It is the dream of virtually every young Kenyan to immigrate to the West. The alluring images of neighbors, friends, cousins, and acquaintances on social media owning cars just months after immigrating, flaunting brand outfits that peers in villages only dream of and drinking champagne while feasting on meals befitting royalty beckon unforgivingly. Not to forget the mushrooming state of the art homes put up by diasporas in villages for parents and for themselves upon their anticipated eventual return. Marinate this with high end vehicles bought for kin in villages by this hardworking lot and what you have is an unquenchable desire to do whatever it takes to emigrate. Parents, overwhelmed by responsibilities of raising and educating kids in an economy that is comatose, are willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate emigration of older kids. Every category of visa is attempted: visitor, student, green card lottery, etc. The hope is for the barely sustainable cost of living to be eased once a kid or two shall have emigrated. Cows, trees, land, vehicles, name them, are sold and agents, diasporas, and universities are contacted to facilitate applications. Businessmen, honorable members, wash-wash dealers are beseeched to provide proof of financial muscle. It is not uncommon for applicants to be swindled of facilitation fees in the process but the spirit to try remains unquenchable. Then the lucky ones appear for interviews at embassies, others attend invasive and demoralizing medical check-ups. Eventually, a handful are granted visas. For the lucky few, fundraisers are held as more family assets are sold to bridge unmet balances for travel.
The journey to the unknown then begins, with the young lads full of both hope and anxiety. Arrangements shall have been made by extant diasporas or schools to receive new arrivals. Then the realities start to hit. First is loneliness in a culture that is individualistic. The new arrivals are left home by themselves as the hosts hop from one job to another juxtaposed with school. Second, the new arrivals are at times subjected to servitude as babysitters, cleaners, etc, as they wait for their paperwork to be reconciled to the host country’s requirements for work and school. Some are defrauded of the little monies they bring; others are subjected to abuse in ways that are not appropriate for print, their innocence, vulnerability, and immaturity coming in handy here. Yet there is no other recourse at this point, the tears, heartache, and pain are endured with courage. There is no retreating, properties were sold and families are waiting for goodies. After all, others survived this stage; albeit, with trauma that lasts a lifetime. This is now home for a long while, welcome to the Wild Wild West.
A ray of hope beams when work permits get approved, but then a second dose of reality hits fast when realization that jobs available are not what was hoped. Instead of white color jobs, what is available is menial work that is backbreaking and demeaning. Yet the options are limited. The young lads must accept this reality, what with responsibilities that must be fulfilled. The immediate consolation is freedom and lessened dependence on their hosts. The pay, while mostly minimal by the standard of the host country’s living standards, lulls the immigrant into a sense of being well-off, after all, for the majority, monthly pay constitutes more than the entire combined earnings of immediate family members at home. Some hastily and prematurely find their own residences at this point and a feeling of invincibility kicks in with young minds feeling free and empowered. Counsel from older folk at this point is treated with disdain and a sense of arrogance and entitlement clouds the mind. Newly leased apartments are well furnished, secondhand cars and outfits from brand companies are bought. By now, networks will have been established with other new arrivals and with other country folk who have been in diaspora for long. Some networks elevate the new arrivals into improving themselves (by going to school, investing…), others introduce innocent souls to drinking, smoking, escort services, and other forms of deviancy. Some with prior experiences on these deviant behaviors scale them up, replacing menthol cigarettes with cannabis for example. Some, unable to keep up with pressures of work and school quit school, tragically risking deportation or years of living below the radars of omnipresent immigration agents.
A new dose of reality dawns when word gets to kin that their loved one has gotten a job, and a barrage of requests for support start coming in incessantly. Some callers, unknown to the immigrant prior to immigration, must introduce themselves via totems and lineages. Requests for support ran the gamut, from school fees, medical bills, payments for vets, funeral expenses, Christmas shopping, day to day consumption needs, name them. Further, monies for investments are remitted to family members who have no capacity to manage it. Some of the funds are misused while most of it is invested inefficiently, leading to deep conflict between the immigrant and kin later. Frustrations from kin compel some immigrants to settle for a life of comfort, one of meeting basic needs while limiting remittances back home. The new responsibilities start to stretch the paycheck, and reality on how little the meager pay is leads to frustrations and at times depression. Still, double shifts are put in at the expense of one’s well-being and at the expense of kids who are for the most part left to raise themselves as parents try to make ends meet.
Years go by and depending on how one engages his/her time, the results manifest later. Some will have established families under strenuous circumstances; unfortunately, the stress of supporting kin, trying to fulfill dreams, and changed family roles quite often lead to marital strife, and breakups sadly are the order of the day. The majority end up straddled between the two societies, unsure of where exactly to settle, with dreams that were initially monumental largely dashed. Some will have climbed the corporate ladder, others will have become successful entrepreneurs, others jail birds, others deported, some homeless, a few will have returned home willingly, and some will have expired. It is the reality of the Wild, Wild West! Welcome aboard.
By Dr Chris Ketter