If you’ve been hanging around our blog for awhile, you may remember a humorous jab we took at ourselves, the red-tape bureaucracy of international travel, and the joys of raising children in general, about 5 years ago. You can read all about it here.
Well, we’ve done it again. Expiring every five years, passport renewal appointments for anyone under 18 years of age applies to 3/5 of our clan – that’s twice every decade, folks. This opens the door for memories to be pasted into the scrapbook of our collective minds, more quality family bonding time, and additional lessons to be learned on the highways and byways of life – or, in this case, Nairobi, Kenya.
Come along with us as we recount our recent tribulation…I mean, triumph. Join our tribe on the adventure that is lovingly referred to as a necessary evil, one that keeps us legal here in Kenya and allows us to return to the home of Michael Phelps every so often. Take these statements for what they’re worth (not much) and consider them as you plan your own excursions along the oft-traveled path to the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
The morning of, pack several compact discs featuring Adventures in Odyssey. These are vital for maintaining the sanity of any parental chauffer with children under 10. Alphabet-based competitions are always an fan favorite, along with rousing games of “Count the donkeys, kids” or “How many speed bumps was that?” Anything to keep the pre-adolescents from constantly touching, tickling, and screaming on your way to stop number 1.
Stop number 1: PASSPORT PHOTOS.
If you play your cards right, these photos can be processed in less than an hour, giving you ample time to shop for a few necessities, visit a toy store or two, and give your children the opportunity to stretch their legs after the hour-plus journey. Always remember: YES to pushing the cart and NO to riding the close-to-life-size elephant outside of Nakumatt. Close encounters with any aquatic life wading in decorative ponds are also encouraged, just not too close.
When having their passport photos taken, we stumbled upon the sheer genius of letting the photographer do all the verbal correcting. They’re not likely to listen to your suggestions on appropriate head-tilt anyways, and too many chefs in the kitchen…well, you get the idea. 15-20 minute photo processing is a wonder of the 21st century that we can all agree is a GOOD technological advancement.
Stop number 2: FOOD.
Yes, the journey thus far has taken you up to the lunch hour; this isn’t suburban Pittsburgh, people. If there is a food court with the Olympics playing on television, great; take advantage. Unfortunately, this is somewhat rare (only occurring about 5 times per decade if you count both Winter and Summer Games) so try to plan your passport expiration and renewal needs accordingly. In our case, we ignored the food court (too many choices for our crew) and went with the can’t miss option nearby: DOMINO’S PIZZA!!
This choice will likely result in the following: cheers all around, food everyone loves, bottom-less sodas, and another screen to keep them occupied whilst you enjoy empty calories as a family. YOU ARE ALL-STAR PARENTS!
Stop number 3: PARKING.
Those who choose to do proper research ahead of time can largely ignore this “stop” along the way. For us, however, it was the most exciting leg of the expedition. Using Google Maps to plot our course, we simply assumed all the nice gentlemen dressed in camo and toting impressive artillery would allow us to settle our car in the Embassy’s main parking lot. Silly us. But, if you want to really spice up your trip, try to park there anyways. They will be very helpful, directing you to turn around and pay for parking somewhere nearby, where you can proceed to enter the grounds on foot.
As an added bonus, try making an illegal U-turn in such a way that several armed Embassy officers are in plain sight, one of which might sternly direct you to pull to the side, exit your vehicle promptly, and open both the hatch and the boot (hood, for you Americans) in order to inspect the vehicle. After all, there are terrorists among us. This will not be a pleasant conversation, and you would do well to implore his forgiveness for this lack of judgement on your part, ensuring him that you only want to get to your appointment at 1:00 (it is now 12:50) so your children can legally depart from his country at some future date.
