nobody at the front can see you. Everyone at PCEA Kikuyu has a spot. It may not be one specific pew, but it’s generally always around the same point in the sizeable building. So you’ll understand why I walked in and the secretary had no idea who I was.
“Hello,” I started, bracing myself, “how are you?”
“Hi,” she replied.
“Naomba usaidizi nipate signature ya kuapply passport,” I continued, wondering whether I should just go with Kikuyu but I stuck with Swahili.
“Wewe ni wa district gani?”
“Ah, sasa reverend ametoka hapa tu saa hii, na wameenda mbali,”
“Woiiii, ningejua aki. Sasa naweza saidika?”
“Eh, lakini the only other people who sign are two elders. Bora tukujue tunaweza kusaidia. Pigia elder umwambie.”
“I see. Sawasawa.”
Of course that’s not exactly what I did. It was time to invoke my dad’s influence. I rarely do this but this time, there seemed to be no other way. I called him, he insisted on speaking to the secretary. Of course they know each other. Then he called the elder and deal was done. Or so I thought. I left the form to be signed in the course of the day. Decided to go get other documents from two offices I had not visited due to the usual reasons. To cut this part of the story short, I waited and waited but got no call, until 5:46pm. Session clerk decided to sign the form in the wrong place. At this point I was not at all fazed. Tomorrow is another day. I told myself. Little did I know.
Friday found me up bright and early. Full of positive energy. I was told to be at church at 9am as the reverend would be there this time. I was there at 8.45am. Small talk kidogo with the secretary and I handed the new printout. Then the waiting began. I sat and sat. Then I took out my tab to read this book that I’m already tired of and probably should give up on. People walked in and out. You’d be surprised at how busy that church office is. I watched the clock hit 10. I moved from that spot to another near the vestry after I was told to move. At that point, I was already feeling very unsettled and deceived. If there’s one thing I hate is when my time is not respected plus a promise is broken. The church evangelist found me there and I realised I was fighting back tears. So I decided to walk out and sit in the sun. And not talk to anyone else so as not embarrass myself.
11am came knocking and I decided to make calls. First to a neighbour at immigration to tell them I’d still look for them, even though my chances looked bleak and then to dad. I told him I was almost giving up. He, of course, called someone. I sat in the hot sun and whispered many words of plea to God. Please don’t let my leave be in vain. Please. Let your will be done. All this time I have this lump in my throat. Women walked past me, a baking project was going down in one of the rooms. The men at the construction site above my head kept at it, making little stones fall all over once in a while. And then it happened at 11.20am. The secretary came out and waved me in. Oh my heart almost leaped out of my mouth. But that was probably just that lump in my throat fighting to be free.
The reverend was here. Acting reverend, so I did not know him. He was upstairs. I walked up the steep flight of stairs, holding my breath. Dad called. I told him all was well. I knocked the open door and got in. He was on the phone. He motioned towards the seat in front of him. I smiled and sat. He was done. Greetings. And then it finally happened. The tears. They just fell out my eyes and there’s nothing I could do about it other than just let them fall. This whole time. As he asked questions and I answered. As I told him what I did and what I wanted. I liked him instantly. He continued filling his details on my form while smiling. I told him I didn’t know why I was crying. I told him where I worked. He wanted to know more about Bitcoin. (lol) Eventually he was so warm and kind that I just told him why I was crying. I was so relieved to see him, so happy, I couldn’t hide both my relief and my frustration at the whole delay. He understood perfectly. He did everything perfectly. He was a pro at what was required, I was not. He prayed for me. I cried some more. I shook as I scribbled our company website for him to visit. I thanked him profusely, picked up my papers and left. I am certain my eyes were probably swollen. I cry exactly where I’m not expected to.
Fast forward to Nyayo House, because if I keep writing all the details, we’ll all sleep here. I got there and found lots of people inside and outside Nyayo House. The picture had already been painted by Biko for me so I figured there were lots of business men around. I made it inside and took a ticket number. It was KCB all over again, just gloomier and fuller. I ventured into the bowels and found every seat occupied. After a few minutes, I jumped into the next empty one. I was hungry. Shiku does not take breakfast. It was noon. My ticket number: 336. Ticket being served: 275. God is good. All kinds of people walked in and out. Kids. Women in hijabs. Men in nice green and white immigration shirts. Girls is super tight pieces of cloth. Name them. My neighbour called and told me not to worry, the queue would go fast. And true to her word, it did go fast. So fast that when she rethought this and came to see if we could skip to the front, my ticket number was called out by the lady computer before her person came back to the counter. Yay! I did not want to skip the queue at all. I’d have felt wrong for ages. Ladies and gentlemen, the Kenyan immigration department is that efficient.
So I get to counter no. 03 and hand the officer my documents. She greets me.
“Caroline, unatoka wapi?”
“Huko ni kwenu ushago?”
“Caroline, umewahi notice jina Ngigi kwa birth certificate yako ni ingine? Ni Ngige.”
She pointed at it. Craaaaap. Magunga was so right. I had hoped because it was a misspelling on my dad’s name, and not mine, I would escape her wrath. On my birth certificate, I’m just Caroline Wanjiku. Dad is Willison Ngige Kimori. Jeez. Who sat down and hit the typewriter to engrave that all misspelt name forever in my very important document? She asked for my KCSE certificate. Thanks to Magunga, I had it with me, with the correct spelling, of course. All I had to do was photocopy it. My neighbour was very helpful with everything and I was back at the counter in no time! Computer keys were hit. Papers were stapled and pap I was in room 12 for my photo to be taken. Somebody say amen! Caroline akatoa studs na akapigwa picha. Oh that picture had better be good when the passport tokas! Almost all my cards now have very annoying passport photos. Lol.
And that is how I walked out of Nyayo House unscathed. It’s not bad at all. It was just an extra emotional roller-coaster for me at church. I still think about my frustration and want to cry. Even when I retold the story to my mum who hangs on every word you tell her and my BFF. I was not crying “boo hoo hoo” like a baby, but I was crying nonetheless. And I think it was nice to let it go like that, for once, for a real reason, instead of a movie. I ended up crying a bucketful that night while watching War Room. I figured I might as well have my normal cry routine fulfilled. But on a serious note, I learned a lot those two days. People will not give you a hard time if you do your part. It’s good to interact with more people in the community as a whole, you never know what they will teach you. Your experience is not someone else’s, but you can learn from them. Plus when else was I going to use this primary school composition title?