My friend and I recently returned from a three week vacation in Europe. She traveled with her American passport, and I with my Nigerian passport as I am a mere US resident, not a citizen…yet. In order to prepare for this trip, my friend simply had to do nothing, with regards to visas and so forth. In contrast, I easily spent over $1000 in my quest to procure European travel visas, including having to fly into different cities for applications because some embassies were locally unavailable. I had to get a Schengen visa, a UK Visa, and one more visa I forgot to get — an Irish visa. This little error opened my friend’s eyes to the struggles of being an Nigerian immigrant.
During my research, I had looked at a map of the United Kingdom. In it, the island of Ireland is included; however, I neglected to see the little part that shows only Northern Ireland as part of the UK and I planned to fly into Dublin which is in the Republic of Ireland. The saga began when we took a train from our BnB in Oslo to what we thought was the only airport in Oslo. As it turns out we were quite wrong, and our flight left from an airport that was two hours away! We knew right then we would never make it so we each shelled out over $500 for a same day flight to Dublin. Looking back, perhaps we should’ve listened to the signs telling us to forego the journey to Ireland, but I digress. Right before we boarded the flight to Dublin, I asked the airline official who was checking my passport what visa I would need to fly into Dublin and she said — my friend will confirm — a UK visa. Feeling confident, I proceeded to board the plane as directed. Upon arrival in Dublin the customs officer waved my friend through with her magical American passport through but my UK visa apparently had to be activated in the UK — which the Republic of Ireland is NOT a part of — before I would be allowed to travel into Ireland through their common travel area agreement. The customs officer then called his manager, a woman who proceeded to give me a thorough and embarrassing tongue lashing in front of hundreds of people when I told her I was erroneously informed that a UK visa would suffice, and I was quite sorry for the error on my part. She essentially called me a liar and implied I had nefarious reasons for entering her country as I implored her to simply allow me to return to Norway and I would happily not go into the land of leprechauns (I of course didn’t mention the leprechauns part). Eventually, I was let through with a visa warning on the condition that I immediately buy a new ticket flying out of Ireland into another country in the EU before flying into London. I was also required to email the customs official in Dublin (within 24 hours) with details of my flight out of Ireland otherwise he would inform the UK authorities to forcefully remove me from their country upon my arrival.
My American friend was so surprised at my calm responses while being spoken to in a rude and condescending manner in front of hundreds of strangers and essentially being treated like a criminal. I simply told her that I was used to being treated badly because of where I’m from which is quite true. There are thousands of Nigerian immigrants in the EU, the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, and I know many of these customs officers might be tired of seeing our green passports come through their gates. The customs official probably took one look at my passport and made up her mind about me while barely listening to me apologize for a mistake I was quite sorry and embarrassed about. While in Europe, on each international flight, my friend often had to wait for me after customs or at the boarding gate because my passport and visas always received extra scrutiny while she was again, just waved right on through. This was my first time traveling internationally with my friend and I noticed she had this confidence and a certain subtle arrogance and pride that came from the ease of travel and life in general that being an American citizen affords. She of course didn’t notice it, but I so envied the way she approached strangers to ask questions or acted during conversations with various people. Her mannerisms bore great similarities with those I’ve noticed in many Americans who are used to being treated with respect, confident in the knowledge that they could count on their embassy for help in time of need.
There is a Jane Austen quote from Pride and Prejudice that I often reflect on: “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters.” Yet, my heart yearns to see this world. I suppose that is the lure of travel — the more you do it, the more you want it. As an Ngwa Igbo girl, I lost the social lottery by not being born a white, blonde, and rich American male. My Nigerian passport can only get me so far, thanks to the unfair system set up by the powerful governments of the world that severely restricts travel for so many people from developing nations. I so desperately desire to see this world into which I was born, especially as each new day brings with it the threat of new terrorist attacks, mass shootings (especially in the USA), and other incredible atrocities we humans seem so good at thinking up. If an American passport will grant me the opportunity to see just a little bit more of this world before I die, then I will use it and say thank you for the gift.