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Class to Lusaka (Part 2)
November 01, 2010
Border Post on the way up is on the Zambian side. Newly built, freshly
sign-posted and scrupulously clean, it is day to Beitbridge's night.
The Beitbridge Border Post is the hellish crossing point between
Zimbabwe and South Africa, which I have negotiated time without
number but dread from the bottom of my entrails every time I have
to undergo it.
To us, in our
part of the world, a One-Stop Border Post seems like heaven. Those
from the European Union would find this curious. I remember driving
down from Denmark to Germany and a little before we got to Hamburg,
the driver pointed out some buildings over on the left. These were
the old border post, he said. A border post is no longer required
at all between Denmark and Germany. In our case, a One-Stop does
not mean that the processes are streamlined. All the cumbersome
processes that characterise the hours one spends at border posts
in our region, remain intact - queues for passport control for the
country you are leaving and then for the country you are entering
and then queues again for customs for the country you are leaving
and again for the country you are entering. The only difference
is that these procedures are carried out in one building and that
it is absolutely clear as to which queue you should queue in. There
is also no 'kupindira'' - people entering the queue at the counter
so that you end up standing for hours in a queue that never moves.
Well, the One-Stop Border Post is definitely a welcome step forward
but really if we look it at it, a rather small one. After all, are
we all not Africans?
Now what was
this junket all about? We were going to Lusaka to attend the "Ibsen
through African Eyes" Conference and Workshop. We had decided
to save money by not going by air and not staying in a hotel. We
travelled by road and we stayed at the Commonwealth Youth Centre
at the University of Zambia. With the money saved, we were able
to do a brand-new production, an interrogation of Ibsen's "A
Doll's House", in which we asked ourselves what would happen
if a woman left her husband, home and children in Zimbabwe and whether
the 'most wonderful thing of all', which Norah talks about at the
end of the play, could ever happen given gender relations and culture
By 'the most
wonderful thing of all, Norah means:
We would have to change, we would have to...No, Tongoona, I don't
believe in wonderful things any more.
But I do. We would have to - what?
To change so that our life together would be a real marriage.
Goodbye. Not only were we able to do the play but we were able
to bring the two young actors and the young auditing student/assistant
director with us and they were able not only to perform their
play but also to participate in the workshop and our presentation
at the workshop. So, any hint of whingeing on my part, as you
read this account, must be taken with the proverbial pinch of
salt. Though the road travel was tiresome, we all thought it very
Now for our
journey back on 'First Class'. We were not allowed to buy tickets
beforehand, let alone book. Instead we were told to go down to the
Lusaka coach station between 7am and 11am and First Class would
leave at 12 noon. When we got there, one coach was already full
- actually a coach! Obviously only those really in the know will
manage to get onto that one. So we were back to the same old 'chicken
bus'! But there was this very big difference - the bus was now going
back to Harare not going to Lusaka and it became apparent that the
'First Class' bus is the preferred choice of Zimbabwe's cross-border
traders plying their trade between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The cross-borders
were now going back - with their merchandise - in a bus with no
luggage rack, no roof rack, no trailer and only tiny compartments
under the bus! Well, the first thing was that the conductor refused
to let us take our table, boxes, lights and costumes onto the bus
- despite the fact that we had been assured in Harare that the bus
had lots of luggage space and our things would not be a problem,
But this was no longer Harare. This was Lusaka. The only way we
avoided being stranded in Lusaka was to buy three more seats to
pile our stuff on.
As we had lots
of time to kill, we strolled around the coach station - and what
do you think we saw? Exactly the coaches we had dreamed of, even
beyond our dreams. Not only going to luxury destinations like South
Africa and Botswana but to tiny places in the Zambian countryside
that we had never heard of! The comparison between the quality of
domestic transport in Zambia and that of international travel in
Zimbabwe was painful - definitely a blow to Zimbabwean pride.
Back to the
bus. We sat down and one by one our fellow travellers began entering
the bus - with their katundus - the usual large soft striped bags
that characterise the cross-border trader, not one, not two but
often three large bags of goods they had purchased in the markets
of Lusaka and were taking back to Zimbabwe for re-sale.
The holds beneath
the bus were long since full. So everything had to come into the
bus. Slowly a growing claustrophobia rose in us as these bags piled
up - on seats, in the aisles, the area around the driver. It was
like being tied down in a room which was slowly filling up with
to get really serious when a young man came in with an enormous
bag, which he piled on the seat in front of me. Out he went only
to return with another of the same size. What had happened to the
conductor who had refused to take our stuff and forced us to buy
seats? There he was watching as bundle after bundle began to pile
up in the bus. Now, to my horror, the young man was back again with
his third enormous bag, which he proceeded to plonk down on the
floor inches from my knees.
This was when
I squawked. I asked him what he was thinking of buying all this
stuff. How did he really think he could get all this stuff into
the bus? I had taken this seat so that I could have some room for
my legs, I informed him, and I was not going to accept his katundu
right in front of my knees. I appealed to the conductor. O, he said,
we will remove them - how? Throw them onto the tarmac outside? He
was just humouring me of course.
The final straw
was the large brand-new suitcase the young man had bought, still
in its cellophane, which he now wished to pile on top of the bag
in front of my knees. This I adamantly refused and he was forced
to sit with it on his lap with the cellophane virtually pressed
up against his female companion's face until we got to the border.
But it is strange what human beings can get used to. I was so uncomfortable
about the poor girl with the suitcase right in front of her face
and the poor young man trying to hold it away from her face that
at the border we re-arranged our furniture on the seats we had had
to pay for and squeezed in the suitcase to give them some relief.
The journey to the border was like travelling in the inside of a
railway coach without the trimmings and which was piled high with
bags. It was a cross-border bus and it had become, not a bus, but
a warehouse on wheels. Any attempt to negotiate the passage from
the back of the bus to the door in the front required serious mountaineering
skills as the aisle was packed full of bags and other items of all
shapes and sizes.
There is not
much more i want to tell you about our return journey. I think you've
probably got the general idea. If you add to what you already know
the fact that in the middle of the night the bus split a water-hose
and then when that was miraculously repaired, developed a fuel injection
fault, which the driver heroically battled to mend, as it broke
down from time to time but finally got us to Harare, I am sure you
will not need any further explanation as to why Steve and I needed
two whole days on our arrival home to recover.
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