Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Returning to Florida

Having accepted that I was destined to return to the USA I started to put my documents in order and went to the US Embassy to find out what immigration documentation I might need.  My daughters were still Green Card holders and had not naturalized to full citizenship so having broken their stay in the USA I wanted to know if they could simply show up in the US with their Green Cards and Ugandan passports.  As it turned out the visa officer asked me to bring the children in for questioning because I guess she wanted to be sure they were not being trafficked.  And she wanted their father to come along and sign his agreement to their relocation since they were both minors.  The immigration officer had that closed, guarded look that I had encountered years ago at the USCIS offices in Miami and she was unmoved by my pleas that we needed to get out fast because my daughter was now getting an average of ten seizures a day.

John signed papers in Mbarara this time and I appeared before a judge in Kampala to get legal custody of the two girls with their father’s consent.  Jackson Rwakafuuzi had managed to get me to the Judge’s chambers for a hurried appearance and within two days I was before the US immigration officer again with the girls.  She asked them if I had originally intended to take them back to the States.  They dutifully told her that I brought them to Uganda to learn their culture but had always known they were returning home to Florida.  But she still was not done with me, even though I was already a naturalized citizen.  She had checked the records from the time I told her I first went to the US and could not find a visa issued in my name.  This woman was ready to revoke my citizenship if she could - even in my desperate situation with a sickly child!  I explained that the reason she did not find the visa was because I originally applied for a H1B visa while living in South Africa and it was issued at their office in Johannesburg.  She went back to check the record from that Embassy and found it.  Only then did she start processing the papers to allow the children and I back into the United States.  I was amused by the irony of it all.  I did not want to go back to the USA if it were not for Joannah, because I knew the hard life awaiting there and here was the gatekeeper trying her best to keep me out!

My financial situation was as always in those days desperate.  I had maxed-out one credit card from my bank and now had just enough credit on my American Express to buy three tickets to New York.  I had to raise funds from siblings and friends for the onward tickets to Florida where once again we would be my brother Andrew’s guests until I got back on my feet.  When I went back to pick my daughter’s passports with visas I was informed of a $250 processing fee and almost passed out when they said it had to be paid in cash.  I called my brother Joseph and he brought money to the Embassy.  Joannah was in a frightening state and I wondered how we would travel the 20 hours including layovers; in the state she was in. 

I was close to breaking down when two days before we left in April 2012; I received news from a hiring manager at the United Nations. He told me I had successfully interviewed for a position with the UN Political Office for Somalia based in Nairobi but my offer letter was being held back because during their background check someone working for the Uganda government, (which I had served;) had said there would be a problem with employing me because I was an outspoken government critic and could not work with Uganda’s military in Somalia.  He said the only way of proceeding was to get clearance from the Ugandan government that I could work alongside the UPDF. 

I talked to Hon. Nabila Naggayi who lived in my neighborhood in Buziga and who knew the ordeal I was going through with my daughter.  I called old friends, former bosses and finally one told me that the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi had agreed to write a letter clearing me for employment but I never heard from the Prime Minister’s office at all. I spent my first week in New York waiting to hear from the PM’s office and finally shared my ordeal with Winnie Byanyima who was working with UNDP at the UN Headquarters.  She advised me to get in touch with Uganda’s Permanent Mission in New York for assistance.  I had come full circle from the diplomat who had married while serving at that same Mission in New York, to a national seeking help from Uganda House 18 years later. 

This irony too was not lost on me because the peers I had served with were now Ambassadors around the world and I was just lucky that Adonia Ayebare, an old friend, was now Deputy Representative at the New York Mission.  Adonia wasted no time in assisting me including calling State House in Kampala to find out if the government had any objection to my employment with the UN.  He explained to the President that I was not looking for a job.  I already had the job on merit and all I needed was clearance that I could work alongside the UPDF without being a security threat to anyone.  Adonia got back to me and let me know that the President had requested one thing only:  That I write to him committing that I was going to Somalia as an international civil servant and not to ‘disorganize’ his good work in Somalia. 

I received this message while sitting at Joannah’s bedside at the Walt Disney Hospital for Children in Orlando and within the hour I had responded with a letter that would later be infamously leaked and published on the Internet.  The Daily Monitor completed the saga by publishing a story with a headline that put the facts completely out of context: Ex FDC Official sought Museveni nod for UN job!

At 50 I know that those in power have it in their means to destroy an individual's reputation, career and even their life.  But thankfully, I also know people who use the same power to help others when they desperately need help.

— feeling frustrated.

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