A Visa Application
Mūmbi is my grandmother’s name, passed down to me through Kikuyu naming traditions and the remainder of my father’s childhood. So, when my father says my name he calls his mother and his great-granddaughter too - he summons present and past and a future that the rest of us do not know. So much is gained in that naming. And yet so much is lost between childhood desires that never manifested into memories and fathering, birthed from a desire to spite absence and the weight of fatherlessness in a culture that looks for names in the blood of present men.
Where did our parents find names when so many of their fathers were ghosts? Where will our children find names when so many of our men want to make us ghosts?
Mūmbi – also the name of the first woman in my tribe. Birthed a whole tribe yet still named mūtumia - “one whose lips are sealed”.
To be mūtumia, to be woman is to be undervalued and misnamed, again and again and again.
Family name: Kanyogo, origin unknown. Meaning unknown to me. A name passed onto me through my father, and his mother before. It is a name I will keep, always.
Permanent Address: Somewhere before the imaginary line where Nairobi becomes Kiambu, along a narrow, straight section of a road that is intent on bending like it has studied rivers - lies the small dirt path that leads to my Guka’s home in Lower Kabete. This home is a two-story stone building, with a dark garage-turned-storage room that perpetually smells of dirt and rat poison. It is roofed by flat, red bricks that crying, black crows make a resting place of just before sunset. It is a home that has always been a construction site. Someone, my grandfather or his children, has always dreamed up new reasons to bring its old bumpy walls down, new ways to make it more like home. There has always been an old crack, an old leak or a new struggle to fix. And so someone has always found a way to remind us of the volatility of the material, the body – how things collapse and are rebuilt again and again. Yet somehow we still managed to weave silence into each new wall that was built – to silence pain.
On most nights, we live in a place where so much is possible – where, love can blossom into 58 years, and three great-grandchildren. I’ve seen it in my grandmother’s living room. We also live in a country where mothers lose children to big men whose birth rights are pillaging and a traumatized people; people who breed silence, as if the earth below them is not already saturated with decades of spilt blood - as if it has not been hemorrhaging to a point of collapse with each new poor, black body left to rot in its streets.
These days the land is leaking, betraying its own worst kept secrets.
Date of Birth: 21/06/96. I was born two years after my parents married each other in September 1994. There was genocide and liberation that very same year on our continent.
1994, I imagine it tasted sweet on their lips – that it left a bitter after taste on their tongues leaving them unable to rid their bodies of what remains between personal joy and collective suffering – all that is not said.
23 years later and my father still sings embarrassing Kikuyu songs about my mother’s middle name, Mūrugi. 23 years later and my mother still finds safety in their bedroom.
Occupation: Student. A place in limbo, where happiness can come to die or simply change its source. Here, I spend too much time trying to hold myself together and not enough time dreaming beyond the mundane pressure that squanders passion and will. Here, I spend too much time counting the days till Friday.
Objective of visit: Education. Over 40 years ago my grandfather filled out a similar application to pursue further education in Canada. I wonder what he was thinking about when he filled out each section: the life, the family he was leaving behind or the opportunities that lay at the end of that process? I wonder whether he thought he would like Ontario a little too much, enough to want to stay. I wonder whether he thought about coming back home, foreign.
I think about transience - how I am forming memories and relationships in a place that makes me feel impermanent; like an addendum. A place, that in about a year and a half, after graduation, will be looking to oversee an elaborate exchange: one degree for my subsequent (assumed) absence and four years of laughter, tears, twangs, successes, sinking feelings in my chest, shivers, transnational ghosts, fear, opportunities, failure, deep pain, reflection, and memories of places and people that will be difficult to see.
When they were drafting these visas, I wonder: did they remember that beyond our occupations, beyond their own attachments to these imperial boundaries of a country that is determined to keep those that it steals from out - did they imagine that these visas would serve people, so much like their own people? People who are tired of justifying their own existences- people, who love places they were never supposed to love; people who dare to hold onto people who will be difficult to keep.
Did they imagine that these applications would be filled out by people?