Written by Evi Idoghor
This was a heartbreak that left me bereft—the kind of pain I hadn’t felt since the loss of my mother. Chimamanda described how I felt in her short story, Zikora—“It was something like pain and different from pain,” in an attempt to perfectly articulate her lead character’s excruciating labor pains. Like Zikora, what I was experiencing was cataclysmic; the life I had known for 11 years went up in smokes. It was a rude awakening; how was I going to survive this plight? I never saw it coming.
Everything was slated to change forever when these words were muttered: “Where did you renew your passport?” Already sweating my socks off, I had to answer the customs official, so I said, “Atlanta,” while trying my best to mask the nervousness that began slowly taking over.
“When did you graduate?” She continued to pry.
“And you renewed your passport in 2015, in Atlanta? Please step aside ma’am.” Hey! Wahala! I exclaimed in my mind. Oh Lord, please don’t let this happen, I prayed silently. I had lived in the United States for 11 years before my encounter with this officer. My brother was about to get married, and I wasn't going to miss out on that for the world. My friends selfishly warned me not to take the risk, pondering if I was ever going to make it back due to the new president who was taking no prisoners when it came to immigration.
“But I feel compelled to go,” I always told them. “If I don’t go, I will regret it for the rest of my life.” My mom had passed, and I just had to be there for my brother. The conviction I felt was enormously strong; it was as if God was nudging me towards a journey, although I wasn’t ready physically or mentally to embark on. However, I was going to take the risk and renew my visa in Nigeria, even if there was a period when I was out of status in the United States. So I went home. After all the partying and celebration of the new union, reality set in. What if I don’t get a visa to return? What will happen? My apartment in the US was still left intact, who was going to pack up everything if things went awry? What of my car? Oh well, you have to have faith! I often consoled myself. All things are possible for those that believe!
Has there been a time, where you were out of status in the United States? I stared at that question, and it stared right back at me. I gambled with the thought of telling the truth as a Christian and stand the risk of losing the life I was comfortable with or telling a lie, and the possibility of protecting the life I so longed to go back to. No, I clicked shamefully; maybe God will somehow turn this lie around for my good, after all, He was going to receive the glory anyway. As such, I received the visa and was exhilarated to return home. Laughing at the faces of all of those who said I wouldn’t make it back. Yeah! Even at the Delta official, who scuffed at me saying, “They will never let you back into this country.”
Days leading up to my departure, in true Nigerian fashion, I purchased everything I needed for my journey back home—Garri, indomie, yam flour, maggi, crayfish, and bags of plantain chips. Then I informed close friends about the time I would be arriving in Houston and was all set to surprise the remainder of the people, who had no clue when I was coming back.
Pray for me! I texted my friends with tears in my eyes, let my pastors know what is going on. Cry out to God on my behalf. I honestly don’t have the strength to seek Him right now. I am in a bind, I don’t know if they would let me in, in fact, join the Halleluyah Challenge on my behalf. This must be how Jesus felt, at that moment in Gethsemane, where He cried out to God to remove the adversity that was in front of Him.
But the difference between me and Jesus’ experience (other than the fact He was about to die for the world) was when He muttered these words—nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. Fearing that God’s will would be for me to go back to Nigeria, I remained tight-lipped when it came to emulating Christ in that manner—All I wanted was to get in. Occasionally, I went into the private bathroom to weep, all the while praying; God, please make a way, I can’t afford to be deported. Please intervene.
“Ma’am they will like to see you now,” an officer pleasantly said to me.
So I followed closely behind him, when they began with the interrogation— “why did you lie on a federal form? Don't you know that is a felony? If you had told the truth, then we would have pardoned you.”
Darn it! Why! Why? Why did you lie? Wouldn’t it have been better for you never to have left Nigeria, than to come all the way here to get humiliated?
“WD her,” said one official to another.
“Huh? What does that mean?” I replied.
“Trust me it's okay,” a black officer retorted. “You just have to go back home and reapply, then come back.”
“Ahn Ahn?! Who is going to give me another chance? Who is going to purchase another flight ticket for me?”
“Please! Please!” I cried, “Let me in! I have no criminal records.” I continued, “I am not a threat to you guys. I just made a silly mistake which we all make and told a lie that is about to cost me everything.” “Okay, go into this room, and we will send for you.” The official instructed.
This so-called room was a cell. I had never been to a jail before, let alone a prison. Though I knew what cells looked like, thanks to movies, it was exactly how they portray them, except this time there was no bed. The 6 by 8 feet room consisted of a metallic toilet bowl and sink sequestered in a corner and a blanket, which I spread out on the floor to lie on.
Then I began to weep— “Go…God, please… I need you! Help me!” I cried out to Him. “Touch their hearts! Perform one of Your great miracles. Like the one of Paul & Silas, or when you set Peter free from prison. Set me free from this anguish and I promise, I will never tell a lie again in my life.” As I continued with my pleas, I did not know when I drifted into sleep. But before I could comfortably enjoy my alternate reality, I heard a loud bang on the door.
“Ma’am! Ma’am, you can come out now!”