Ah, who doesn’t love a border post in Africa???
Each one is unique and special. To me, they symbolize new territory to explore and adventure on the other side of concrete walls, fences and cranky immigration officers. You always have that heart stopping moment or two as you hand over your documents wondering if you will make it through or not. If all of your paper work is in order. Is your immigration or customs officer having a good day or bad? Some you are happy to visit again and again. Others, well let’s just say once is enough. They are a challenge to be conquered but not to be repeated.
You need to keep reading to discover how I feel about the Ramokgwebana/Plumtree boarder post between Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Having left Gabs at 4 pm which was much later than anticipated due to work commitments Lawrence drove straight through from Gabs to the border posts with no stops except at a tiny petrol station just a couple of kilometers from the border. We were pushing to make the crossing before the border closed for the night at 10 pm and thankfully we made it by 8:30 pm with time to spare.
Pulling into the parking lot on the Botswana Ramokgwebana side we noticed lots of activity. Given the time of night, Lawrence had figured that the crossing wouldn’t be that busy. As we exited the vehicle with me desperately seeking a toilet to relive my rather full bladder the size of the immigration ques became extremely obvious. So like the good traveler that I am, I sucked it up and got in line to hold our place while Lawrence was doing toilet reconnaissance.
When he finally arrived back to the line up looking relieved and happier my stubborn gene had kicked in….any surprise there??? As the line up was moving at a reasonable pace with new participants arriving all of the time, I wasn’t going to jeopardize my spot by slipping out of the que when it was simply mind over bladder. Given that I did not have the Dingwa household address to rattle off for the immigration officer, I needed to remain with Lawrence so we could go through immigration together. Plus, he had to do additional queuing in order to take his car over the border.
Interestingly enough the large majority of those in line were Zimbabweans going home for a visit. Let’s just say that Zimbabweans are much more polite and friendly to stand in line up with than some others. In fact, I have fond memories of a Zimbabwean gentleman coming to my rescue in the visa line up in Gaborone when I first arrived in Botswana. For those of you who missed that story you can find it at https://cheryljdalziel.com/2012/09/29/back-to-the-immigration-office/
I digress. The que was long but friendly and eventually we wound our way to the front and through the paperwork without a lot of fuss or questions. Whew!!! But it is always easier leaving a country than entering in these parts….
Exiting the building ahead of Lawerence, who was finishing off the paperwork to take the car through the border I made my mad dash to the toilet with a bursting bladder. Now before I go any further I just want to reiterate for the uninitiated that public and even sometimes private toilets in Africa are not for the faint hearted. They are an adventure in and of themselves. Like border posts, some are better than others…others, well let’s just say that going in the bush is far more preferable.
My best travel advice to date is that “Never, Ever visit the toilets at the Ramokgwebana border post”!!!!!! EVER!!!! My friendship with Lawrence could have ended because of this. Seriously! It is by far the worse toilet that I have ever made use of anywhere that I have been in Africa. I still shiver and cringe just thinking about it.
When in Africa as a female you always carry a roll of toilet paper or tissues on you for use as public toilets never have toilet paper. So it is a given that you carry your purse with you when visiting the necessary. So picture this if you please……a beyond filthy rest room, zero toilet paper and toilets that you simply didn’t want to get within fifty feet of but a bladder beyond bursting. It is simple, you consider it yet another adventure and go for it. So I earned my skills as an acrobat.
Huge purse over my shoulder (now where to set it down), wad of tissue out, the infamous denim skirt hiked up and panties down and a healthy fear of coming within two feet of the toilet seat……..another lesson learned, the longer the delay in visiting the necessary, the fuller the bladder…the longer it takes to relieve it. After maintaining the balancing hovering act for what felt like far too longer the desperation to exit my surroundings was almost equal to my desperation for visiting in the first place.
Quickly exiting the toilet stall which only redeeming quality was that it actually had a functioning lock mechanism (another rarity in Africa) I beat a hasty path to the equally filthy sinks to at least rinse my hands before making my way to the car where a pack of hand wipes were gloriously awaiting me. While standing at the sink two elderly ladies joined me. To my surprise they were actually giggling. Figuring that they like many others that I encounter were not that use to white women within their surrounds I just smiled and greeted them formally. Feeling as if I had paid them the respect that they were due, the giggling only got worse.
Finally as I was turning to leave the room one of them addressed me and said I quote “You have a naughty skirt!”
Remember this was the skirt whose malfunction before I had even left home had started my adventure off. Thinking that perhaps the fitted style of the skirt was too modern for her, I simply smiled, nodded and again turned to exit.
