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Hopewell Chin’ono: I bore witness to a painful experience at the US embassy in Harare

By Hopewell Chin’ono

The quest for a better life is real and struggles are ongoing around us everyday. I bore witness to a painful experience today at the US embassy in Harare. I am going to England next month on vacation so I decided to get a new US visa just in case I might want to visit my friends across the Atlantic pond.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

I was sitting in the US visa waiting room and I think most of you would have been guests there at some point. You are called to the window where you talk to the immigration officer using a phone-intercom system. Everyone in the room can hear your responses as you shout back to the immigration officer.

I hope that the new US embassy in West Gate will not have the same system where everyone can listen to your story and you are deprived of your privacy.

Anyway, my heart was broken by a young girl’s story and experience.
She must have been around 25 to 28 years of age.
She paid US$160 for her visa interview, they don’t take Bond notes or debit and credit cards at the US embassy. Strictly greenbacks.

The young lady was called to the interviewing window, she said that she was a waitress who earns $300 plus tips. She added that she was going on holiday and that she would stay with her friend who is a house wife in Texas.

I could see that the story was now unraveling and going South. The visa immigration officer gave away the verdict by her grimacing looks before she had even finished the interview.

The young girl lives in Mbare with her parents, she is a waitress at a bar in town, she earns $300, has no family in the US except a High School friend who is a house wife, needs a plane ticket which will cost at the very least $1600 and she is going to America on holiday.

I felt for her, but if I was the immigration officer I would have reached the same decision. She didn’t get the visa.

Now she spent just over half of her monthly wages on a futile pursuit for as America visa. These are the real struggles that everyday people are going through whilst trying to escape the grinding poverty in their homeland.

You could hear a pin drop in the interviewing room when she tried to hold herself together, then her tears started rolling down her cheeks followed by sobs. She had just seen her dream of going to America shattered and felt humiliated in front of her compatriots.

She simply said “thank you very much” to the immigration officer and walked away back into the very cold world she was trying to escape. That is the pain that many Zimbabweans of her age are going through due to an environment devoid of choices.

She would have been around 10 when the economic meltdown began in 2000. Now she is around 25 to 28 years of age and the suffering continues.

Many of her age-mates elsewhere in the world are buying houses and cars and changing cities as they ride on the prosperity economic wave in their countries.

It makes you introspect when you put what you consider to be hardships against other people’s stories. As I drove home after getting my visa, I felt a ripple of sadness run down my body. I realized that my “hardships” are relative.

As we go into the upcoming watershed election, it is people like the waitress who are looking for answers. All I am hearing is quarrelling, shouting and partisan arguments not rooted in answers.

Bob Marley said that if you get down and quarrell everyday, you are saying prayers to the devil.

Can we start talking about what is good and how we can get it? 

I say so because when I posted about the Independent Coalition campaign fronted by Evan Mawarire, I saw a rejection to interrogate why they are doing so.

I read partisan comments not woven around what is good for us. Perhaps we need to realize that if we fight on partisan lines not national objectives, we will deserve the electoral outcome in July.

A people get the government they deserve!

If we make the right choices, we won’t need visas to run away from our home. When there is a requirement to travel, we will get the visas because our stories would be real.

Failure to understand that difference will result in us chasing what Haile Selassie called a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.

There are many who can attest to that fact, many who were 28 in 2000. Today they are 48, battered and bruised with NO bright future in sight after passing the half mark of their lives.

Only talking about solutions will remove the poor waitress from becoming another statistic 18 years later. Solutions not partisan quarrelling.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out in March. He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope