Travel Advisory for Kenyans travelling to the UK
As one who has spent considerable amounts of time in both countries, I thought I should issue a personal travel advisory to those Kenyans contemplating travel to the United Kingdom. Enjoy!
COUNTRY ADVICE – United Kingdom
Current at: 3 August 2003
As a Kenyan wishing to visit the UK, you will find your trials beginning at the British High Commission in Upper Hill. You will arrive there one fine morning, like many thousands have before you, with the reasonable expectation of joining a small queue and obtaining a visa without too much fuss. You will certainly find such a queue; but you will soon discover that those who are in it have been queuing for days if not weeks, and have only just managed to get within striking distance of the gate. You will not find any official willing to explain the procedure to you, just extremely rude security guards.
You will then talk to fellow desperadoes in the ‘outer’ queue across the road, who may tell you the following tale: several dozen sad souls queue up every night from 8pm for the following morning’s opening. They bring seats and sleeping bags and vacuum flasks, and brave the cold. Many others join this queue throughout the night. As dawn approaches, some in this outer queue are allowed to form an ‘inner’ queue by the surly guards. Almost every night, however, some extremely zealous GSU officers will arrive and will disperse the queue ‘for security reasons’. Innocents are commonly injured in the ensuing fracas. The queue then has to be reconstituted, and the poor souls who have queued the longest often end up at the back.
At this time, certain people will be allowed by the guards to move to the top of the queue, or even avoid the queue altogether. Why? It seems these people pay a bribe of up to several thousand shillings, which is then allegedly shared out by the GSU, security guards and cashiers inside the High Commission. If you cannot afford such a bribe, you must engage in the nightly farce of queuing, getting dispersed, re-queuing etc. You will be entirely at the mercy of the guards. Some aspiring travellers claim to have spent three weeks or more doing this. If you have not travelled to the UK in the recent past, you have no choice but to engage in the madness. There is no other way to obtain a visa.
What is written above describes the state of affairs in recent months. As these matters have reached the press recently, the High Commission has belatedly, reluctantly and grudgingly introduced some changes to the procedure. We cannot advise at this point whether such changes have had any beneficial effect, but we can applaud the fact that some action has finally been taken.
If you survive these humiliations and actually make it to the UK, you must prepare yourself to meet the British people. The first point to note is that very few of them will want to meet you. They will avoid your gaze very studiously and competently even in crowded situations like the inside of trains. They will be immersed in very large newspapers or safe behind their headphones. You must equally maintain your distance at all times; do not try to greet any strangers in loud Kenyan fashion, nor try to engage them in friendly conversation. They will view you with great suspicion and will probably call the police.
This behaviour also extends to their animals. If you visit one of London’s great public areas such as Regent’s Park, you will find that dogs on a leash will not acknowledge other dogs unless introduced properly by their owners.
If in London, you will also notice that few, if any, residents of the UK these days actually seem British at all. You will find yourself surrounded at most times by Bosnians, Australians, South Africans, Nigerians, Bermudans, Turks, Macedonians, Somalis etc. Most of these people will speak English with stronger accents than your own. Attempts to ask for directions will generally be futile.
If you have friends or relatives in the UK, please do not show up at their houses unannounced. This is considered a major social gaffe. It is wise to call and book an appointment several days in advance.
You will also discover that Britons, new and old, have a charming array of epithets with which to refer to foreigners such as yourself. You may find yourself being referred to, at various times, as a ‘wog’, ‘paki’, ‘spic’ or ‘nip’, depending on the precise hue of your skin. Please familiarise yourself with these terms, as they will define your place in society.
You must be prepared not to enjoy yourself on the culinary front while in the UK. Most food is canned or frozen, and injected with chemicals and preservatives to the extent of losing all its taste. It is also overpriced and badly cooked. Most residents have long forgotten the taste of fresh food. The type of fancy nouvelle cuisine you may have seen on the BBC Food Channel is of course available in restaurants, but at prices likely to be far beyond your reach. The dearth of edible affordable food may cause you great anguish, and you are advised to go well prepared.
The British Isles enjoy one of the highest levels of cloud cover in the world. As a result, the sun is rarely seen by residents. This causes a general insipidity and crankiness in the populace. It is believed that a significant proportion of the population is suffering from clinical depression at any given time, but it is difficult to tell as most people, healthy or otherwise, wear the same harried hang-dog expression. On the rare occasions when the sun actually puts in an appearance, the people are likely to spontaneously disrobe in public and start sunbathing in the street. Do not be alarmed by this, it is a customary ritual.
When it is time to make your joyous return, and if you are flying on the UK’s national carrier, please exercise due caution. British employees are liable to go on strike at any given time on a moment’s notice, often on such innocuous grounds as their employer trying to introduce a system for monitoring the time they spend on their jobs. The resulting chaos can last several days. Please allow for ample time at the airport, and carry several changes of clothing in your hand luggage.
The UK remains a difficult destination for Kenyans. You will encounter suspicion and outright hostility before you get there, and will be regarded by default to be a likely terrorist or economic refugee. You may suffer from lack of human contact and friendly conversation when you arrive. The combination of poor weather and poorer food may have a serious impact on your health, both physical and mental.
You are therefore advised to avoid non-essential travel until further notice.
So, if you found yourself offended by this Travel Advisory, I trust you can see the effect of sweeping generalisations and an exaggerated emphasis on the negative!