Crossing the border, waking the dead

The Gambian border post at Amdallai looks the same as back in 2006. I do not have my belongings searched and am not told lies about carrying illegal materials (such as a radio) as I was back then. There is much less corruption.

I walk past the detention cage to the interview room where the official, dressed in his own clothes, has a friendly chat. He writes in a log book and sends me to the other office.

Several members of the Gambian Immigration Department (surprisingly of both genders) – bearing epaulettes emblazoned GID – chat and smile around two large desks. The atmosphere is convivial, and one of the men completes a line of a large book with my details.

‘Profession?’

‘Staff Nurse’

Now it’s my turn for interrogation.

A female border officer asks me why she cannot have children. I tell her that her husband may not be fertile.

A male border officer asks me how to revive someone who has been dead for a day. I tell him to wrap him in a sheet and put him on the fire. We laugh.

Then he tells me it wasn’t a joke.

He describes unconsciousness. Some people just fall down from dehydration or infection or exhaustion or hypoglycemia and are considered dead at that point. The assumption then becomes the reality. A life – many lives perhaps – cut short by poverty and lack of basic training.

Two weeks later, I complete the same journey in reverse, back from Senegal to Gambia. The GID staff recognise me right away.

We joke about the female – I say she needs a new husband to make children. I point to another member of staff. She declines: joking that she loves the taller, slimmer immigration officer. I tell her to take him to the hospital first and check that he’s fertile. Everyone laughs.

It is nice being somewhere that my jokes are found funny, but also where people are genuinely kind. One of the officers walks me to the shared taxi area where, perhaps because I’m accompanied by him, I am quoted the correct fare of 35 Dalasi.

The crowded, sweaty, dusty minibus slowly begins its journey to Banjul. The fact of my homecoming begins to sink in.

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