This story can serve as a metaphor for immigration: While working in Nairobi, my Ghanaian friends Sam and Paulina Atiemo bought a modest row house in a middle-class Kenyan neighborhood. The house gave them a postage-stamp garden and plenty of room for their children and guests. The only drawback was that over their back wall was a railroad line, and beyond it the huge, depressing slum called Kibera, a warren of makeshift houses. Kibera is the kind of slum you see pictured on television specials about Third World poverty.
Kibera was growing. Soon entrepreneurs began to sell produce in the open area behind the Atiemos' wall. Eventually they replaced their improvised stands with tin-roofed shacks, which used the Atiemos' wall as their back wall and main support. The wall, like that of all the Atiemos' middle-class neighbors, was topped with shards of broken glass, to keep thieves out. The wall was high, and the Atiemos could not see the entrepreneurs—from their second-story window they could only see their roofs—but they could hear their radios and their conversation. And they could talk to them through a hole at the base of the wall.
The Atiemos' house was designed so that washing water flushed out an open drain and through that small hole in the wall. It had worked well when there was free space beyond. Now, however, the occupants of that space objected. "At least let us know before you throw out your washwater," they asked, "so we can move our produce." For some time the Atiemos did so. Then one day they discovered that someone had cemented up the hole. They chipped it open so their water could drain, but soon it had been cemented up again. After that, the washing water had to stand in their back yard.
When it came ...1