I hesitated to post anything about my immigration issues before I returned to Kenya because I figured that somehow, it could come back to haunt me. Now that I’ve made it back and feel slightly less irritated towards US customs officials, I can tell the whole story.
Flying into Dallas on Christmas eve, I was ready to hang out with my family and relax. Instead, my passport beeped. It’s never good when your passport beeps. I got the “sir, please step into our back room and answer a few questions” response and asked me what I was doing in Kenya, why I had visited Egypt, Turkey, Syria Jordan etc. They also asked if I had friends in any of these countries I had visited and whether they “convinced me”, whatever that means.”It’s not a problem if you’re Muslim, we’d just like to know”. They asked me why I was nervous and when I told them “because I don’t often talk to federal police officers who could arrest me” they said I had nothing to worry about if I hadn’t done anything wrong… After that, they called my mom to verify my story, before taking my bags and looking through and asking me about every single item. They looked through the files in my computer, financial documents, opened Christmas presents, everything. When they found my journal and I told them it was personal, they told me nothing was personal and proceeded to read it. One of the guys told me I was a good writer and should keep it up… After almost 3 hours of questioning and waiting, Mr. immigration official finally gave me a lecture on American security and how they were protecting me and the country by questioning me. His last words were, “we’re not accusing you of anything and can’t deny you into the United States, but if you are doing something, we will find you” and let me go. I hate to whine and know that foreigners have a much harder time with U.S. immigration than I do, but trying to stop terrorism by “getting people’s stories straight” seems slightly ridiculous to me. Unfortunately, real terrorists are much smarter than these immigration officials and won’t fumble over their words like I did.
Anyway, after my eventful Christmas eve I had a great Christmas with my family in Colorado. I got to go snowboarding for the first time in forever, before traveling to Cabo San Lucas for New Years. We went fishing, swam with whale sharks, played beach volleyball, ate way too much Mexican food, and really enjoyed our time. On the way back, I was scared that the same nightmare would happen at immigration and this time they would think I was an international drug dealer or something. Having been bumped up to first class, I decided to take advantage of the free drinks and calm my nerves before my second encounter with immigration. Fortunately, the guy didn’t even scan my passport, simply stamping my passport and giving me a “welcome to the United States” greeting before waving me through.
My last two weeks in California/Colorado were basically spent seeing friends and organizing meetings with cool people. I’m not sure what I want to do when I come back to the US, but I now have a great network of people who are doing interesting things. I’m also excited for the next few months in Africa before I go back. In Kenya, I’m basically wrapping up my job, running errands and preparing to return. In March, I’m planning to road trip with some friends to South Africa. The details are still in the works but the plan is there and I’m ready for the adventure!