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VIDEO: Kenyans in US open up on untold challenges they face in new documentary

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VIDEO: Kenyans in US open up on untold challenges they face in new documentary

VIDEO: Kenyans in US open up on untold challenges they face in new documentary
September 17
10:58 2017

BY BMJ MURIITHI

A new documentary released in the US over the weekend is shedding light on some hitherto untold challenges Kenyans face as immigrants in that country.

Written and produced by Kaba Mbugua, the film which was released Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina, features a number of Kenyans who candidly tell their own real life stories.

Official estimates put the number of Kenyans living in the United States at 130,000. The figure has however been disputed in some quarters with some claiming that there are at least 300,000 immigrants from the East African nation. Many hold well paying jobs or run successful enterprises while others are students.

The documentary however shows that some Kenyans, just like the rest of the immigrants from other countries,  struggle to make ends meet. A myriad of challenges have sometimes led some – especially the youth – to fall into bad company, ending up in jail, homeless shelters, on a forced flight back home or, in extreme cases, even dead. The film highlights  the misconceptions held by some Kenyans about life in the ‘land of the free’ and the subsequent effects.

“I was a criminal…I was arrested for illegal possession of a gun and cocaine” reveals James Njoroge who has since been deported. “I smoked Marijuana and had many minor violations,” he adds.

Ms Alice Raine, who has since returned to Kenya tells of how uninformed she was about life in the US before leaving Nairobi.

She explains how shocked she was when she arrived in the US.

“We used to eat from trash cans because we had no food and the restaurant where we worked would not let us touch the “expired” food,” she says, referring to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laws which are strictly observed by eateries in the US.

“Our first year was terrible. We had come on a one way ticket and so we couldn’t go back,” she adds.

“Many Kenyan professionals who are well educated find themselves doing very demeaning menial jobs just to make ends meet in the US. This is simply because they do not have the requisite papers to enable them compete on equal terms with other job seekers,” says another Kenyan.

Wariara Thuo explains how difficult it was to get a place to stay and a car soon after she arrived in the country.

“They wanted to see my documents everywhere I went.”

But some Kenyans here don’t give up easily and they opt for marriage, explains Japheth Matemu, a US-based immigration lawyer.

“However, citizenship through marriage is not as easy as some think. It must be a one-woman-one man union and it has to be entered into in good faith in order to be recognised by federal law,” he adds.

He says many Kenyans who are married in Kenya are denied an opportunity to adjust their status because they never divorced their spouses and the records show it.

“They forget that there is a record trail from the time they applied for their visa as they mentioned that they were married in order to increase the chances of getting the coveted document ,” he says.

Matemu explains why the “Kenyan mindset” has landed many Kenyans in US jails. “Some things that are not taken very seriously in Kenya are sometimes considered outright criminal in the United States. Many Kenyans, especially young people, have ended up in jail for crimes like driving under the influence (DUI), which in comparison, is not taken very seriously in Kenya,” he adds.

Documentary film make Kaba Mbugua. PHOTO/COURTESY

He says people who overstay their visas have it very rough but they hardly talk about it because they would not like their families and friends back home to know of their predicament. Matemu however says life for Kenyans with valid student visas is relatively easy.”

“If you come here on a student visa, then you are also allowed to work and sustain yourself. Holders of some other Visas like the DV (popularly known as Green Card), are also good to go,” he says.

He however warns against “Marriage for papers.”

Mbijiwe Mwenda, a counselor with Family Development Institute says some people have made “a business venture” out of marriage. He tells of how they marry for papers and divorce as soon as the marriage “matures,” only to get married to another “client” soon afterwards.

“They pocket about three thousand dollars (Sh 320,000) every two to three years for marriages that have nothing to do with bedroom affairs,” he says.

Joseck Asikoye of Jabali Africa explains why he thinks cases of domestic violence among Kenyan couples in the US are on the rise.

“Pent up anger among  Kenyan men in the US is one of the reasons some are killing themselves. He says they find it difficult  to “bring out the Kenyan men in them” due to the repercussions of such acts. You can’t physically discipline your wife here,” he says.

“You have to do your homework before relocating to the US. If you are violent by nature, the America is not for you because the authorities are zero tolerant to violence,” he says.

Willie Owusu & Ndungi Githuku in action
PHOTO/COURTESY by metta metta ART

Ms Kanyi, who came to the US at age 7,  tells of how she fell into bad company leading to her deportation at the age of 17. If you don’t have papers and you get yourself into criminal activities in the US, that is a sure air ticket back to your motherland,” she says.

I had Kenya friends in the US who took their own lives,” adds Kanyi.

Francis Maina also tells his story. He explains how he was stuck in the US for 13 years and couldn’t invite his family after he overstayed his visa.

Asikoye Justus advises Kenyans who immigrate to the US to obey the law. “There is no short cut here. There are many people rotting in jail,” he says.

Film maker Kaba Kaba in action. PHOTO/COURTESY

The 37-minute long film is  written by Kaba Mbugua and the soundtrack is by Jabal Africa. Audio post-production is done by Kenyan thespian, Ndungi Githuku.

Watch it here courtesy of Kaba Kaba Films:

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