Nigerian Threat to American Mud Hut Builders Averted

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My wife and I are big fans of the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Va. We've visited a number of times to see how the architecture and farming techniques of 17th and 18th century immigrants blended to create Appalachian pioneer culture. The smokey authentic Irish stone hut with attached muddy pig sty has to be smelled to be believed. We've been looking forward to the addition of an African mud hut compound to the museum's collection of reconstructed English, German, Irish and 19th century American farmsteads.

West African Exhibit

The museum invited three Nigerian artisans skilled at building thatched mud huts to come to Staunton for the summer to build the new exhibit. However, the consular folks at our embassy in Nigeria had other ideas. As the Washington Post explains:

To recognize the ancestry of African Americans, the museum staff went to western Africa to search out what the average family might have lived in before slave traders showed up. They came up with a simple mud hut with a thatch roof.

Working in Nigeria, they got a consultant to vet several workmen who were conversant with the old ways and implements. This resulted in three apparently impoverished rural men, all apparently over the age of 45, who were from the Igbo region of the country, Bryan said. They had never left the country before.

The museum sent letters of invitation, asking them to come over this summer and build a compound of three huts and a boundary wall and then return home. They helped them get Nigerian passports.

Not even the pull of a United States senator could get around the vigilance of our consular staff:

The office of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) supported their visa applications by making the U.S. consulate in Nigeria aware of the importance of the museum's project, Warner's spokeswoman, Bronwyn Lance Chester, said yesterday. (No one made the men's names available because of privacy concerns.)

Applications were filed about three weeks ago, Bryan said. There was confusion. And then the word came down: Rejection!

The Associated Press yesterday quoted U.S. consulate official Debra Heien as saying one of the men couldn't describe the building project and another filled out his paperwork incorrectly. She said two of them were unable to make a living.

"They ruled 'denied' because the interviewers did not think these men showed sufficient socioeconomic ties to Nigeria in order to assure their return," Bryan said.

Now the museum is scrambling to get their consultant and an architect familiar with the old ways to construct the exhibit. The materials—the tools, the thatch for the roof—are already en route. The buildings will be in place by the end of the year, Bryan said. They'll even have real goats wandering the compound, of the same breed that would have wandered such courtyards 200 years ago.

And so our little story ends this way: Real mud, real thatch, real goats, no real rural workmen.

So the State Department can now proudly declare that it has protected American mud hut builders from the threat of foreign competition. 

Whole Post article about this latest State Department silliness here.  

Unscolicited plug: You really should visit the museum if you ever get to Stuanton. Unless you enjoy central Virginia's summer weather as much as I do, fall and winter are preferred.  

NEXT: Friday Funnies

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  1. The Museum wanted to hire the Nigerian hut builders, because they had knowledge that is difficult to find in the US. The way the consular treated them contrasts greatly with the many federally funded programs for cultural and educational exchanges. Of course, if you haven’t gone through a graduate program in Mud Hut Building, you can’t apply for the cultural and educational exchange exceptions. This begs the question, is it better to make separate visa application programs depending on the vocation or to have just one application? Having separate applications for high demand employees lets at least some people through who otherwise would not be able to work here. On the other hand, if academics, engineers, and artists had to obtain a standard visa application every time they entered the country for a conference or awards show, the US would reform the standard application process very quickly.

  2. Maybe someone in the consular office was taken in by the Nigerian email scam.

  3. Mudraking journalism, as usual.

  4. Staunton is far enough up in the hills that it’s not too bad there in July, although I only passed through there on the way to boy scout camp in Goshen. And it’s not nearly as nice as Blacksburg or Radford, esp where you can easily get to the New River from either of these places on the worst days.

  5. I don’t know why anyone has a problem with Nigerians. Based on my email, they seem very generous.

  6. Sorry Ron but I don’t trust Appalachian folk. After watching Deliverance . . .

  7. The U.S. would be so much a better country if petty government officials could be bribed, like in any other proper kleptocracy.

  8. Oh, I forgot. It’s also Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace, so if you need some sort of anti-church of the nativity to visit as a libertarian, Staunton’s your town.

  9. Rex Rhino,

    Are you suggesting that petty government can’t be bribed?

  10. Dammit!!! Petty government OFFICIALS, sorry for the bad grammar.

  11. I wonder where these helpful consulate officials were prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight.

  12. They’d just go on the lamb and be taxi drivers in DC in a week… and the damn huts would still be buildt by the PHD historian guy.

  13. Bailey’s now shilling for Big Mud.

  14. Now the museum is scrambling to get their consultant and an architect familiar with the old ways to construct the exhibit.

    architect?

    Architect?

    Maybe they could hire one of the extras from an old Tarzan movie to build the fucking thing.

  15. When I tried to bring my wife’s sister over from SE Asia to help with the birth of our first child, the local Embassy would not grant her a visa. So, Good – let’s enforce the laws. If my sister-in-law is not good enough to visit the USA, these pygmies aren’t either.

  16. With home prices these days, I’m building a strawbale mokki behind my home to make more room (actually it isn’t living space, since that would require a permit, so Don’t Tell!) Anyhow, while researching strawbale techniques, I discovered buildings of cob, shredded newspaper, stacked newspaper, junk mail, recycled pallets, cordwood stacks, and a host of other things. A mud and lime coating is recommended for many of these (not for the cob, as it is part mud,) so don’t underestimate just how much these three Nigerians could further undermine housing prices. And I suspect Virginia’s state economy needs high home prices and local assessments to avoid bankruptcy. I’m sure the entire mortgage and banking industry gave a collective sigh when these passports were denied.

  17. collective sigh

    Zackly.

  18. Are you suggesting that petty government can’t be bribed?

    Not for $20 and a pack of cigarettes. Bribery is out of the question for all but the wealthiest Americans.

  19. Rex Rhino

    If you’ll throw in a bottle of Jack Daniel’s with that offer, I think that should cover the transaction fees for your permit.

  20. I heard the real problem was that they were going to spend their paycheck in Nigeria.

  21. My grandmother was born in the American version of a mud hut: the sod house. This story is an excellent example of what’s wrong with our immigration policy.

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