This American Life: #560: Abdi and the Golden Ticket
July 6, 2015 9:43 AM - Subscribe

For July 4th, a story about someone who's desperately trying – against long odds – to make it to the United States and become an American. Abdi is a Somali refugee living in Kenya and gets the luckiest break of his life: he wins a lottery that puts him on a short list for a U.S. visa. This is his ticket out. But before he can cash in his golden ticket, the police start raiding his neighborhood, targeting refugees.
posted by jenfullmoon (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my god, this was absolutely gripping. I was pretty dang scared the whole time reading this.

Makes my petty shit look like first world problems and I should really shut up.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2015

+1. Such a simple story, yet so compelling. Was this on the BBC before or something?
posted by adrianhon at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2015

Yeah, this was really good. It came across as this very un-ambitious, simple story, but it was super engaging from a story telling point of view and informative about current events in a way that allows an outsider to really get it. Super episode and if it's basically a re edited BBC piece, hey, I'm glad it's getting more air play. This kind of story is, in a literal sense, this American life. I'm really glad I heard it.
posted by latkes at 8:52 PM on July 6, 2015

It was frustrating that reporting on the story might have (probably) changed the outcome. Obviously, it was good for Abdi, but I think the journalist tipping off the embassy affected their actions, and we don't get an accurate picture of what happens for the many other people like Abdi.
posted by andoatnp at 11:57 PM on July 6, 2015

I guess for me that gave the listener (and more importantly, Abdi) a happy ending, but kept it real about what it's like for most people.
posted by latkes at 7:16 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some of the best radio I've heard in a long time. Was also interesting because Radiolab just did a Kenya-related story (although more about the past).

Last month we had some business at the US Consulate in Vancouver to claim my kids' US citizenship, and getting everything together for that and making the trip was nerve-wracking enough, even though my kids have an absolute right to it. Listening to this I was imagining if we'd been trying to do that in Abdi's situation.
posted by Emanuel at 9:08 AM on July 7, 2015

The whole episode I just kept thinking: damn, I'm a white guy born in North America (Canada). I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. Abdi's experience is incredibly common. And it was an excellent way to present a multi-pronged international story (as Ira points out).

It felt like there was A LOT of shaping the narrative going on though.

The reporter's inquiries absolutely got him the visa. And to be honest, I really wonder if the reporter wasn't more deliberate about it then he was letting on. "I was just calling to ask if the document would come back in time for my deadline" sounds pretty thin as an explanation. That isn't to say I'm critical of either him or Abdi. In this life, using all the leverage available is just the smart thing to do.

It was interesting that they kind of blew past the woman who sponsored him and paid his application fee. $320 is no trivial amount for a Somali refugee. You have to wonder how many lottery winners don't get the visa simply because the application process is too expensive.

Also, it was pretty obvious from Abdi's first visit to the police station that he was going to have to bribe someone to get his police document. But they never really go into detail about he end up getting it in the end.

But the episode got its point across: this is a horrible international crisis that the west is mostly ignoring, and something as simple as an unsigned transcript can keep you from a free and secure life.

Finally, I love Abdi's incredulity at the unsecured mail box.
posted by dry white toast at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

It felt like there was A LOT of shaping the narrative going on though.

Yeah, that bothered me when it got almost to the very end and then the reporter was like, "And oh, I called the embassy and presto chango, the visa appeared a couple of hours later!"

I'm glad Abdi got out though.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:32 AM on July 12, 2015

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