Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I have no name – Adventures at Nyayo House

During the former President Moi’s regime, Nyayo House was rumored to be a torture center for dissidents. At the present time, this large office building in Central Nairobi houses the Kenyan Immigration Office as well as other resident registration offices. Some would argue, it is still a center for government-sponsored torture. I’ve spent quite a number of days there; waiting in line and filling out forms, and as far as I can tell, the system there is like a bad a DMV on crack.

For example, during December of 2006, Amber, Anne and I applied for Resident Alien Identity Cards and Work Permits. After waiting in multiple lines to fill out a plethora of paperwork, we were told to come back in five weeks to pick up our identity cards, which would be valid for a period of three months. Six weeks later, the cards still were not ready. Two months later the cards still were not ready. After checking the status of the cards again, I was told not to bother because by the time my card would be issued it would already have expired. As of October, 2007, my identity card is still not ready and it would have expired in March 2006.

Yesterday, however, I did manage to acquire my long-awaited work permit. After eleven months, the paper work was finally completed and I was told that I could come to Nyayo House to collect the permit. I entered the building and waited in Line Number 9 for permit inquiries. As I approached the front of the line, however, the registration officer decided to take a break for tea. The line waited for another twenty minutes without moving until he returned. Upon reaching the front of the line, I was told to go down the hallway to Room 16. After waiting in line there and explaining that I had come to collect my permit, I was then sent up five flights of stairs to Room 5-31. The government employee there, however, was not happy to see me and didn’t want to be disturbed. He sent me back down the stairs to Room 16. I waited in line again. The employees in Room 16 were confused and questioned me as to why I decided to return. When I explained the situation, they told me I had to go back upstairs to Room 5-31; the man there was the only one who would be able to help me. After climbing the stairs again I was feeling quite tired and frustrated, but again the man in Room 5-31 told me he didn’t like something with my paper work and I would have to go back and wait outside of Room 16. I complained that he was just running me in circles, and asked for his name and title so I could file a formal complaint. The man refused to tell me his name. Upon further questioning he told me, and I quote: “I have no name, go back to Room 16.”

I was in no mood to go back downstairs, however, and as our argument continued, I was eventually sent to “the man with no name’s” supervisor. The supervisor was called J. Ngari and unfortunately he proved to be just as unpleasant as “the man with no name.” J. Ngari told me I would have to go back to Room 16 and wait, then I could return to the “man with no name”, then I would have to go back again to Room 16 and my paper might be ready by then. I suggested he place a simple phone call to Room 16 to resolve the issue; that way we could all save time and I could avoid another 15 flights of stairs and multiple lines. Plus it was almost time for their lunch break, and if I didn’t get the permit soon, I would have to wait outside the building for another two hours and then start all over again. I even offered J. Ngari my cell phone to make the call to Room 16. After much persuasion, he reluctantly placed the phone call and told the woman there KiSwahili: “go ahead and give it to him.” The permit had been sitting neatly on her desk the whole time. My friends told me later that J. Ngari, “the man with no name”, and “Room 16 woman” were all looking for bribes. I had just thought they were being really annoying.

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