Down to my last $107, I approached the border with Zambia.
I knew that, as an American, I should purchase a $50 visa to enter this country. But, I hoped that, because I'd already been to Zambia before, its immigration officials would let me in for less money or for free. I figured it would help my case when I told them of my financial difficulties.
-- A half-Portuguese, half-Angolan man had once traveled to over a dozen African countries - with no money. He simply went to their borders, explained that he had no money, and camped out. Sometimes, the border officers bought the visa for him. Sometimes, he had to hitchhike between the border and capital of his current country several times, seeking diplomatic help; locals fed him on the way. Occasionally, he accidentally entered countries illegally, then reported himself to the police while inside. The stories of this flip-flop-wearing, dirty-backpack-carrying, dark-bearded man had inspired me. (See www.travelpod.com/members/ikono ... and learn Portuguese or French!) --
I'd gone out of my way to avoid a busy, Tanzanian-Zambian border. I guessed the immigration officials at the quaint and rural Malawian-Zambian border would be more relaxed.
Here, the border post was a tiny house alongside a dirt road. I sat on the back of a bicycle being driven by a Malawian; this was my taxi. We arrived to find the border post unmanned. A guy from the tiny shop across the road went to fetch the officer. I happily waited; this border post was perfect! Once the young officer arrived, I had to resist the urge to treat him like an old friend.
But, he wasn't much help.
"How lenient WERE they?" he said of the officers who'd let me in his country for $20 last time. He kept running to a hill so he could phone and ask advice from his bosses. He said I must buy the $50 visa. He suggested I also pay $30 to make up for the last visa I hadn't bought. And he said he might deny me entry, anyway, because I had a lack of funds.
I sought flexibility within the rules, and a mere entry stamp. He said, "An entry stamp I could EASILY give you ..." I thought to myself: "So, why don't you then, blockhead?"
"There should be anarchy. Outlaw only the use of force to make others do things." - J.Breen philosophy
"The world belongs to anyone who stops for a moment, gazes, and goes on his way." - Colette
We decided I'd spend this night in my tent, beside the border post.
In the morning, I said I'd agree to pay $50 for a visa. The officer called his boss, who said I could be granted entry. But, this small border post couldn't make change for my US$100 bill.
The officer gave me an entry stamp. And he gave me a summons to go to the Zambian-Tanzanian border where I'd purchase my visa. It was September 5th. I was given permission to stay for three days with Teacher Ruth in her nearby Zambian village, before I'd proceed to buy the visa.
Three days were exactly what I wanted and needed.
Dark Ruth and her short wavy hair were happy to see me. She was eager to laugh, to move her whole body around while dancing cutely, and to kiss me in her bed in her hut.
On the first day, she looked professional and sexy in a fancy, dark gray "skirt/suitcoat" outfit. The neon orange dress she wore on the second day made her look as playful and free as a child, and its fuzzy ruffled top tantalized me by being low-cut and revealing. In bed, her pillowy dark-chocolate body was as interesting as Africa, and it pulled me into its safe embrace. And when Ruth cooked, she wrapped a colorfully decorated sheet (a "chitengi") around her lower body.
Beneath the thatched roof and stick beams of her hut, we ate, with wind entering through the door and sunlight through the slots in the wall. Ruth prepared three or four dishes, every meal. We ate: clumps of hot "shima" (ground maize mixed with water); handfuls of crunchy, black minnows (tiny fish); moist and wet sweet-potato stalks; evil-looking eel fish, whose bodies were arranged as rings, with their mouths chomping on their tails; strips of cabbage; and "moncoyo" - a gray maize drink with a gingery root in it.
Hooray for Ruth! When I got to her village, my bruises and black eyes were very visible. But after three days, I was almost completely healed.
Elsewhere in this village, neighborhood children sang a repetitive song and marched around and danced and stuck their butts out and laughed. Men played a game where they moved pebbles around a long wooden board that had thirty-two holes in it. Ruth's students sang, "Learning time is over. Good-bye, teacher, good-bye!" before running out of class. A man with five wives already asked me to find him two more in America - to replace the one who'd died and the one he'd chased away. (Ruth and I laughed at him.)
And I took pictures, with the camera I'd just bought in Tanzania. But, there were problems ...
Sep. 7 - Ruth photographs me (from a safe distance) as I wash myself outside. Perhaps my hairy shoulders, peeking out above the shower walls made of reeds, break the camera?
The stupid camera won't live to take more than twenty-one pictures. By the time Ruth's boss tries to photograph Ruth and me together, it has inexplicably stopped working.