Assuming you properly primed your offspring with glucose during stop number 2, you will benefit from constant giggling, wrestling, and other varied shenanigans from your young ones in the back seat during these tense moments with a very upset member of the Kenyan military. This will serve to increase the anxiety level of your wife, who is sure your mindless highway infraction will result in the incarceration of her husband, and possibly one or two of her children as well. After all, this is immediately outside the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, possibly the most highly secured and well-guarded destination in all of East Africa. THIS is the place you want your kids to be on a sugar-high. THIS is the place you want to make an illegal U-turn.
But I digress.
Stop number 4: PARKING, for real.
After your brief interaction with the authorities, you will likely be shaking, your wife will be boarder-line inconsolable, and your kids will either be crying or dying of laughter simply due to the fact that “Daddy almost went to prison!” At this point, despite the insatiable curiosity from the back seat concerning, “Why do they all have to carry guns?”, and the time dwindling before you’re late for your appointment, find a LEGAL parking spot already and get on with it!
Stop number 5: EMBASSY SECURITY
U.S. Embassy. Security. High (the sugar level in your kids, that is). Thankfully, your kids might still be cute enough that their outlandish comments and behavior will mostly be overlooked, even smirked at, by the myriad guards and security personnel you will meet over the span of 200 yards or so from the gate to the location of the U.S. Consulate. Once there, you will breath a sigh of relief, as the woman who hands you your number (like the tag you get a the deli so you know when it’s your turn) directs your children to the play area. A play area! You’ll be even more thrilled when another family, similarly distraught and angst-filled due to the privilege of carrying out this task with minors, walks in behind you. Friends to play with! This is key. Make any arrangements necessary to ensure this happens on your trip.
Stop number 6: WAITING
As long as your kids don’t start arm-wrestling on the floor with the kids from the other family, you should be fine. Just wait. Patience is a virtue, right? If they DO start arm-wrestling, try to remember that nobody cares as much as you, and that everyone else waiting in line is probably grateful for the entertainment (all cell phones and electronic devices were turned in at the 3rd of 12 security stops on your way in, so Facebook and/or Pinterest are non-options).
Yes, there are bathrooms. Yes, your kids will need to use them at least once each (remember the bottom-less sodas?). Yes, they are located close enough to the waiting area that everyone will hear EVERYTHING that takes place in those restrooms. Relax. It’s almost over.
Stop number 7: YOUR NUMBER IS CALLED!
Proceed to the private room where the nice lady helps you process your passport applications. You have already paid the fee, so the painful part is behind you (cough). Now it’s just a matter of convincing her that the 5 year old girl sitting on your lap is, in fact, the same girl in the original passport picture at 11 weeks old. This will likely not happen based solely on your word, so plan to email her several growth photos when you get your electronic devices back later.
You’ll provide your John Hancock in a few spots, you’ll be told that you can pick up the renewed passports at a time and place that is inconvenient for you, and you will walk out of that little room just a little happier than when you entered it. Now your reply to “Can you go now?” will be “Yes, my love, of course we can”, instead of the hushed, harsh, and repeated response of, “Would you just sit STILL!?!”
Remember, you’re a good parent and your children are angels.
Stop number 8: RETURN to KIJABE
Open the windows, crank the tunes/Odyssey episode, and please plan on bringing snacks. Your children will try to convince you that they’ve experienced a minor famine over the past three hours and might not be able to carry on (try to be understanding – the crash after a sugar high can be rough on the little ones).
Stop number 9: HOME
You did it! With any luck, you’ll soon be granted legal passage for your minors to and from all sovereign nations of the world!* Well done, brave soul. For another five years, you can relax and watch your children grow.** Reassure yourself that the next time you are tasked with this objective, it will almost certainly be easier.***
That’s it – thanks for reading! Feel free to email the U.S. Embassy today and get started on your own adventure. ****
*Travel visas and airfare expenses NOT included.
**Please remember to take pictures of your children from time to time in case you need photographic evidence that they are, in fact, still the same children 5 years later.
***This is not likely to be the case, but you can fool yourself into thinking so.
****DO NOT email the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi (unless, of course, you are residing in Kenya when you need to renew your U.S. passport)