After E and I got married, we ended up dividing out time between Canada, where I’m from, and Kenya, his birth place. We had planned to live in Canada but E wasn’t granted refugee status, which was his original claim when moving here before we met, and therefore he had to go back home.
His whole court process was a nightmare. Not because of lawyers or judges or any of that. It was E. He couldn’t keep his story straight. Making up tall tales about why he was fleeing the country that made no sense to anyone who had to listen in court. If I was his Judge, I would’ve denied him status as well to be honest. He told 3 completely different accounts of what happened to him under oath. All three varied so much that there was no way it was just on account of his memory being a little foggy. One story he told was him fleeing his family’s house while it was burnt to the ground by militia. In another statement he was fleeing persecution because he had been forced to be a child soldier and had been running from country to country since he escaped from them. Then there was the story of when he watched his sisters being raped at gun-point. None of his time-lines lined up. None of his stories could be repeated with accuracy while in court. They were all made up fiction and therefore he couldn’t remember what story he had told to whom, and when. Turns out? Didn’t matter because they were all lies.
I had always let him deal with his lawyer on his own and although I offered to assist he never wanted me at previous meetings with his lawyer. I went to his final court hearing after we were married with him for support with our 1 month old son and heard all these stories for the first time at his hearing.
It was embarrassing.
From what I knew (in yet a differing, forth story) and what lined up with his day to day activities, he had come to the country to play rugby and the team had convinced him to claim refugee status to enable him to stay the longest term without bothering with visa’s etc. After we met, his plans changed and he decided to stay and pursue the refuge claim. But hearing his lawyer try and deal with all these lies, seeing the judge not believe anything… It made my heart drop. Because a denial in his status would result in one thing. E would have to leave Canada. Which would mean as his loyal wife? I would be leaving to. So I sat there in the courtroom and could tell the it was taking a turn for the worse. I just thought about how my entire future was about to change.
The Judge had so many issues with E’s case and the fact that all his answers in court discounted his written statements, that she couldn’t make a decision at that time. She informed us that we would hear from the courts later regarding the results. I left the courthouse that day with a feeling of dread and annoyance. I knew what the Judge meant. I was just as frustrated with E. I was also helpless in this case to do anything regarding the upcoming decision.
A week later we got the notice in the mail. E had been denied refugee status and was given 30 days to leave the country.
That was it. My life was completely in upheaval. I had been married for just over a year, I had a boy who was 1 month old. I had a new house, all my friends and family, everything was here. Everything had been good. Well everything had been half decent, we’re talking life with E here let’s not get too fancy. But I had made a commitment to this man. So if he couldn’t be in the country then I guess neither would I.
I started making all the arrangements for us to go to Kenya. My son got his first passport at 40 days old (his picture is hilarious). I arranged flights. I found someone to rent our house, not knowing when or how we would ever be returning. I got all our immunizations up to date. I packed all our valuables and took them to my parents attic. I sold most of my things like my collection of books and all my jewellery. Got rid of all my high heels 😕. Wouldn’t be needing those in the village we were heading to. Our entire life was now in 6 thoughtfully packed and repacked suitcases. 2 each. All carefully weighted out so we wouldn’t have to pay extra baggage fees. We didn’t have that kind of money laying around. (We’d sent it to fake-sick relatives, grrr) Who knew what Kenya held and we had to save every penny we could.
E did nothing to help with the preparation. He spent his days at the gym, and nights at the rugby club. He just basically showed up the morning of the flights in his annoying sweatpants that were too short, yet he wore EVERYWHERE and that was it. We were off.
When we got to the airport E had to be escorted on the plane by security because of the deportation order, as well as at each stop in Canada he had to be given a police escort to the next plane. They really wanted to make sure he got out of the country and back to Kenya. We had one stop in Toronto before our flight to Brussels and finally Nairobi.
In Toronto our flight was delayed something like 4-6 hours and it would cause us to miss our next connecting flight in Brussels. E was held in a holding room probably relaxing, while I tried to sort out all of this. The border control are saying that they cannot let him on the next flight out if they are not guaranteed he will have flights all the way to Kenya. So they told us the next flight they could rebook for him was a week away. Yet as for me, I would have to continue on my rearranged flight as is.
Umm… Excuse me? You want E to stay in Toronto for a week where he knows absolutely no one. And on top of that, you want to send me to Brussels and then Nairobi where I too, know absolutely no one. With my infant son. Alone. For at least a week? WTF?
We had no other choice. I couldn’t afford to just rebook another tickets for myself and the baby the next week just so we could have the luxury of travelling together as a family. So I had to go on as planned. Now. My flight was leaving soon. I was calling my parents and asking for help at this point frantically trying to arrange something for E. My mom contacted someone she knew in Toronto and they were able to put E up for the week. I heard story after story of how nice his stay was. They picked him up from the airport. They took him to a Raptors game and he had steak and lobster dinners, they had a nice hot tub, and even took him shopping for new clothes (yes they got him new longer sweatpants) Life was good for him.
