Friday, June 15, 2007

Crossing Customs

When I wrote about taking a driver's test in Zambia, Donna remembered the outline of another story from that time period. February 1988. Lois and flew from Pennsylvania to south-central Africa for a three-year commitment teaching at the Theological College of Central Africa (TCCA, in Zambia) and the Theological College of Zimbabwe (TCZ). Vaughn was five years old, and Nevin about 15 months.

The morning that we were set to fly, Nevin started throwing up. We hurried off to our doctor (Lois' brother, Glen), and he told us, "He'll be fine, but you won't enjoy the flight!" In fact we had a great flight: from Harrisburg to Philadelphia (a small plane, 12 seats or so, absurd for leaving for Africa) to New York (another small commute) to London (overnight flight) to Lusaka (another overnight flight). Nevin slept the whole way, including the day layover in London and was no trouble at all.

Sunday morning we arrived in Lusaka. The cold damp of Pennsylvania gone, we entered summer as only south-central Africa can give. Mile high elevation, wonderful blue sky, occasional puff clouds growing to quick thunderstorms, a world away from winter in Pennsylvania.

Customs and Immigration were not in summertime mood, however. We were carrying our computer, with monitor and printer. This was 1988, and we thought that our 20 meg hard drive was pretty hot stuff. So did the customs officer. Once he established the contents of the three boxes marked "computer", "monitor", and "printer", he informed us that the officer who could clear these did not work on Sunday. He would be in on Monday.

Rich Stuebing had met us at the airport, ready to take us on the drive to Ndola, close to 300 miles away. We had no choice. We left my passport with the customs officer and the computer equipment, and gave instructions to the MCC representative (who had also met us) to clear them the next day and pick them up for us. Then we drove to a friend of Rich's who agreed to ship them up for us as soon as they cleared customs. In fact, it all worked. Later that week we received my passport safely, and computer equipment intact. And off we drove to Ndola.

In the late 1980s Zambia had police checkpoints about every 50 miles or so. South African agents made regular incursions into Zambia, occasionally blowing up things, partly to show that they could. The waning days of apartheid were no better than its heyday. There were seven checkpoints between Lusaka and Ndola.

We passed through the first five without incident. Rich responded to the questions routinely. "Where are you going?" Ndola." What do you do there?" and so one. Then came the sixth checkpoint, at Kapiri Mposhi, where the turn-off to Tanzania is. Because of its importance as a junction for international travel, this checkpoint had an immigration officer. And he wanted to see our papers.

Rich handed him his ID card and our (three) passports. The officer looked at the papers, checking each one off against our van's occupants. Then he asked Rich, "Where is his passport?" Rich explained the situation: "We had to leave it at the airport to clear some goods tomorrow. It is coming up this week." "But I must see his passport." Back and forth, speaking more clearly and distinctly with each repetition. Stalemate.

Then Rich handed him the one paper I did have, a copy of my Temporary Employment Permit for Zambia. On the top of the paper, it noted I work for the Brethren in Christ Church. The officer asked, "You re Brethren in Christ?" "Yes," I said. "Do you know Sikalongo?" "That was my first home," I replied.

I was born in Livingstone, when my parents lived at Sikalongo 140 miles away. We lived there until I was three years old, and I have a sister buried there; so indeed, I know Sikalongo. The officer continued, "What was your father's name?" "David Climenhaga." The officer looked at me. "You may go," he said, "I am from Sikalongo."

The customs of the country! We were "homeboys". In Zimbabwe, we would call ourselves "abekhaya": people from the same home. With the whole country to choose from, we got an officer who knew where we came from, even though we left there in 1953. It was good to be home.


Denise said...

So, did the custom’s officer just happen to be there on that particular day at that particular time or was it some kind of Devine appointment? Either way, stories like this continue to amaze me. Thanks for the good read. I always enjoy these stories.

By the way, when reading yours and Donna’s reports on getting driver’s licenses, I feel a little mediocre. When I received my driver’s license, all I had to do was go in and pass the written test. I had received a “waiver” for the driving test during drivers training. No fun story to tell – rather boring actually.

Denise said...

errrrr....make that Divine...oops..

Climenheise said...

I liked the Devine note. Miss Devine taught Art at Hillside Junior School in Bulawayo. When we arrived back in 1988 I tried to get in touch with her, but learned that she was in her last days and couldn't meet anyone. So I missed that Devine appointment, but have tried to keep my Divine appointments.

KGMom said...

Thanks for indulging my request for this story. I had bits of it, but not with the correct details. But the serendipity of it all is still amazing.
Of course, since I am now a Presbyterian, I would say that the encounter was . . .foreordained. Just another way of saying divine intervention.
Denise bemoans not having a fancy driving license story to tell--well, I can only say that she used up her quota of "stories" earlier in her life!