Then she stopped me again saying I quote “No, wait your skirt is naughty”. She then pointed down to my rather ample booty which was prominently on display as my naughty skirt was caught up in my panties. It seems that in my acrobatic state of attempting balance a purse & body in the hovering position and then haste to exit the downright filthy disgusting stall I had inadvertently caught my skirt in my panties. Thankfully they were clean and cute and this wonderful woman prevented me from walking out of the door into the parking lot where it would feel like half of the population of Zimbabwe returning home would have been treated to a sight to behold.
With a proper thank you this time and a far more respectful exit I arrived back at the car more eager and ready to arrive in Zimbabwe then you can imagine. Fortunately my entry into Zimbabwe through immigration and customs was far less eventful and we were soon back on the road with me at the wheel.
When you arrive in Zimbabwe through the Botswana border post of Ramokgwebana you are entering Plumtree, Zimbabwe. Don’t you just love that name? Feeling lighter and happier although it was now almost 10 pm at night, I was set to do the approximately four hour drive to Lawrence’s home in Gweru. Passing through Plumtree, Figtree and other small towns on the way to Bulawayo where we going to stop to grab something to eat I was in the groove in the driver’s seat….
Until I was rudely stopped by the Zimbabwean police at a road block literally in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Having been warned by Lawrence in advance that the police in Zimbabwe are not always your friend (like Buche tells me they are here in Botswana) I was at least somewhat prepared. Pulling to a stop, which frankly was a little more difficult as I was driving slightly faster than the speed limit was if there had of been any signs telling you what the speed limit was suppose to be, I put on my most charming smile.
Lawrence lounging in the passenger seat next me claimed that he has never seen such a transformation in me. Lawrence has seen many aspects of my personality including my penchant for independence and beating him up in public but he had never experienced me being “charming”. He watched enthralled as I simply charmed my “Zimbabwean Police Officer friend”. Less than five minutes later I was departing the road block with a smile and wave for my new friend, who hadn’t once mentioned that I was speeding. Nor was any exchange of cash necessary which is incredibly unusual as this is the purpose of the road blocks in the first place.
Back on the road with the most charming drivers we soon arrived in Bulaway, Zimbabwe’s second largest city and one that Lawrence has actually only visited once or twice before. So at midnight I was navigating through a city I had never been in before seeking food. Success was easily at hand and arriving downtown it was simply as easy as parallel parking with a captive audience watching the oddity of a white woman chauffeuring a Zimbabwean man at midnight.
While Mr. Small Bladder visited the men’s room ( I was not going down that road again determined to wait until we arrived at the Dingwa household) I stood in line to order food. Are you recognizing the pattern here? I certainly am :0 While patiently waiting to order after driving for a couple of hours I need to stretch out my legs. Then a great song came on and I was a goner. You guessed it, the impulse to dance couldn’t be controlled. Lawrence returned to the sight of me wiggling in line while the manager was yelling “you go girl” and a growing audience appeared at the plate glass windows looking in from the street. To be honest to you, I wasn’t really even dancing that much. Just more wiggling in time to the music. Honest! However, do to the growing crowd and spectacle someone in the back decided to abruptly shut off the music so that the white girl could calm down and the crowds disperse.
With a brief dance reprieve, food in my belly and back in the driver’s seat I was ready to push on to make the final drive to Senga, Lawrence’s village within Gweru. As we entered this stretch of driving we encountered road construction site after construction site. Each one was marked by “robots” traffic signals indicating when to pause or proceed. Not to lay blame here but due to extenuating circumstances and pressures I perhaps proceeded through a red light that I shouldn’t have. But in my defense so did two others before me and it was 1:30 am in the morning.
Well, that simply led to my second police halt of the night and my brief time in Zimbabwe. I must have set a record! This time I didn’t even try to charm this one because I knew it would be a mistake to even try. However I did make the mistake of showing him my driver’s license…BIG MISTAKE! You see in Canada if a police officer asks to see your license you immediate produce it no questions asked. In Zimbabwe you avoid it all costs. It took my friend Lawrence more than 40 minutes of discussion with the said police officer to get it back for me while I waited patiently and extremely quietly in the car which is hard to do at 2:00 am.
When Lawrence finally returned to the car after 2:30 with my PEI driver’s license in hand, I was willing to forgive his making me wait to pee at the border post. Fair is fair!
This portion of our adventure finally ended half an hour later when we arrived at the Dingwa household to a warm reception even though it was now 3 am. An hour later warmly ensconced in bed under so many blankets that I could have smothered but needed because it really was that cold I was ready for a couple hours of sleep before I continued my adventures again early in the morning.