I have never been in a plane. I do not know how to spell it in full. Is it airplane or aeroplane? MS Word underlined the latter in red. I want to board a plane one day. I long to fly. To see the world. Sitting in traffic on Langata Road, I gaze the iron birds that perched at Wilson Airstrip. Most of them are private jets. Do not take my word as faith though; I cannot tell a private plane from a commercial one.
Langata Road traffic is hectic. Not just because it pushes the limits of your patience further than slow internet would dare attempt. It is noisy. Rongai minibuses are always honking and blaring, as if announcing to their village that they have finally left the city. And then, as if by some unwritten ordinance, Langata matatu drivers keep revving their engines, even when there is clearly no place to go. It sounds terrible, sickly even, like a fading man coughing and spluttering on his deathbed. On such days, I shut my window to escape the thick grey clouds of smoke coming from engines that have lived better lives. I look at the planes at Wilson Airport and try imagining what it feels like to be thirty thousand feet up in the air.
My sister, Regina Mariposa said she’d invite me to visit her in Baltimore if I sorted out my passport and visa. That is why I applied for a passport. The Kenyan immigration department has this snazzy new website that allows you to create an account with them online, so that instead of suffering the long windy queues, you just find the form, fill in your details, print it out and take it to Nyayo House.
I thought it was something easy. In fact, I filled that form two months ago and even paid for it via MPESA. KES 4,500. An invoice immediately sent to me via my E-Government account. Now all I needed to do was to preset my application to Nyayo House.
Since I did not see any time limits on the website, I took my time with the application. I was not in a hurry to visit Nyayo House. I was not travelling anytime soon. But then, in preparation for Writivism Festival that is to be held in Kampala, I had to get a Temporary Permit. I figured it would be clever if I dropped my application at the same time.
The long, drawn out S-shaped curve at the Immigration Department is something I expected. Especially since I got there at a little after 9am. This is Kenya. And this is a government office. What I did not see coming was my experience with the lady at Counter 7. She refused to accept my papers for passport application. Rightfully so. My name on my Birth Certificate is not the same as my name on my National ID.
Let me tell you a ka-story.
When Mother Karua was heavy with child in 1991, she expected that she would bring forth a baby girl to balance out the gender equation in her house. She already had Nimrod (boy), then Regina (girl), then Deogratias (boy). It would only make sense for the last born to be a girl. She even bought and sewed baby girl clothes and picked out the name Joan.
Lo and behold! A little goon was born, bawling his lungs out all the while. That was me. According to Karua, they’d agreed (with my old man) that I was to be named John Opinya after her favorite uncle. Apparently the taxman nodded and said whatever. Lakini the day I came out is the same day my old man’s favorite uncle, George Magunga, also died. So my dad came to Aga Khan Hospital maternity wing saying that there is no way I was going to be named anything else other than George Magunga.
The only way to settle this was to compromise. To share me half and half. My birth certificate was hence transcribed George Opinya.
My old man was still not feeling this sharing story. So when I reported to Class One, he told me that my name is George Magunga, and that is the only name I should respond to. Sneaky man, donge? It stuck. In Class 8, when they said that I should add at least one name in order to I register for the Kenya Certificate for Primary Education, I added two. My father’s names. And so I became Oduor George Williams Magunga.
For common reference, I simply settled for Magunga Williams. The rest is history. (Even though I secretly hope to one day be called Oduor Magunga when I become a big writer, because true African writers are forbidden from having English names like Timothy, James, Isaac, Williams, Kenneth, Richard, Amanda e.t.c.)
I have never felt like giving this history to anyone. That is why I simply signed an Affidavit with a Latin speaking advocate of the High Court to settle any issues that may arise as a result of the discrepancies between my Birth Certificate and my National ID.
It has worked well ever since.
I approached Counter Number 7 with the excitement of a twenty four year old hoping to board a plane sometime soon. The lady at the counter was not as thrilled. That is why she looked at my application, then looked back at me through the glass, and said, “These names do not match.”
“But that is what the signed oath is for. See? Right there. Affidavit.” I said that word affidavit with a voice so deep that if she listened clearly, I am sure she could have heard Adele rolling in it.
“We do not accept such documents here. This one can be faked.”
“Aaai. Look. It has a seal and a stamp and a signature by the advocate. Call him now.”
“Listen young man. There is no way to prove that these documents refer to the same person….also, this Birth Certificate looks funny. Why is there a strain of X where your father’s name is supposed to be.”
“I think it is because he is dead.”
