Border Crossings

It is mid afternoon. The bus is full, and stifling. It is running nearly two hours late, and the kamikaze bus driver has decided he will make up time, overtaking three lorries at a time, and rolling this elderly tin can from lurch to lurch. Seat belts, like suspension, are things to dream of.

In a scruffy little town, it pulls to a stop and everyone gets off. It seems this is the border, but you have to guess that, along with where you have to go to have your passport stamped, photo taken, and fingerprints digitally recorded..eventually.  Leaving there and it is more alarming guesswork. A street hawker tells you, delightedly, ‘ Mama, the bus has gone!’ … and sure enough it has. Where, is the next part of the mystery tour, it seems, along with the forlorn hope of ever seeing our luggage again.  Hand luggage in tow, and life in hands – the road ahead has no pedestrian zones or provision. Health and safety assessed? I think not.  Bikes, buses and huge lorries aplenty, and little care for those struggling on foot. Nearly 1 k or so and it seems there is another sweaty office of officialdom waiting a repeat performance of assessment. Welcome to Uganda.

After the long queue, to be officially validated, the bus magically appears, along with the daemon bus driver ( and luggage! Woo hoo!) Even fuller this time. Every seat + 3/4 without. Squeeze ’em in, stack ’em high. This roller coaster is leaving now. Destination Kampala, six hours down the track.

Returning, the bus had been pre-heated for us, to optimum BBQ temperature, by standing on a forecourt, all windows and doors closed, in the midday equatorial sun.  At least when we approached the border, we had an inkling of what might happen. Except now it was dark. Pitch black.  Same sweaty office, same blank faced officials ( are they ever allowed to leave?) – then the crossing game, made all the more interesting by being unable to see, or more importantly, BE SEEN., by the said bikes, buses and lorries it was necessary to weave our way through.

Second security office. Three European youths, ahead of us, disallowed because of not having the right paperwork. Stranded, late at night in a nowhere border town. Welcome to Kenya, or not, as the case may be.  The bus driver obviously feels we need some exercise and further excitement as he drives past us, on into the night.  He does stop, eventually, but much further up  the dark road. Everyone piles back in, although no tickets are checked, so it is assumed it is the same passengers. Another European youngster in trouble. He had been told this bus would stop at Kisumu. No where near. It looked like he would have to stay on the rest of the night, til Nairobi and get another long bus ride the next day. We took pity on him, and promised to fix him up with decent lodgings in Bungoma, our destination. This should have been an hour up the road. The Kenyan security police have other ideas.

Police check points are regular events all over Kenya. We were given various reasons for them, not all of them kosher. Sometimes I think they are just bored, and want to throw a bit of weight around. So bus stopped. Everyone out. Lined up in male/female lines in the bus headlights and frisked. Bags poked and half heartedly searched. 3/4 of an hour standing in the dark, with patience at a low ebb, after an eight hour journey, at this point.   I was close to giving them a piece of my mind, but wisdom prevailed. That would have meant another two hours and good knows what else.

They say you don’t get under the skin of a country, until you have travelled on local buses..  it certainly adds spice. It seems the walking across the border lark is a regular event all across East Africa. How they know who actually comes in and out, despite the elaborate paperwork is a mystery. Just walk across in the dark and hop on a bus, if you can find one that is.. and one doesn’t find you first.

Where is your home?

Where do you come from?

It is a question I have never known the answer to –  does it mean where I was born?  (Africa)  My national identity ? Where I live now?  I am the child of Scottish and Welsh parents, and thought I was British. Turns out I wasn’t. I travelled on a British passport til I was 18, and then discovered that apparently I had never been entitled to it.   (complications of being born in Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then. It subsequently became a non recognised state, and my status was further complicated by my father having been born in India) I had to apply to be a British Subject with an application in the newspaper;  (do you know of any reason this person cannot be thus honoured?) only gaining my full citizenship when I married a few years later.

Where do you live? Well although my latter life has been more static, I have moved house 22 times, and lived in 4 countries and 3 continents. I have been a refugee from  national turbulence and war, on at least 3 or 4 occasions, leaving at short notice.  This somewhat nomadic childhood could have been unsettling, but wasn’t. It gave me a world view, and enhanced my flexibility in pretty well everything. It made me multilingual, not in the conventional sense, ( I was in the back of the queue when the usual skills for that were handed out – French. German, Latin. I tried. (And failed.) ) but perhaps in just as useful a way.  It gave me a wanderlust, and I have been a globe trotter ever since, hungry to see more of this beautiful planet.

Home is where you hang your heart’ was the message I received, and made my own. In other words, where ever you are. Bloom where you are planted, whatever the soil or the terrain.  I don’t know ‘where I am from’  or really where my earthly ‘home’ is, but it doesn’t bother me unduly. It has dawned on me that I have always been a pilgrim/nomad. I live without borders, or rather I move easily between borders of many kinds, with little or no sense of needing to stay within them. Sometimes I don’t even notice they are there.  This can be tricky if there are ‘border guards’ who aren’t happy with you leaving / or coming in, for that matter. If you have a passport stamp from one ‘country’  it can make  getting into another which doesn’t see eye to eye with their neighbours, less than comfortable. It can be painful too- being at home in each, and yet they at war with each other.  I by-pass both the borders, and the stamps, where I can, and try not to get caught in cross fire.

Now I find myself at theological college.  ( After a gargantuan struggle with God over this calling to priesthood business. That was largely about boxes. “Don’t put me in a box God! Especially an Anglican Vicar shaped one!” …mmm.. beginning to see deeper layers still, in that struggle )  A college that prides itself on defying labels and celebrating diversity.  Learning within the richness of a Federation, that spans even wider theological territories.  Having worshipped and ministered in a whole variety of contexts and churchmanships , I  can’t really say I have a spiritual home either. I move very naturally up and down  ‘the candle, and have good  friends whose homes are at both ends, and all places in between.  Being in a college that lets me wander, and doesn’t try to tie me down, is a gift to a person like me. The  diversity of the many ‘homes’ I visit, enriches and enlarges me.

Don’t fence me in” I don’t think I am a rootless cowboy, as the song goes, but I am slowly realising just how strong a theme this has been in my life. Living without borders, and moving easily between all sorts of strata, and perimeters, is very much part of who I am. We are all pilgrims in one sense or other….( mixing up my metaphors)  but we are not all called to be nomads. It seems I am, and I can run with that.

My real home, I guess is a Heavenly one, and my citizenship that matters most to me, is also there.  ‘Til then I am happy to continue being a nomad.  Pitching my tent wherever God takes me.