How not to Cross a Border

Words by Simeon Gready - November 2014

The first leg of our trip took us from wet and windy Cape Town to Windhoek on a 20-hour Intercape bus. In all honesty, it was the perfect morning to leave Cape Town: it would have been incredibly difficult to leave the beautiful Mother City had she been on her best behaviour.

At this point, I feel it necessary to tell you the story of how a certain American lady did not make it across the South African/Namibian border with the rest of us on the bus.

To tell this story, I need to contextualise the situation somewhat: One of the things you need to know about Intercape buses – and they warn you about this beforehand – is that they promote the Christian faith throughout all their rides.

Now, they certainly didn’t hold back on this point. Prayers blasted out over the speakerphones at the beginning and end of each trip, and plenty of good will stories and music and even short films played on the mini TVs throughout. Personally, I didn’t mind the evangelistic preaching all that much, partly because of the fact that we were told to expect it beforehand. Although my views on faith are extremely complicated at the moment, something that is not worth getting into now, the fact remains that I am more than capable of sitting through a couple of prayers, some painfully cheesy music videos and some over eager presenters without throwing a fit.

This American lady, however, did not fare so well. She loudly and continually complained all throughout the trip:

“I don’t want to listen to this gospel shit.”

“I’m on a public bus, not in a catholic school.”

“Its like Christians are always right, and everyone else is always wrong.”

“Well it’s not very Christian to tell someone to get off the bus,” in response to threats made by the bus driver if she continued to remonstrate.

Her incessant complaining continued to the two Egyptian gentlemen to her right, who were Muslims but had quietly sat through all the pro-Christianity messages so far: “Your religion is respectful, you accept other people’s beliefs.” They seemingly bonded over this common ground for a while, before the American lady helped the two gentlemen fill out their visa forms given the fact that their English was not their first language.

Now, in many ways. you cannot judge her on her opinions. She has every right to choose not to follow the Christian faith. On the other hand, what you can begrudge her is the manner in which she chose to make her opinions known. Intercape clearly state their intention to promote the Christian faith on their website and on the bus tickets themselves, such that we expected it and quietly sat through it all. Although it did all seem a bit much, and the content they chose to play was hardly helping their cause, the fact remains that those are the principles on which the bus service runs; she chose to make the journey with Intercape, and so she must respect this.

She calmed considerably once they played a horrible movie starring the Rock, Michael Caine and that guy from the Hunger Games about some mysterious island (which I was much more offended by) and a glorious David Attenborough documentary, but the bus driver and attendant did not easily forget her vulgar tirade of abuse aimed at their faith.

We all passed through the South African side of the border relatively painlessly, by which point the American lady was happily chatting away to an Afrikaans man, but the Namibian side of the border proved to be more of a stumbling block.

Firstly, there seemed to be a problem with her passport.

“This passport is expired, ma’am.”

“Excuse me? I still have four years left!”

Suddenly, there was also a small problem with the visa forms of the Egyptian gentlemen that the American lady had helped with.

“Sorry, their English isn’t very good, so I helped them with their forms. Is that alright?!” She asked bluntly, patronisingly. She was becoming increasingly irate, in response to which the border officials were getting increasingly annoyed.

After the Egyptian gentlemen’s visa forms were sorted, there were still problems with her passport. After she refused to stand aside so that they could deal with the issue presently, her rants became increasingly offensive.

“Ugh,” the American lady loudly sighed. “Typical Africa! Is it because I’m WHITE?!”

By this point, even the Afrikaans man had left her side and scarpered back towards the bus. The bus driver and attendant did not attempt to help her out either, as they would usually do, given her attitude towards them earlier on the ride. 5 minutes later, we were informed that the American lady had been refused her visa, and would not be allowed entry in Namibia. She had to make a plan to get back into South Africa, bearing in mind that it was about 10pm at that point. The bus lurched on, into the Namibian night-time, and we did not hear what became of the American lady.

The thing about border crossings is that you are not the one in a position of power. You are at the mercy of the border officials, who try to catch you out with a series of hard and fast questions. Where are you going? Why? Where are you sleeping? How much money will you be spending? They try to make you slip-up; you have to come prepared to the front desk with the correct dates, addresses, and everything else so you aren’t seen to be ill prepared.

The lesson? Respect. Simple. Respect for religion, especially religion that is not your own and the right for others to practice it, and respect for other people, especially those that hold the power to immediately put an end to your journey.

Aside from that, I honestly thought this was just quite a funny story that made the second half of the bus journey a lot more bearable…