Then add to those dozens and dozens of potential stopping points, four borders, each with a set of exit officials and entry officials, each a 45 minute to two hour process. And in no case is there a clear posting of fees, or a procedure to follow, it is all hit and miss and obscurity. There are offices for stamping passports, for dealing with the vehicle, for paying for visas, for declaring the luggage. There are immigration officials, police officers, and numerous other bureaucrats, plus hawkers of everything from peanuts to dress shirts, prostitutes, beggars, and fellow travelers, all in the hot equator-intense sun. At the various windows the idea of a queue is replaced by the huddle of push-your-way-to-the-front, but most people in the no-man's-land of the border zone seem to be merely spectators waiting for a scene.
If it was just a matter of time, or inconvenience, I think we would take it in stride, this is Africa, efficiency is not expected. But at all these police checks and border offices, there is the hanging cloud of uncertainty. Did we do all the proper paper-work, or not? Will it cost nothing, 10 dollars, or a hundred? Will we be waved through, or told to turn around and go back to the previous border or town? Are there rules of justice here, or are we at the mercy of greed? The reaction of any one officer can be so completely arbitrary. For instance on the way INTO Tanzania, we were told the official who clears the vehicle had gone far away to his home for the night, so we would have to park in the border area and wait for the next day. However after hanging out with the immigration people for a half hour, they took pity, and walked a hundred yards to the home of the correct official, and he walked briefly back and cleared us. But it could have gone either way, and perhaps we were just so oblivious to the bribe hints in this case they gave up . On the other side of Tanzania, the first official we came to at the initial border gate looked at Scott's paperwork and said: you were in the country 8 days. Yes, Scott said, we told them at the entry border it could be up to two weeks (which was clearly marked on the form), but it was a bit shorter. Well, the man starts to yell now, you have broken the law, if you are in the country more than 7 days with a vehicle you have to pay a tax. Fine, Scott says, I'll pay, I'm very sorry sir, they did not tell us that at the when we entered by the other border. By now the man has worked himself up, and keeps screaming angrily at Scott, waving his arms threateningly, accusing him of not knowing the laws, saying it was Scott's job as a visitor to search out the regulations, not the other border agents' job to tell him, spitting out angrily that we have not respected the laws of Tanzania. This goes on for about 20 minutes while he makes Scott wait in his office listening to his outrage, practicing the wisdom of turning the other cheek. It is unnerving and unpleasant to say the least, the degree of hostility spewed forth, over a mere $20 that we were quite willing to pay.
The stress of these encounters tends to fatigue Scott more than the rest of us, as he always bears the brunt of the interrogations and bureaucracy. One evening I watched "The Great Debaters", a movie about racial tensions in Texas in the 1930's. And I see an echo of the same emotions in our experiences here. We are not at risk of lynching, so I don't want to take the analogy too far, but I think we perceive a small taste of what it was like to be constantly at risk of being the victim of a small-minded, insecure official deciding to put our class of people (in this case, white foreign aid workers) in their place, to push us into obsequious apology, to demonstrate to nearby companions just who is boss. Our skin highlights our difference, our otherness, our not-belonging, something anyone can see from far away. And in our case, the legacy of oppression and colonization gives Africans a legitimate suspicion. So I think Scott is one of the few 21rst century American male doctors with white skin, who can empathize with the discomfort and tension and potential harm of being stopped by a police officer without having done anything wrong. I suppose there is some value in that, in spite of the cost.