I went to Zimbabwe the other day. It’s only 50 miles away so just like nipping from Manchester to Liverpool…except a LOT more hassle it would seem.
A friend needed to do a border run to renew her visa…easy enough to do. I am a resident here so don’t have any problems…that didn’t stop Zimbabwe trying to make life difficult for us though.
We were travelling in her personal car so as to not be our usual conspicuous selves in our white NGO radio-clad trucks! She had only just bought the car so as in any country it takes a wee while to do change of ownership. However we had a piece of Government official paper to say it was her car, maxed out with official stamps and signature scribbles.
We made it out of Moz no problem and made our way through no-mans-land, slowly weaving past the tailback of fuel trucks trying to get petrol into Zim, towards the Zim border. As soon as we walked in to present ourselves, our passports, our dollars and our car papers we knew we were in for a long wait. We bumped into the Mozambican lady who had sold my friend her insurance…they chatted for a while as I queued for our immigration forms.
This lady is Mozabican and is married to a Zimbabwean. They both work in their respective home countries so the border crossing is a regular weekend event for them. She was having some issues because of some miniscule problem with her car – a cracked brake light or something totally insignificant like that. Hearing that we held our breath as we handed our car papers over.
Lo-and-behold (!) they were handed straight back to us accompanied by a shaking head. “Sorry madam, we cannot believe this car is yours”.
I won’t even bore you with conversation which then followed but is involved lots of very formal english being spoken (by them) and lots of clenched teeth smiling and nodding (from us) as we ping-ponged the papers across and back the counter.
Their problem was that our temporary ownership papers were in Portuguese (gee – what a surprise, we live in Mozambique) and their “Government designated official working language” (they actually said that) was English.
Their implication was that we could have forged our papers and therefore they could not allow our car into Zimbabwe. The problem was that they WOULD let us in (having just paid our $70 visa fee!) but not the car.
Maybe there was another solution we could offer them they asked? We knew exactly what they were implying …maybe we could ‘aid the entry process’. We were on the edge of a blindingly huge crevasse…if we jumped in feet first it would be blatently embracing the rife corruption which is crucifying this part of the world but at the same time how self-righteous and moralistic can you be whilst at the mercy of some jobs-worth immigration official.
Our Mozambican friend approached – she could see we were struggling – and said maybe her husband could help. He was a friend of the top-dog there. He spoke quietly to the guy behind the desk – I mean literally 2 or 3 words max – and before we knew it our papers were being stamped and we were waved through the gate.
What he said I don’t know, maybe they are the same tribe, maybe he was owed a favour…in any event by accepting his help we had still really accepted a corrupt favour.
Onward into Zim we had been told about a little known garden cafe, garden in the sun, chilled music, banana fritters, quiche and chocolate cake! We were sold. It was a bit of a mission (just to add to our day!) but find it we did. We walked in and straight over to the menu which indeed listed a multitude of sinful treats!
We went to order, my mouth watering, only to be told they were sorry but the only thing they had was….pork chops! PORK CHOPS!
My friend is a vegetarian – she was practically crying by this point…3 hours through immigration and no quiche, no cake…no nothing! They promised to make her some vegetarian pasta and I opted for the same (I mean…pork chops…come on!). We solemly sat down in the garden thoroughly hacked off.
Then…the pasta arrived…with sun dried tomatoes, olives, feta (all pretty much unobtainable in our wee town)…then they told us they had some chocolate cake left…things were looking up….then….
a girl came over to offer us her copy of Hello! magazine!! Yay!!
3 hours later, fed, watered and filled with gossip we drove to the highest hill we could find to look down over the mountain range which marks the border between Moz & Zim…what a stunning view…not such a bad day after all but my word what a mission!