181. A Close Call at Immigration

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Here I am, sitting in a hotel looking over the Okavango Delta hoping to gather enough internet to post some of what I have written over the past few days. If I don’t manage to upload the pictures then you can expect them at a later time, because I have plenty! The date indicates the day the text is written, not necessarily the day that it is about. Finally, if you sense something different about my style of writing blame it on Joe. We have joined Camp Nanowrimo, so I have decided to make this blog into more of a story. Enjoy:

3rd of July

At 6:15 I am shaken from a strange dream by the piercing screech of my phone’s alarm. Groggily, I reach over and pull my phone away from the charger. Barely looking at the screen, I press the snooze button and drift back into a light sleep. And I would have stayed in that state had it not been for the fact that today was the day where mom and Joe were going to fly into Johannesburg. It was 6:30 by the time I managed to roll out of bed at wipe the sleep out of my eyes… Somewhat. There was no way I was prepared to go through the trouble of finding a new set of clothes in my neatly stuffed backpack. Instead I pull on the same clothes as the day before, which had been chucked on the floor the night before. I shiver in my ice cold skirt – I might be in Africa but it is bloody cold this time of year!

Feeling somewhat awake, I lock up the little bungalow and check out at reception. Once again, we jump into the car and begin the journey to the airport. Alongside the Monday morning traffic, we fly down the highways of Jo’burg, through the confusing ring roads and spaghetti junctions.

It was a crisp and clear morning, with the sun just beginning to peak over the brightly lit hills of the city. Soon there was a big red circle above the horizon, a beautiful scene that is so intrinsic to Africa.

We stood by the arrivals and waited eagerly. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. There was no sign of either of them. As soon as we start to get nervous we get a phone call – mom and Joe have been held back at immigration. For those of you who have never travelled to South Africa, you may not know how ridiculously difficult it can be to get through passport control – especially if you are travelling with a child under 18. So my parents, being the thoughtful people that they are, had of course forgotten to sign the consent form, which would allow Joe entry into the country. Yes, even a 17 year-old needs written permission from the parent(s) who are not present at the immigration counter in order to enter the country. They also need original birth certificates, which is can be a bit of an issue for Joe and I… I mean, who the hell would believe that we were actually born in Lesotho: The Kingdom of Mountains, Goats, and Shepherds?

So off we go, dad and I, to the immigration offices. We walk and walk and walk, and eventually come to a grotty looking corner of the airport with a stale red carpet. We are met by a man who can barely lift his eyes from the very intriguing game of candy crush. He asks what nationality we are and, assuming that Joe is travelling on the Danish passport, that is the nationality we give him. The man picks up the phone and dials a number and goes back to his vitally important game while waiting for the receiver to pick up. The phone rings, he levels-up, the phone rings some more, pling says Candy Crush, This goes on for a few minutes as he tries a more numbers. It seems as though he can’t get through to anyone when finally: hello? They exchange a few friendly words in a local language and he hangs up. “Sir, there is nobody from Denmark who is in trouble.”

Let’s head to the other side of immigration, where mom and Joe have had there passports taken from them by a lady who is unwilling to give them any information whatsoever. They stand there in the middle of the chaos that is immigration, while their passports are in the front shirt pocket of an official who is now off dealing with other people.

Eventually dad gets handed the consent form, which he is to sign and be done with it. Only problem? The form is asking for the child’s passport details. So as you can imagine this mess escalated and escalated until the two tired Danes were nearly put on a flight right back to where they came from. And yet here we are, in Groot Marico. A town which must be just about the most South African thing I have ever seen. “The town must be right around the corner now,” I repeated as we drove through the slightly dilapidated main street. It was as if we had been transported back a few decades. To be a little crude, it was like being transported back to apartheid time. With the help of some friendly locals we found ourselves driving down a dusty, red dirt road towards Stille Waters Lodge. Once there we spent the evening by cackling heat of a fire, eating gorgeous T-bone steaks right off the braai.

The owner of the lodge was a retired pilot, who now lives on a huge farm with cattle and game. While chatting to this man, who had many a story to share, we learnt that his property is surrounded by game ranches – which explained the lion roaring not so far away. Robby himself has helped in the rearing of a few white lion cubs. As soon as we heard this, our plans changed. “We will be back!” We assured Robby, who told us that he could bring us to meet his blue eyed feline friends. So more to come in regards to the perplexing place that is Groot Marico.

4. July

The next morning we awoke to the smell of another hearty meal. The table was armed with enough food to feed an army of post-battle soldiers. After enjoying our breakfast, we stuffed our bags back in the car and waved goodbye to Robby. Today was the day where mom was going to revisit Botswana for the first time in some 40 years and the excitement was building on her side of the car. I was instructed to take pictures of the drive for my grandfather, who is sitting back in Denmark, probably reminiscing over the Jensen’s few years in Botswana.

We drove through the plains of Northern South Africa, which is mountainous and dry with thorny shrubs and nothing but game ranch after game ranch. Where there isn’t a game ranch there is nothing – something you rarely see in the west: vast and completely untouched land, no farming, no infrastructure, barely a road, bar the one we were on. Nothing! Most of the drive was on that on long, straight, nicely-tarred road.

Naturally we arrived at the border with a weary feeling in our gut. It was time for the unpleasant commotion and power struggle, which defines African border posts. I am pleasantly surprised and relieved to say that it was relatively pain-free. No excessively loud stamping, the officials even managed to look content with their job.

On the note of African Border posts, let me tell you about at time back when Louise was still here. We were travelling to Komatipoort – a town about 2 hours away from Maputo, on the other side of the border – where we went on that amazing game drive and saw three Cheetahs. After just over an hour of driving, we gladly slip out of the car and stretch our stiff joints. With our passports in hand, we head over towards the immigration office. After getting our passports stamped, my dad hands a slip of paper to another official in order to get the car authorised or whatever. But this official must have had a long morning and was looking a little bit… well, wrecked. His eyes begin to shut and his head falls forward. Dad shakes him from his sleep and he picks up the pen to write ‘Komat—“ the pen slides across the page and the poor man falls into another deep slumber. It took a few shakes to get the authorisation and stamps that we needed.

Anyway, back to todays adventure… If you can go as far as calling Gabarone an adventure. We arrived before noon and headed straight for what mom once knew as ‘the mall’. Basically a pedestrian street with shops and a market – a gågade for all you Danes out there. This must be the only African city with anything like it. We walked up and down the street, allowing mom time to get nostalgic over her youth spent in Botswana. When we had picked up a few books and hair conditioner, we jumped back in the car and drove to the next place of interest – A hotel, which used to be called The Holiday Inn. It took a while to find the hotel (which is now called Avani or something). Mom and dad found themselves talking to an elderly lady in the marketplace, in hope of finding someone who could tell them about the good old days and The Holiday Inn.

Once we retuned to our B&B, after nearly two hours of being stuck in the rush hour traffic, we sat in the lounge chairs and chatted. And that was our day in Africa’s most exciting city: Gabarone!

//Niamh

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