Views expressed are my own and do not represent the Mandela Washington Fellowship program

I got into the interview room and the panelists introduced themselves. I could only recognise two. They say it’s important to catch their names so that when they ask questions you can address them by name.

Trying to catch their names was like trying to catch smoke with a net. Between the nerves, adrenaline and relief, my body didn’t have any resources left for memory. I sat down, and the questions were really from my application except for one.

Sizani Weza then says to me, “Your organisation is very internet based, it’s a virtual community. So what did you do when the shutdown happened?

What?

I didn’t even prepare for this but I’m here now. It’s do or die!

I can’t tell you what I said cause I don’t remember. And like that, the interview was over. I was ushered to the waiting area to wait out the rest of the aspiring fellows to go through theirs and we leave altogether.

They were going to get back to us end of March. It was gonna be a long month on pins and needles. Wasn’t even gonna enjoy Valentine’s Day cause I hate being on edge.

I was sitting at work, minding my own business, working hard when the email came.

I just started screaming!

Thandeka was like, “Have you been paid?” She didn’t need an answer. I’ve never been that excited for my paycheck. Instinctively she knew what it was and started screaming as well. In true Thandeka fashion, she came over to my desk to read the email. She read it before I did.

I was going to the United States of America!

But there were like a million hoops to jump through before then. I didn’t even ask how many or high how. From the OBA modules, to paperwork submissions, I didn’t complain once! I did as they had asked.

One after the other, it was like being in the Olympics for hurdles.

I thought it was a done deal until the message came, “Prepare for Visa Interviews.”

What? I thought the visa was automatic. Apparently not. I had to one on one with the Consular. Great. Just great.

Quick back story.

In 2015, I applied for an American visa. I had to gather US$160 in clean notes mind you. And you know most notes in Zimbabwe are dirtier than a child at the playground. In fact, one of the notes that I had, which I considered to be clean was rejected by the money machine. I asked the teller what I must do. She ran the note again three times and it was as denied as my visa. Apparently I didn’t demonstrate strong ties back home and the Consular wants you to prove that you are coming back.

I was shocked and I had just lost US$160. That money is a lot. I’ll never know what hit me harder, the rejection or the loss of money.

So, because of this I have PTSD with the Consular. The WhatsApp groups were buzzing with tips and tricks to nailing that visa interview. Everyone had a theory. But if I’ve learnt something, you can’t predict the Consular. Her ears must have been burning because we were discussing her everyday. We were all afraid, no one was confident.

Thando from the Embassy wasn’t helping. Twas all fun and games to him. This whole time I haven’t told anyone about making it this far because the visa interview can go either way and thoroughly embarrass you.

The day finally came, it was 23 May and I was going in for the visa interview.

This was it, all or nothing!

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