UNSUNG HEROES: Five Reasons Why Kenyans Who Host Diversity Immigrant Visa (Green Card) Winners are Unsung Heroes.

Welcome to the United States
Photo credit: Google images

Do you know of an unsung hero who you would like us to feature in our next issue? Please click here to send us an email about who they are, and why you think that they are unsung heroes.

It is that time of the year when most of us Kenyans living in the United States and in Canada are reminded of the vast differences between our adoptive countries and our biological one. The trees are changing from summer green to vibrant yellow, orange and burgundy colors that signal the change of season from hot, bikini and short shorts to chilly, boots and scarves. Stores and neighborhood are filled with scary skeletony spookiness, while pumpkin spiced latte is the go to drink for Starbucks snobs.

If you are anything like me, you probably chuckle to yourself as you walk past your neighbor’s house. Your neighbor, who is a die-hard Halloween fan, has the whole driveway filled with everything Halloweeny: large spiders, skeletons, lighted jack-o-lanterns, zombies, and ghosts complete with the eerie howls and yowls of a ghost lamenting its once tortured soul. You chuckle, not because it is funny, but because it reminds you of your first year in the United States, and your first ever Halloween experience. The fear and terror brought on by such “dark and evil decorations” in your neighborhood; so terrifying that the superstitious you couldn’t sleep for a week in spite of cradling your Bible every night, and calling home to ask your mother to pray for you. Now looking back, you laugh at yourself and your then naivety.  Culture shock. It’s real.

One the other side of the world, almost halfway across the globe, it is that time of the year when a different kind of excitement fills some households: October is the month that United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery (Green Card) application begins. With that comes friends, relatives, neighbors, village mates, and acquaintances, contacting anyone and everyone they know in the United States, with the hopes that those in the United States will help them as they work on their applications, and then as their hosts should they be among the winners. It is for this reason that I think that no one is more fitting to be celebrated as the first ever unsung hero in African Vines than Kenyans in the United States who host Diversity Immigrant Visa (Green Card) winners. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Personal Chauffeur and Tour Guide

Chauffeur
Personal chauffeur and tour guide. Photo credit: Google images.

From the very moment you walked out of the airport at your point of entry to the United States, your hosts were there to pick you up, and drive you to their home. They asked you about how your flight was and pointed out landmarks including the United States flag dancing to the wind, the first clear proof that you were, indeed, in the United States. What you didn’t know is what your hosts had to go through to make sure that when your flight landed, they were there to meet you. Your hosts probably had to forgo that day’s wages as they had to take the day off. They probably scrambled and scrapped to pay for the gas that they were using to come pick you up from the airport. Others had probably just left a twelve hour shift where one of their patients had died, and  besides having had to deal with a mean supervisor and unpleasant colleagues.

They were tired and stressed out, but you couldn’t tell as you were so awestruck by the fact that you were finally in the United States that you couldn’t notice anything else.

Over the next couple of months, your hosts dropped you off and picked you up from job interviews, stores, malls, and hospitals. They invited you to tag along to church, events, gatherings and even introduced to other Kenyans, besides taking you on a tour of your new city. Through all these, your hosts never asked you for a dime. They were happy to be there for you, though it didn’t seem so sometimes .

      2. Free Room, Board And Food

Room and board
Free room and board. Photo credit: Google images

The cheapest place you can stay in the United States on short notice is a motel. Whereas many motels are pretty decent, some are known be notorious temporary homes for people with unsavory and questionable character. That was probably the most viable option if you were coming in as a middle class Kenyan who had been making 50, 0000/= per month. If you had a family with whom you were immigrating to the United States, even the cheapest motel wasn’t an option with no income and no capability to work.Yet.

Your hosts saved you by not only picking you up from the airport, but also giving you a place to stay. Not only that, you moving in with them came with many perks, which included free electricity, hot water, clean towels, free Wi-Fi, free food, warm and clean bedding, and in some instances, a washer and a drier. The lifestyle they gave you was akin to living in a 3 star hotel in Kenya, with the benefit of not having to pay for it. Need I say more?

    3. Financial And Career Counselor/Consultant

Road to success
Photo credit: Google images

If you were anything like I was when I first came to the United States, then you probably had never owned a credit card. People say that money makes the world go round, well, in the United States, having credit good makes your world go round while having poor to no credit stops your world in its tracks.

