Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Buying Borders

Recently, I had the once and the lifetime experience of crossing four African borders in one day....with no passport or id. Yes, in hindsight, it wasn't the brightest thing I have ever done. After all, although I do plan on having a racy memoir, getting arrested and detained at an African border indefinitely is not something I want to include as a highlight of my life. Especially, since I have already been arrested, twice. And if you ask me that is enough for one lifetime.

Alas, somehow I made it down the sunny, highway lined with beaches, coconut and palm trees into the commercial center of Nigeria, Lagos. Why, you may ask? Because in Africa everything is for sale, including borders. In all honesty,  I was actually amazed at how easy it was to cross over the borders and come back.. without looking like a resident of any country and speaking just enough pidgen English to answer basic questions.

In fact, my country of origin confused many of the immigration officers. "Where are you from Nigeria or Cameroon?", the immigration officer in Benin asked. My answer, " I dey fo Ghana-o." At the Nigerian border, they thought I was Liberian and at the Togo border, well, they were just confused and couldn't quite understand where I was coming from or why. However, since I was going to Ghana and not staying in Togo they let me pass, with one simple question." Do you have a Ghanaian passport?", "Yes," I immediately lied. "Let her go," the man responded. And I crossed the border, as the immigration officer chided me never to travel without my id again. You have to love the patience of the African immigration officer.

The hardest border to cross over was actually Ghana. As we attempted to cross the border from Ghana into Togo at the unauthorized point I was immediately called out. "You, come." the officer said pointing to me and my friend. So I slowly walked over wondering how I could mask my American accent. "Where are you from?" "Ghana" I responded. "No, you aren't," he said. Now, of course, I have to be passionate about my heritage, so I instantly replied in my best Ghanaian accent, "Me, I am Ghanaian. I have just grown up outside."

Now we probably could have easily crossed thereafter, but unfortunately my friend, who speaks several local languages told the gentleman she didn't speak any English. The trouble with the lie...he asked her the question in English, not a local language. So after having our luggage searched and told we wouldn't cross the border a gentleman entered. As he lectured us for five minutes he carefully studied my face. Then he says we should go, when we walked outside I noticed he was preparing to walk with us.

As he led us into the immigration officers' compound, I instantly become paralyzed with fear. After all, where were we going? Realizing an arrest may be near, I start telling the officer he should just lead us to the buses and we will go back to Accra. No, he insists, we will cross. So as I think about who I will call to verify my identity. I suddenly realize he is walking us across the borders...Ghana and Togo. Of course nothing is for free, so I collected his phone number and we have since been on two dates....yes, he still thinks I am Ghanaian. I am waiting to see how it all works out before I break the news to him he has been deceived. Yes, it is ratchet, but I am ok with that.

On the way back into Ghana, I was again stopped at the illegal border thanks to an unscrupulous taxi driver and a rude guide. The trouble this time was not because I was an  American, it was because the illegal border guide didn't speak to the immigration officer. After all, if you have ever visited or lived in Africa, you know the greeting is very important. So after begging his forgiveness, the guide effectively led us back into Ghana and I was safe.

Now would I do it again, definitely not. But was it an interesting experience...most definitely. In fact, I would say it was a rockstar experience.I mean, lets be honest, how many Americans can say they rode a motorcycle to cross over the Nigerian border? Me, that is who.

Until Next Time Smooches.

1 comment:

  1. LOL! I can proudly say I've done this as well at the Benin-Nigeria border. Only I took a motorbike in the bush. I'm sure I'd have been promptly deported back to East Africa if I'd been caught