Is it Worth it?
Henry, a Ugandan living in the United States, helps out his friend, John, who is about to be deported.
more from author >>
First published: March 30, 2005
It is around noon and not yet time for my 'free nights and weekends' to kick in, so I am not picking up my cell phone. I am recently unemployed, I do not have a land line and I know what a cell phone bill looks like in times such as these. I am not picking up the phone.
The phone keeps ringing and now I am afraid to pick up the phone. You see, it is a Boston area code and only my ex-wife has the nerve to keep calling like that- enough to fill up my mailbox� and that woman is crazy! She always needs money and at the right time too. I am unemployed! Now she seems to be leaving me text messages. I am not reading them either.
The dinner I had pre-arranged with my friend James is just what the doctor ordered. Plus it is a great escape from being in the house all day. I arrive at his house with some brew, ready to get my drink on and release my stress. I don't know why I brought it in the house with me but there goes that phone again at which point I explode and tell James about the stress my ex-wife puts me through and that the only reason I have not changed my number is because she has not called since before Christmas when she needed her Christmas present.
"Anyway," I said, "enough with my problems." We begin to drink the night away and make some half-sober plans to make a joint trip to Uganda since he has never been to the 'motherland'.
It is two o'clock at night when I finally get home. My Nokia cell phone batteries have made it through the night and by now all is calm. I drop in my sofa and look at the cell as if it were a child trying to get my attention. Fourteen missed calls since I last tampered with it and four text messages that I have been refusing to read. I finally get the nerve to call into my voicemail. It was a female voice.
United States immigration officers have arrested one of my best friends in Boston. He is in a cell and his girl has been instructed to call me to come up with a way to get him out. At two am in the morning I call her back and yell at her about the time I struggled to legalize myself while John was busy partying his life away. "I'm mad," I said. She listens patiently while waiting for the news to circulate, enough for me to calm down and properly hold a conversation. She has had enough time to deal with the situation, she says, so she understands. We make plans for me to make some phone calls in the morning. One of these will be a return call to one of the fourteen I had missed, from another friend who witnessed the arrest.
It has been fifteen or sixteen years since John first stepped into the United States. He has not been able to travel outside of the country due to his immigration status and has only been in touch with his family through random calls on the phone. Relatives have died back home, brothers and sisters have grown and some now have wrinkles. Some of them only know John as this voice on the phone. The voice that bails them out when one of them does not have enough for school fees or when a bill needs to get paid. Sure, the first few days were sweet. The parties, the cars, big city lights� the American dream. All have somewhat worn off by now. He would not be here if it were entirely up to him but on the other hand he needs to be here. At least that is what he thinks. His income has become part of the budget of his family back in Uganda and to be fair, his does not know if he can make it back home and maintain his present lifestyle without a substantial savings.
So he is now under arrest and on the way to be deported. He had never received the letter allowing him to voluntarily leave. The immigration officers tell us that his paperwork is being processed quickly and that how long he stays in the cell really depends on how quickly the Ugandan embassy makes arrangement for his deportation.
As I talk to him over his collect calls, it is strange that we are celebrating. Celebrating that he was finally going home. He had done all that he could do here in the States and ultimately someone else has made that decision for him to go back home. A decision he had wanted to make for so long. I don't think either one of us had imagined how okay this all seemed. Still, we needed it to be quick. We needed to find a lawyer or communicate with the embassy to make sure that everything was handled swiftly. I will fly into Boston once they allow him visits and see if there is anything else I can do.
Many Ugandans come to the United States of America pursuing their dreams. The sacrifice is enormous but so are the opportunities. Some come out as doctors, engineers and successful businessmen in this land of opportunity. They are used to breaking their backs on the mean streets of Kampala for a meager return. Earning minimum wage at their first employment in the States seems like a dream of a lifetime at first. So they work hard and get promoted through their commitment to work and a willingness to work overtime. Some go a step further and get a University education, making more money and working fewer hours. Then there are those whose priority is to maintain or clean up their immigration status in the United States and then those who are too frightened at the thought and would rather dodge the system. These are the most loyal of employees because they fear to be found out while changing jobs. They often have a squeaky clean criminal record because they always try to keep the arms of the law at bay and out of their business. Years and years go by and they cannot go home to their relatives. They make a good income, live a good life in some definitions of what a good life is, but they cannot go home.
It is the afternoon after the day of the missed calls and all I can do in terms of phone calls has been done. The last phone call I will make will be to my ex-wife- to make sure I know where she is. One big question keeps ringing in my head, and it is not the first time I have heard it. The question is, "Is it all worth it?"
more from author >>
First published: March 30, 2005