“So they nowadays put X instead of his name?”
“Me sijui. What did they use to put in your heydays?”
I felt like she was now being petty. I told her the history of my name is a complicated. I did not choose my name so much as she chose to have browning teeth. The fault is on our stars. I was not responsible for the mayhem caused by the vanities of my parents. But I have tried to fix it by signing an oath in which I swear before a registered advocate of the High Court that, George Opinya and Oduor George Williams Magunga refer to the same person. And that person is me.
“How long have you used these names?” she asked, waving my National ID.
“All my life.” I lied. There is that one time in high school when I told some jaber from Nyamonye Girls that my name is Kim. But surely, that was years ago. I thought we could be grown ups and get past it already.
“I will need your KNEC certificates. The ones you used to sit your national examinations.” She said that with a tone of finality. “Go get them and come back to me.” With that, she pressed something and the automated feminine voice commanded the next person to approach counter 7. No further negotiations. I collected by papers and left.
I did not know what the KNEC certificates would prove, other than the fact that I am not so good in Math and Swahili. But I knew I did not have them. I lost them in second year of my campus. My next stop was Mtihani House along Aga Khan Walk, which if you know Nairobi even vaguely, is on the other side of the city center.
At Mtihani House, I was told that to replace one certificate would cost me KES. 5000 and I will need a letter from my former Principal /Headmaster to say that I attended that school. Which means I should go all the way to Maranda High School (which has not moved from Nyapiedho, Bondo) to ask for a letter from Mr. Owino. I don’t even know he remembers me. Not with this new development in my dental formula.
Then I will have to wait for three months for a replacement to be processed by the good folk at Kenya National Examinations Council.
I called home, asked my jaber to bring me my University of Nairobi law degree certificate. I always knew it would one day be good for something. She did. I attached that to my Kenya Revenue Authority PIN Certificate and proceeded back to Nyayo House. This was late afternoon. I found the Counter Number 7 teller prepping to leave her booth, but she stayed when I asked her to wait kidogo.
“I told you to bring me your KNEC papers. What is this? I cannot accept this.” She said showing me my degree certificate like it was from Nairobi Aviation.
“I do not have my KNEC papers. Plus, kwani you think those ones cannot be faked? But you can call University of Nairobi, School of Law and ask them who I am. In fact, just ask who Jakom is. They will tell you. Or better yet, Google.”
I showed her all I had to prove that I was Kenyan. I gave her my National ID, The sworn Affidavit, my CBA ATM, my Nakumatt MasterCard, my voters card, my Twitter handle, my Instagram account and my blog. All of them. But she still would not believe me (or perhaps she was waiting for night bundles). She did not care about anything. Not even her ugly teeth. She just laughed and said my application would not go through.
In her eyes, I was not Kenyan enough. I do not blame her though. It is not her fault. It must have been the dark eye-shadow ruining her vision.
She went through my application again, laughing to herself, at me. She looked at the invoice and saw that it was paid two months ago and said, “Where have you been all this time? I wish this payment had a time limit.” Such a barracuda.
In the end, this heifer rejected my affidavit and took the Birth Certificate and the application. She knows very well that without the affidavit, whoever is going to verify my identity will not let me get a passport just like that. It needs a supporting document. She even said to my face; “Hii yako haitatoka. You just be prepared to make trips to this place.”
I do not understand why she was like this. I did not say anything more. I let her rap and laugh as if to show me her heart – there was none. Just a deep black hole.
Little power does that to small people. It excites them. This time she had it. She toyed with it. She stood over me, asked me go on my fists and give her fifty. Boy did I pump! Nyayo House has always been that terrifying reminder of Moi’s cruelty – how his minions collected his siasa enemies from their homes in the night, put them in GK land rovers, took them to the basement of Nyayo House where they were fucked up without so much as dinner first.
Madam here did the same, only in little more subtle way. It is not even the fact that she refused my papers. She could have just been doing her job. It is the dispassionate way she did it.
However, I am the son of Karua and a man of nyadhi no less. I did not beg for mercy. The lady at counter 7 might have had the best of me, but not the last. The first rule of nature for sons of Alego is self preservation. I other words, Jaluo oksechi.
At the end of the day, I did not get to listen to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s speech at UoN. I was too tired. I just wanted to sleep. I dragged myself across the city centre, eyes half awake, a zombie on autopilot to my bus stop. I switched off immediately my ass found a seat.
Meanwhile, I know that passport will not come. Not soon anyway. But I know I must still board an iron bird someday. In this life or the next.