Ruth's boss came over to visit us. He told me of his and Ruth's efforts to sell their bags of maize at a market. He said the government had come to them and dictated they sell it their maize on credit. The price wasn't bad, though. In addition, they were made to pay kickbacks to the government facilitators of this transaction; they had no choice, there was no one to complain to.
While at Ruth's, I opened up one of her schoolbooks to a page that celebrated: "Zambian FREEDOM." It showed a map of Zambia, independent since 1964. I remembered: "The first people who made a country were actually fencing themselves in." - J.Breen philosophy ... I considered that freedom limited to the confines of one country wasn't really freedom.
And I put some thought into my ideal government:
Government employees would work as volunteers, earning their income elsewhere. They'd labor for the people for free, in the way I labored as a writer: out of love. Citizens wouldn't pay taxes; they'd give donations, if they chose to. When the community had a big decision to make, all people would meet and discuss it until they arrived at a conclusion acceptable to all.
In less-than-ideal Zambia, I had to decide whether I was going to report to immigration and purchase my $50 visa, or not. Seeing as how I hadn't gotten much writing done while at Ruth's, I decided I would end my trip in Africa and travel 1000 miles south through Zambia, in the direction of South Africa where I could fly home from. Should I travel those miles illegally?
I said a smiling good-bye to Ruth, who gave me a chitengi for my mom.
I worried that, by not reporting to immigration, I could get Ruth or her boss in trouble.
But ... in the end, I couldn't bring myself to report to the immigrations officers. They terrified me. They were so inflexible. And I probably needed my $50. I guessed 80% - or 90% - or 99%? - of my visa fees would've just gone to the well-off government, anyways.
I doubted anyone would notice I'd missed my appointment, and I doubted anyone would look for me at Ruth's school. I guessed that if I'd make it to the other end of the country undetected, there'd be great pressure on the border guard there to simply let me go through.
I began hitchhiking through the country.
On my right wrist were still two bracelets which small girls in Laos had given me. Selling stories in Africa, I'd been told by someone that these bracelets "protect me". I hoped they'd get me through and out of Zambia safely!
Six vehicles got me to the capital. As seen from the road passing through it, Lusaka was a mess of shanty towns and people selling piles of clothes on the sidewalk. I couldn't get a hold of my friends who lived in Joseph-and-Mary-and-Mercy's "complex" (poor neighborhood). So, I kept going.
The next day, a young good-looking couple picked me up. Small Alexander had worked for food-aid NGOs, and now his job was to help poor people get loans. He informed me of an interesting, new law in Zambia: fathers who didn't pay child support could now be imprisoned. It seemed like the law was concerned with protecting single mothers' rights. Great! (Or it would've been, if I wasn't an anarchist.)
Alexander went on to say Zambian prisons were so crowded, that when prisoners slept they had to lean on the prisoners behind them and wrap their legs around the prisoners in front. And when one of them wanted to roll over in his sleep, all the other prisoners had to roll over too.
Egad!!! I hoped I wasn't going to experience one of these prisons.
My passport had been stamped with a legal entry stamp. Inside that stamp, "R/O 8/9" had been written. I guessed it meant: "Report On September 8th." It was September 11th when I neared Kazungula and the border crossing to Botswana.
At first, I figured I'd just tell the truth. I hadn't reported to immigration because I was scared - scared I wouldn't be allowed in the country, scared I wouldn't be able to get through the country after using half my money for a visa.
But then, it occurred to me that the border guard might not even know I was meant to buy a visa ...
The border officer turned out to be a stout dark emotionless man: my worst nightmare. I was nervous. I lied, "I tried to get here on the 8th, but I didn't have much money for transportation, so I had to find free lifts."
He hovered over my passport. "You've stayed three days too long in this country ... ILLEGALLY. That's an OFFENSE. It's FINEABLE."
I might've used some of the $60 I had left to bribe him. But, there were too many people in the line behind me, watching.
After a few moments, pressure from the swelling line mounted. The border guard reluctantly stamped my passport with the exit stamp I wanted. He said, "If Botswana won't let you in, you can't come back here."
Yay! I felt like a winner.
Canaan, the young truck-driver who was giving me a ride, said that if I'd been black they wouldn't have let me go so easily.
We rode a ferry across the sparkling and glimmering, blue Zambezi River. All around us, people paddled long wooden dhows to and from Botswana. Canaan said they were smuggling. I was happy.
Thanks to Francis; Ali; Dullh & Eashok; Patrick; Joseph & Eric; Fanuel; Alexander & Sabrina; Mwaangwe; and Timothy for rides!
A huge thanks to Ruth, her boss, & her school, again; and Mutelo, Caleb, & Dambwa Main SDA Church Livingstone for places to stay!