An Excerpt from “Art of Life”: Border Control

Posted by on Jun 23, 2014 in Twenty Years On

An excerpt from the book Art of Life by Jennifer New.

While on the STA safari…

The morning of July 15 began poorly. It was just five days since they’d left the coast. The previous night, they’d been unable to find a hotel until 3:00 A.M. People were slow to wake up, despite needing to prepare for the crossing into Malawi later that day. As they groggily packed the vehicles and drank tea, Lorraine let out a series of gasps. No one paid much attention, assuming it was her illness of the day, until she announced that she couldn’t find her passport.

In his head, Dan clearly saw the items halfway down the list his dad had made at the Muthaiga Club: “Troubles at border. Lost passport.” He cursed under his breath and rallied the group, sending two people back to the hotel to search and another two to the police station. After an hour, the passport still missing, he and Lengai hatched a plan. Rather than drive back two hours to the nearest American embassy they’d risk crossing the border without it. From the summer before, they knew that the crossings were often crowded and chaotic late in the day; if there was a good time to fool the guards, that was it.

At the border, Lorraine performed perfectly, re-creating the coughing attack she’d suffered five days earlier when they had entered Tanzania. As Lengai insisted that they had to get to a hospital, the guards unceremoniously waved them through. The group let out an audible sigh, but almost immediately, Dan began to prepare them for the next challenge.

“Malawi is really strict,” he said. “Women must not show their legs. No long hair on the men. And by all means, hide your copies of Africa on a Shoestring. It’s illegal.” Ryan, Jeff, and Roko, all of who had longish hair, scrambled to find their hats under which to stuff their manes. The girls spread kangas over their legs.

Dan and Lengai spoke briefly with the fez-wearing guard, then gestured to the others to get out of the vehicles and line up against the wall. The group exchanged worried glances, noting that Dan looked grim. After walking up and down the line, giving each of them the once over, the guard yelled a command in Cichewa. Lengai translated: “Take off your hats!” The three boys blanched. As they complied, their hair falling down, Lengai, Dan, and the guard – whom they’d recognized from the summer before and recruited for their prank – burst into laughter.


Want to read more excerpts from Art of Life? Lucky for you, we’ll be posting them every Monday! Click here for last week’s post!