Below you can see a map of Zambia. We are right there at the helpful 'Home' button. The country bordering us on our west is the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) formerly known as Zaire. Also known as one of the countries that has been having a lot of trouble with civil war and violence among the tribes.
Thankfully, the majority of the trouble is in the north of the DRC so it really doesn't spill down to our border and there is a huge river separating us so we're pretty safe.Most people just refer to the DRC as 'the Congo' although this isn't really accurate since there is a country called Congo north of the DRC.
When the powers that be drew the modern borders they left this little squiggly piece jutting into Zambia. Zambia now looks a bit like a kidney. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem--countries are free to look like any bean or organ they choose. But, when we wanted to make a trip around Zambia it became a problem. If you look at the picture below you will see the route we have to take if we want to visit our former stomping ground of Ndola or even the capital city Lusaka (which I covered up with my helpful arrows but is now the red dot).
We now had to take the long way around using that red path (for Ndola) or the red and then blue route for Lusaka. And yet, there was a nice little short cut just mocking us. See that purple line? That is the handy dandy shortcut which takes you right through the DRC.
We were nervous to use this shortcut because we had heard bad things about corruption and danger at the borders. Also, anyone with a foreign passport (not Zambian) would have to get a visa for the short trip passing through the DRC. It just didn't seem worth it to us. But then we found out that as holders of a work permit, we qualified to get a Zambian ID card--an ARC (Alien Registration Card). You know that is a great card for my geeky husband to carry.
Once Tom and I got this card we were eager to try out the new route. The only problem was our kids are too young for Zambian IDs and so still had to carry their passports. We got a letter from the Karate Club and Immigration Department asking the Congolese government to grant them free passage through their country. Armed with all our documents we set out one fine Friday morning.
The road from Mansa to the border was not too bad. It was raining a bit but that just cooled things down. Then we got to the border and all went well on the Zambian side. Tom had to go to three different offices but within a few minutes we were on our way. I didn't take any pictures of the offices at any of the border stops. I did not want to have a repeat of the trouble I got into earlier this year.
There used to be a pontoon here. The wait could be hours long.
Since there is a bridge here the border crossing is much smoother.
Then we got to the Congo border. Tom and I pulled out our Zambian registration cards and there was no problem but then the officer asked to see the kids' passports and once I pulled those out we had trouble. Immediately he insisted that we pay the full visa cost for each of them. $50!! I explained that they were our children and we had reg cards. No go. Then we showed the letter from the Karate association and still he refused. In the DRC they speak mostly French and then tribal languages. This close to the border they speak Bemba just like Zambia. The officer we were dealing with spoke only French. He called in a translator who spoke French and Bemba but no English. A girl who was traveling with us for the tournament translated the Bemba into English.
Every time we said anything it had to go from Cassandra to the Bemba officer to the French officer and then back the same way. It was kinda funny. Because of my background in Spanish I understood some of the French, especially when he kept asking incredulously, "Gratis? Gratis?" He could not believe we would ask for free passage.
Finally we convinced the immigration officer that the kids had the same Zambian visa we did and he agreed. Then we found out that the immigration people here in Zambia had stamped Timmy's passport with the wrong stamp. It won't cause him any trouble here but it looked like he was a tourist. We ended up having to get a $50 visa for Timmy. It was really a way for the officer to save face and it still saved us money so we were happy.
The road going through the Congo was not good at all. Perhaps during dry season it would be OK but during rainy season it was pretty treacherous.
There were huge potholes and it was hard to see how bad they were when they were filled up with water.
After trying to pass a slow-moving truck we ended up mired in the mud. Tom quickly switched our tires to four wheel drive and the kids got out to help push.
Where was I? Well, someone had to take the pictures and document the event for posterity! Plus, it was really, really muddy....
The kids didn't need my help. Look at all that Shotokhan power!
We eventually made it to the Zambian border again. The road through the Congo was only 70 km. (@45 miles) but it seemed way longer.
The road from the border to Ndola was horrible as well. It was tarred but had awful, spine-shattering potholes. I'm pretty sure we all shrunk a couple inches from the compression on our spines. and I did not need that at all!
The entire time we were driving down this stretch all Tom could think about was how he was going to have to turn around and drive over it again twice the next day as the tournament was going to be held in the town right at the border.
The bright side of the day came when we reached Ndola. You may think I'm crazy but I actually felt my spirit lifting and it wasn't just because we were off the terrible roads. Ndola will always have a special place in my heart because of the many friends who live there.
The second bright spot came about 30 minutes after we reached Ndola. We got a phone call from the Karate Sensei who informed us that the venue for the tournament had changed. We now only had to drive 45 minutes away on a smooth road. What a relief.
God is so good to keep us safe despite our many adventures, isn't He? Just wait till you hear how he kept us safe today. That is a story for another day.
Exactly One Year Ago: Janet