Nkiacha Atemnkeng, a writer from Cameroon, is often invited to attend writer’s residencies in other countries. However, as he explains in The Johannesburg Review of Books, it is rare for him to actually get to go. As a young, single man, he is often, viewed as a “flight risk” by western countries, and denied entry — but not before being put through a humiliating interview at their embassy. Visas to the US have become particularly elusive under the presidency of Donald Trump — with entry to the US, even to study, “very very tight, very tight.”
The rejections continue. Even a pastor is turned away, visaless. A woman who has brought her old, ailing father is making a scene. He has been given a visa and she has been rejected. He is quiet. She is screaming. How will he get to the US alone? He can barely walk. The consular officers are unmoved by her theatrics. She won’t leave the counter. A security guard appears. She walks away. The consular officers keep working. They don’t even examine applicants’ documents, as I heard they did in the past – they just look at the admission letter or invitation to a university graduation or wedding. Then they interview the applicant and decide upon their fate, which is mostly reject, reject, reject.
I am next, residency invitation in hand, other documents and published work neatly in a file. I have to stand in front of the seated consular officer – a slim man with geeky reading glasses – throughout my interview.
“What is the purpose of your trip to the US?”
“I’m going to attend the Art Omi international residency, sir,” I say, handing him my invitation through the space in the glass. He reads it diligently.
“So who is paying for your trip?”
“Art Omi will pay for my lodging and feeding, as it is said in the letter. I will pay for my flight.”
“What do you write?”
“Fiction and creative nonfiction. I’m a blogger, too, so I create online content.” He types all I say. I continue. “I’ve brought all my published works in print with me. Short stories in a few anthologies and my children’s chapbook.”
I am about to give him my second file of published work when he snaps through the microphone: “No, no, no, I don’t want to see any books.” He opens his right palm towards me and shakes it vigorously from right to left and left to right, in a keep-those-things-away manner.