My Most Favorite Border Crossing.
Here is a little anecdotal story of the immigration office aboard the Lake Nasser ferry…crossing from Egypt into the Sudan.
It’s just after sun-set, the ferry has departed, all the riders have settled in, either into their respective ‘cabins’ or sardined onto the top deck, and Ciaran and I decide it would be an appropriate moment of calm to deal with immigrations. We have a container with 70 odd passports, passport photo’s of everyone, a list of their occupations, places of birth, visa numbers, the works. We fill out the 70 forms for the process, by hand,one by one, with the help of two other staff, and by the end of the hour or so, we’re ready to head to the office for processing. Where is this office you ask. It’s not entirely clear, the most official man I’ve met so far is wearing flip flops and a long white dress, and so I gesture to him as to where we need to go. He takes me in past the cafeteria, through the kitchen, down a narrowing hallway, to the back of the ship, around a corner, and through the door. We are instantly greeted and welcomed to sit down. Our seat being on the immigration officials bunk beds, next to their desks, in a room the size of a first world bathroom. The officials were polite, welcoming and calm, already a 180 degree turn from getting anything done in Egypt. Seeing our monumental pile to be stamped, paired with a clear language barrier, they decide to dedicate one of the men just to us. Very nice. As each passport gets processed and slowly searched through one by one, my one job was to dictate clearly and slowly, simply which country each rider was from, as this was all recorded by hand on 100 pieces of paper before the next one could go. This took some time.
We take a step back just to look around at the chaos around us. While the long laborious task is taking place on our end, there are also a few hundred other locals looking to get their passports stamped before sun rise. Half of which are coming in through the door that we first came through, the other half hanging in through the port side window, reaching their arm in to be the closest to the officials face. No one seems put off by this. The next point of hilarity was the power supply. Considering that we were there for closer to 2 hours getting all of this done, the power went out about every 5 minutes. No one blinked an eye or said a word. Work continued, and paused, continued and paused and the power came and went, came and went, came and went. Very official. In the midst of the power comings and goings I noticed a blue smudging of ink that was growing on the immigration papers. It grew and grew until I had to gently point out to the man that his pen had actually exploded and their was ink, all over his table, some of the passports, and his hand. Ah yes, no problem. He didn’t however have another pen. Luckily I had an extra. Wouldn’t that be a story; one bic pen stops dozens of foreigners from entering Sudan. He was quite pleased with the quality of new pen I had on hand.
At another point a ship worker came in with tea for everyone, glass cups, saucers, sugar and milk power bowls, when bham! the tray falls on the ground. The tea and sugar were fine, but milk powder is everywhere. Again, without blinking an eye, the man allowing all 70 of us to enter his country takes a pinch of milk powder from the floor (potentially mixed with glass) stirs it into his tea, and carries on stamping. When the tea offer came to the two of us, again without blinking an eye or making a stir, simply “Oh no thank you” “No problem”. Needless to say, this one tiny snip-it of ‘getting things done in Africa’ is just one of 100 reasons why I absolutely love my job.