When you first moved here, you needed a job, and in order to increase your chances of getting a job, you needed a car, and in order to be able to purchase a car you, needed to have credit, and in order to build credit, you needed to open a bank account, and in order to open a bank account, you needed a social security number, and in order to get a social security card, you needed to go to the DMV and in order to go to the DMV, you needed a ride.  Your hosts drove you to the DMV or paid for your means to get there.  All these you got to know either directly or indirectly through your hosts. Directly by them sitting down and talking to you about it, or indirectly by you using their WiFi  to Google, or to talk to their friends and acquaintances.

Your hosts advised you on the best way to build your credit, with some going as far as buying you a car in their names. They told you about the most viable career options with an assurance of job security (probably that’s why you are a nurse today or in the healthcare business), the best banks with which to open your account, and the best way to protect yourself from fraudsters. All this information was given to you free of charge. Yet, there are those who pay thousands for such valuable consultation. Think about it, how much did your life change once you got your first car or your social security number? How much did your host have to do with it (both positively and negatively)?

    4. Shoulder To Cry On/ Number One Fan

number one fan
Number one fan. Photo credit: Google images

Remember the very first time culture shock really hit you? When you felt the need to vent, hated everything, was tempted to drop everything and go back to Kenya? Remember the time you felt lost? The time you were overwhelmed by everything and wondered why you were struggling so much to make friends, yet you were a social butterfly back in Kenya? Who did you run to? Was it your hosts? Was it the people you got to know through your hosts? What about the time you felt that you were fed-up with living with your hosts and couldn’t wait to move out and have your own place? What pushed you to want to move out?

Chances are that in the very early stages of adjusting to life here, your hosts were your only confidants. The only people you could really talk to about how much you missed home. Maybe, the people you got to meet through your hosts are the ones you were able to go to in order to vent when you started to grow resentful of your hosts. Maybe, the people you met through your hosts are the ones you eventually moved in with when shit hit the fan and you decided to venture out on your own. One thing you probably didn’t know was that your hosts understood what you were going through, and they were beating themselves up for not having been as good or as patient as they had set out to be. Deep down, they still wish you well and are happy to see how much you’ve grown and thrived.

     5. Reluctant Eager Hosts

You probably remember the time you reached out to the people who hosted you when you first came to the United States. It either took a lot of coaxing before they agreed to host you, or they said yes right away without hesitation. What you probably don’t know is that, whether your hosts fell in the former or the latter category, they were just as reluctant as they were eager to host you.

Reluctant because they knew that it was a  huge responsibility to take on, especially, if you were traveling with your whole family, and because they had heard of horrors stories from friends about their guests who had turned into a nightmare; or guests who had dragged their friend’s names through the mud after they finally found a place of their own; or because they were barely scraping by, living from paycheck to paycheck while they worked long shifts with little to no sleep; that like other Kenyans back home who have no idea what life abroad is like, you were going to judge them.

Eager because they understood what it meant to drop everything and move to a foreign country and try to make it a home; they understood that it was hard to find a place to stay without a source of income; they were excited and honored by the opportunity to be the ones to receive you and introduce you to the “land of milk and honey’’; they hoped that maybe, just maybe , you would end up being the best friend they had been hoping for all these years since moving here; they just want to help a fellow Kenyan. The bottom line is the decision to host you was not easy one, but they did it anyway.

In conclusion, I am not trying to minimize any negative experience that you might have had through people who hosted you when you first moved here, as they say, in every market place there’s a mad man.

What I would like to ask you is to take a moment and reflect on your first time, first year in the United States. Think about how much you have changed. Maybe, you have become more impatient, more introverted, a little depressed, a little bitter, more determined, a little apprehensive, happier, sadder, whatever it is. Now, think about your hosts. If you knew them back in Kenya and got to meet them here but feel that they have changed, why do you think they changed? Do you feel a little wiser? A little more empathetic towards them? Are you still bitter about something they did to you? Why do you think they did that? Think about where you would be without them. Maybe at a better place? Maybe in a worse situation? If the answer to this question is the former, remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I know that not everybody will agree with me. But, I still maintain that those Kenyans who host Diversity Immigrant Visa  (Green Card) winners are unsung heroes. At least, let’s agree to disagree. And on that note, I’m off to buy my first cup of pumpkin spiced latte of the season. Yum!

Do you know of an unsung hero who you would like us to feature in our next issue? Please click here to send us an email about who they are, and why you think that they are unsung heroes.

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