Imagine arriving in a foreign city 8,400 miles from home with your spouse and four children, and knowing no one.
Not only did the Oloos not know anyone when they arrived in Omaha on Oct. 1, but no one even knew they were coming — no relatives, no church, no sponsor.
Four months later, they feel they are far from “nobodies.” From an airport security guard to a kind cabdriver to people who have donated clothes, furniture and even a car, Omahans have welcomed the family.
The father, Frederick Oloo, 34, has landed a job in computers, the kids are in school and the family looks forward to being productive, taxpaying Omahans for a long time.
“We love it here,” he said. “We want our children to get integrated into the American community. I was hopeless, but here they can make a life. One who focuses on education will excel in this country.”
Among the Omahans who have helped is Peg O'Malley, whom the children now call “Granny.”
“They are a lovely family,” she said. “So delightful and joy-filled.”
Oloo says he earned a bachelor's degree in microtechnology and instrumentation at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. But jobs were hard to come by, and the family lived in a tin house in a huge slum known as Kibera.
He saved his money for several years and eventually was approved in an immigration-quota “lottery” to receive a visa. A friend in Alabama said he would sponsor the Oloo family, but then said he could not.
On a computer in Nairobi, Frederick searched for U.S. cities with low unemployment and low cost of living. He turned up Omaha, Tulsa and Fort Worth.
His wife, Christine, pointed on a map to the middle of the country. Said Frederick: “Omaha, we are coming!”
On Sept. 29, the family flew to Qatar and then to Chicago. Two days after leaving Nairobi, the Oloos arrived in Omaha about 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.
An airport security guard thought they looked lost and found a cabdriver, Scott Street, who took them to the Open Door Mission and helped them find other places.
Oloo had spent most of his money flying the family to America, but he had about $1,000 left. He found a one-bedroom apartment near 36th and Cuming Streets.
Peg O'Malley said her women's prayer group received a call about a Kenyan family from Pattie Fidone at Holy Family Catholic Church at 18th and Izard Streets. The women and their families contributed clothing and other items.
The Oloo children are Rosemary, 14; Brian, 9; Tyra, 7; and Darrell, almost 5 months.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
Kenya is an East African nation of 40 million, about four-fifths Christian, and it sits on the equator. The children never had seen leaves turn colors.
One day in October, Tyra said to Peg: “Granny, who painted the bushes red?”
The O'Malleys and the Oloos became close. Peg and husband Pat have four children and 10 grandchildren, but Peg says: “Now I have 14 grandchildren.”
Many Omahans have helped, and the Oloos met a local Kenyan community. From a country known for its safaris and diverse wildlife reserves, with lions, leopards, buffaloes, rhinos and elephants, the Oloos enjoyed a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.
Frederick rode a bicycle and went on job interviews, and he got a job this month at Travel and Transport. Someone gave the family a minivan.
Things look rosy compared with life in a Nairobi slum, which Frederick said “was not a bed of roses.”
He grew up in a western province of Kenya, devoted to his father, whom he called “a pillar.” But his dad died when Frederick was 13 or 14.
He made it through college and started a family with Christine. She later was ill for three years, and Frederick didn't see a future.
“As a young man, you have dreams,” he said. “But where we were living, I didn't see myself and my family moving ahead.”
A Kenyan pastor at a “gospel church” in Nairobi inspired them not to despair, and now they have come to America. Things are moving in the right direction.
“I am really happy here,” Christine said. “The sky is the limit.”
The Oloos are grateful to all who have helped. They want to contribute to their new community, a third of the way around the world from where they came.
Their path to the future doesn't follow a magical yellow brick road. It will be hard, but they are enjoying a place that's becoming less and less foreign.
It's much colder than their equatorial home, but a locale where they have felt personal warmth.
And it is all new — a place where a child of Africa can look in wonderment on an autumn day in America and ask who painted the bushes red.