For myself on the other hand…
My son and I got on our delayed flight out of Toronto alone. An 8 hour flight and I handled it ok considering I had no idea what was coming. Once I got to Belgium though, I found out that the next flight they could put us on to Nairobi wasn’t for 2 days. And to top it off, my debit card and MasterCard didn’t work there. I was stuck in a foreign country with no money. No place to stay. No grasp of the language. No contacts. Nothing but me and my baby, and a whole lot of stress. I convinced someone to please give me enough change to call my mom from the airport.
She updated me on E. Where he was staying, that he was safe and would be flying out in a week. Then she gave me her VISA number so I could book a hotel. I found my way out to a hotel shuttle pick up. With every shuttle that came I asked if the hotel had any vacancies. If the driver understood me, they would call the front desk only to inform me that no, there was no room at the inn. Time after time.
I stood there with my baby and carry-on bags (since our luggage had been sent straight though) and no money in the cold and it finally sunk in that the situation had gone from bad to worse. I must’ve looked pretty desperate because after about 4 hours of being turned away from hotels, a stranger walked up to me.
My angel in that moment.
He said something I didn’t understand in a language I didn’t recognize. Then he handed me 100 Euros. Just like that. And finally for the first time on that trip, I sat down and cried. I know it doesn’t seem like much but for me it was everything in that moment. I had finally realized the gravity of my situation and it got to me. Normally I can keep myself together. I didn’t cry on my wedding day, or when my son was born. But for this? I sat at that bus shelter in a country I’d been in for about 6 hours and let myself cry.
The next bus that pulled up was for a ridiculously fancy hotel. Which is probably why they had a room available. No one else was willing to spend the kind of money it cost to stay there. It was almost $400/night and I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep, feed the baby, wipe my tears, shower and relax.
So I hopped on the bus and found myself at what is the most beautiful upscale hotel I’ve ever seen in person, let alone stayed in. The front desk probably cringed when they saw me walk in, face all tear streaked and with a baby. They probably wanted to direct me to the nearest homeless shelter, or hostel at the very least. But instead, they gave me a room and I took my son nursed him and then we slept. For so long we just slept.
For the next two days I didn’t do any site seeing or anything exciting. I lived off the few complimentary crackers and teas that were in my room. Seriously for a fancy hotel you’d think they’d at least have a continental breakfast hey? I took the free airport shuttle back and forth both days to use the free internet at the airport so I could Skype E and my parents. I transferred money back to my mom and thanked her for the VISA number I had used for the hotel. I heard all about how E’s host took him shopping and bought him brand name athletic gear and how he had a home gym to use whenever he fancied. And I drank as much water as possible to make sure I could still nurse my boy.
Finally it was time to catch my flight to Nairobi. E had called his family and explained what happened. His sisters agreed to pick us up at the airport and host us for the week.
Two sisters I’d never met. I got off the plane in Nairobi after another 11 hours flight only to be reminded I had to pay for my VISA in cash. Which I remember reading about and had arranged for beforehand. But guess who had the Kenyan shillings in their wallet? Mmmmhmm, that’s right. E.
So I literally wandered around some more looking for an ATM, or a money exchange only to be told they are all on the other side of the VISA counter. So I got in line. I had no other choice.
I picked the right line! I went up to the counter and showed my passport and my sons passport and when the guy at the counter saw my sons passport he was like is this E’s baby? and said E’s full name. I was like yeaaah, full of hesitation. So the guy starts going on and on about how he had heard E had married a Mzungu (white person) and he didn’t believe it. In that moment I felt a little bit of relief. I felt like maybe the storys E had told me about travelling a lot and being fairly well known in Kenya because of Rugby are actually true, and maybe he could be trusted sometimes. Either way, the guy at the desk knew him and knew him well, because he insisted I didn’t need to pay for a VISA because I was like family and just slapped the stickers on our passports and away we we went. Which was my first, but far from my last introduction to corruption in Kenya.
Easy peasy lemon squeesy. At least that part. Because then I was struck with the fact that I had no clue how to find his sisters. Where would they be? I had no idea what they even looked like. So I went down and was waiting for my luggage, hot, sweaty, and hungry after days of travelling with a baby, when someone taps my shoulder. Of course! I’m the only white woman with a baby, no wonder they found me. His two sisters helped me with our bags and took my boy for me and off we went.
Into the terrifying night life of Nairobi.
They drove us to a hotel that had me missing my fancy Brussels room so much. The traffic had me fearing for my life. Nairobi is no joke. I slept not one second that night. Yelling, fighting, mosquitos, pretty sure a few gun shots here and there… and this the sisters informed me was the nice part of the city.
The next day was a 8 hour hot and sweaty matatu (van) ride down the bumpiest road ever known to mankind. Then, a transfer onto a piki piki (motorcycle taxi) and FINALLY we arrived at the older sisters home. Exhausted.
It had taken me 5 days, 4 suitcases, 3 planes, 2 hotels, 1 mutatu, 1 piki piki. And we made it. Without E. But alive. I had successfully done my first cross continental trip with a baby by myself.
And there would be 7 more to come.