Zanny U.S. Tour: First Steps

March 9, 2015 10:36 pm Published by
Editors Note:  JBFC Staff Member Seth Diemond describes the process of getting U.S. Visas for JBFC’s students Zai and Danny.  Follow this link to help support their trip to the U.S.:                  Donate Mile for Mile

Pulling up in a three-wheeled rickshaw to the sprawling white and gray, security-laden fortress that is the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, I could hear Zai and Danny both take deep breaths and exhale.

“Let’s go!” said Danny, with his big eyes bulging a little more than usual.

One by one, the three of us jumped out of the rickshaw and into the morning heat and haze of Tanzania’s largest city. We approached the heavy metal door leading to the Consular Affairs office at the embassy and I spoke to the security staff through an intercom in the window. I handed them the kids’ green packets with their passports, receipts, and birth certificates. One more deep breath.

Preparing to travel abroad to an unknown place can be intimidating for anyone, but you would think even more so for two pre-teens from a small, rural village in Tanzania called Kitongo.

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of helping Danny and Zai- two of JBFC’s students- prepare for their upcoming trip to America. Primarily, I was able to travel with them to Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, and help them apply for their travel visas and interview at the United States Embassy. Over these past two weeks I have learned two things: 1) The application process for getting a U.S. visa is complicated, long, and can be frustrating. 2) Danny and Zai make an incredible team and are EXTREMELY excited and ready to get to the United States.

Traveling from our home at JBFC’s Mwanza campus to Dar es Salaam takes about 14 hours rumbling over pot-hole ridden roads, past hundreds of cows and goats, through the Rift Valley and over mountain tops, through Tanzania’s capital in Dodoma and the rains of Morogoro. Throughout 12 of the 14 hours on the road, Danny bombarded Zai (who traveled to the US last year) and I with questions about the possibilities of America:

“Where will we be visiting? Where will we stay? Will we go to the movies? What about Disney Land and Sea World?”

The excitement was as evident in Danny’s anticipation as it was in Zai’s nostalgia for last year’s trip. (Luckily for me Zai answered most of the questions!).

After arriving in the heat, humidity, smog, and Dar’s notorious traffic jams, Danny, Zai, and I would have several days to prepare for their upcoming interview at the United States Embassy. For me, I would use this time to tackle the administrative side of visa applications: the two-step online application process, payment at a local bank, providing current pictures of both of the children, and making sure that all of the supporting documents were in order and accounted for.

Zai and Danny would use this time to rehearse for their upcoming interviews- while no two interviews are ever the same, having gone through this process a couple of times in the past we were able to anticipate the questions that may be asked.

In addition to the basic questions covering name, date of birth, name of school, Zai and Danny would be asked more challenging questions during the interview. For hours on end, the two of them would sit role-playing their interview.

Zai would ask in her oh-so-American way “So, if I give you a visa, how do I know you will return to Tanzania?” or “Why do you wish to come to see America?” Afternoons would often consist of a constant back-and-forth giggle over pronunciations of “Massachusetts” and “Connecticut.”

The morning of the interview is always tense- Dar traffic makes arriving at the embassy by 8:00 am a challenge and the night before is often sleepless. In order to ensure that we would make it on time, we decided to hail a three-wheeled rickshaw instead of a cab. The rickshaws are popular in Dar because of their ability to maneuver in and out of (or even around) traffic.

After our final deep breath while speaking through the intercom at the check-in window, we would make our way through security (similar to security at an American airport) and wait for our turn in the Consular Affairs lobby.

While waiting in the lobby for an hour (though it seemed like three) I could see Danny and Zai both practicing their answers in their head silently. “Which states will you visit?” “How long will you stay in the United States of America?” “Which grade are you in?”

Finally, over the intercom, “Number 19, window three.”

Danny’s turn. Walking to the window together, I could see the touch of nervousness in Danny’s always-confident stride. Speaking to the friendly officer, Danny answered each question methodically and accurately, never once stumbling on “Massachusetts” or “Connecticut.” Asked whom he knows in America, Danny answered, “there is Bibi Nancy and Jim” confidently before sneaking me a quick look with a small smirk on his face.

“Approved, you can pick up your visa tomorrow at 2:00pm. Have a great trip!”

“Number 20, window three.”

Zai’s turn. Zai, a seasoned pro at visa interviews, walked up to the window with a big smile on her face: “Good morning!” she said. After asking the easy questions, the officer at the window asked Zai: “So you have had a chance to travel to the United States, what was your favorite place.”

“California, because I got to go to Disney Land!” answered Zai with a giggle.

A bit surprised, the officer responded “I like that answered- I am from California!”

After a couple more questions, Zai, too, was told “Approved, you can pick up your visa tomorrow at 2:00pm. Have a great trip!”

Walking out of the waiting room, all three of us held our breath in partial disbelief until we pushed open the heavy metal door and stepped into the embassy courtyard. Simultaneously bursting into laughter, we high-fived, hugged, and jumped up and down. Danny, practically jumping out of his Khaki’s and shirt, yelled, “We did it guys! We really did it. I can’t believe it.”

Back in the rickshaw, I asked Danny “are you happy?” and “what will be the first thing you want to do in America?”

“I have never been more happy and I want to go to Disney Land!”

Help bring Zai & Danny to America! ‪#‎Zanny‬ 2015
It’s about 8,000 miles from JBFC in Tanzania to the U.S. We’re trying to raise $1 for every mile they have to travel. This week help us bring #Zanny to America. If all our followers gave just $5 we’d have the cost of their tickets about covered! Share this post on Facebook, tell your friends, tag your favorite pics of Danny and Zai with ‪#‎mileformile‬. Mile for mile, your support can make two Tanzanian kids’ dreams come true.
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This post was written by Mainsprings