Jerry and I have been “taking a course” (watching a series of lectures on DVD) about the origin of ancient civilizations. We see one half hour lecture each evening and we take the DVD’s with us when we travel so as to maintain our evening routine. Variety may be the spice of life, but in old age it’s routine that keeps you going.
These courses are said to be college level. They are not really, because their rigor and context are so different from that of student days. You needn’t keep your mind on the material because of the possibility of an exam. You are not required to read a supporting text and therefore not expected to have any prior knowledge of the subject; no references are made without explanation. Many of the courses are long on repetition and short on detail. Still, they can be full of interest and are without the strut and show of similar TV presentations. Ideas are stressed.
In a recent lecture on the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian states the professor discussed state boundaries. In the ancient world, even in Egypt where there was definitely a strong central government, the outer limits of states were not well defined and clearly demarcated boundaries as we know them today did not exist. In the outlying areas there might be a no-man’s land, or perhaps more realistically, every-man’s land, a region of overlapping spheres of limited control between territorial or city states. These often were places of lively exchange in culture, luxury goods, foods and new technologies. They might be areas where nomadic herdsmen of the hills met and traded with the farmers of the river valleys.
I was thinking about these things as we prepared for the journey home from New Zealand. New Zealand’s boundary is well defined, of course, by vast oceans. Not so the border between the US and Canada, which we would have to cross since we were flying into Vancouver. Before we left we had arranged with Jerry’s son, Pat, to pick us up in Vancouver. Pat was making his annual trip from his home in Texas to see his father and friends in the Seattle area. Before we left New Zealand we wanted to confirm with Pat that he would meet us. Pat is a modern person. He keeps his cell phone with him at all times and only answers if he knows who’s calling. Since we were calling from New Zealand his phone would say “out of area.” After repeated phone messages and emails he finally he emailed saying, “I can’t pick you up in Vancouver because I forgot my passport.”
I worried because the bus we would have to take left the airport 5 hours after our arrival at noon, and in addition to getting home after 10 PM we couldn’t pick up the poodles from the kennel on our way home.
Albert, my cousin’s husband, suggested we take a taxi to the border, walk across and have Pat pick us up there. Pat agreed.
In New Zealand we passed through border control easily, except that, as usual, Jerry had to be prompted to remove his hat “for the camera”. In the departure lounge we each had a glass of wine. I was unsure about which wine to order and a woman standing beside me at the bar pointed to a red on the list ($14.50 a glass) and said it was one of the best and that she always took a bottle with her as a present when traveling. I ordered 2 glasses.
There were flights going out to places all over the world: to the south seas, to Singapore, to Buenos Aires, to London, to Sydney and there were crowds of people in lines waiting to board planes. I saw the woman who recommended the wine standing in line to Buenos Aires; she signaled a question — was the wine good? I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Thirteen hours later, in the Vancouver Airport, we were again passing through border control. Hundreds of people from another set of world wide flights snaked through the line to passport control. When we finally achieved the moment of entry into Canada the control agent asked where we lived. When we answered “Lummi Island,” which is just below the border, she said, kindly, “Welcome home!” Then she asked Jerry to remove his hat, “For the camera.”
But we weren’t home yet. The next step was to get a taxi that would take us to the border. More lines, herded along by a taxi dispatcher. I asked the Pakistani driver, tentatively, if he could take us to the border.
He looked at me blankly, “What border?”
When I explained he said, darkly, “That’ll be $100.”
On the way down (about a 25 minute drive) the driver recommended that we cross at the truck crossing. There would be a place where he could turn back to Canada and we wouldn’t have too far to walk with our baggage to passport control. He let us out on the road in the truck area and pointed to a place where we could cross the street and then walk back to the control point. As he drove away a man directing truck traffic showed us a way through the trucks that would involve less walking with baggage.
We weaved our way past lines of huge slowly moving trucks with wheels taller than our heads. Jerry said, “We need to stay where they can see us.” I thought of how we would look in a bird’s eye view — tiny figures dragging bags in the midst of rows of massive freight carrying trucks.
We finally made it to the passport control office where various people were being detained and questioned because of some irregularity in their papers or cargo as they tried to enter the US. There were Mexicans and Chinese and people with turbans, beards, tattoos and saris. It took a long time to get to the counter. The officer, whose hair was almost as gray as ours, looked at us doubtfully and said, “Where do you want to go?”
“We just want to go home.” I answered, wearily.
We explained about Pat and the passport and walking across the border. I said I wasn’t sure where Pat was. The officer asked if he had a phone and Jerry provided the number. The officer called Pat, who answered!
He said, “This is Officer Cramer at passport control. Were you wanting to pick your parents up?”
He got an affirmative.
“Well, I have them here and I am about to release them,” he said and gave Pat directions to a place to pick us up, and then gave us an orange post-it note which he stamped with his official stamp. “Keep this,” he said. “You’ll need it to get out of here.” And we did.
As the barrier bar closed behind us and we crossed unequivocally into the US I began to relax. We collected 2 ecstatic poodles, who became even more excited when we got to the ferry because then they knew they were really going home. Jerry and Pat and I had a pizza for dinner at the Beach Store Café on Lummi Island.
It was thousands of miles in distance and thousands of years in time from the days when the Levant was the busy crossroads between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The borders now are set; control is complete.
Ah borders. I am growing to hate them. Glad you got through though.
Last night we had some friends from Toronto over for dinner. One of the topics of conversation was on border crossings – so many stories. I wish I could have read this out! I love the connections you’ve made to ancient borders. It seems to me that instead of advancing, we’ve gotten far more backward today. I remember in the 80’s driving through many European borders with nary a glance given to our passports and possessions. Anyway, glad you lucked out on a pleasant border officer (very rare in our experience here) and made it home safe though tired.
I well remember the days of border crossing all over Europe and BEGGING to have my passport stamped.
Well count your blessing Anne, you didn’t have to strip and bend over 😀
May I use this post as part of background info for a story I want to write? I like what you’ve written about the unestablished borders in northern Africa.
I found a map of the area you mention in the spine of an old book which has set my storytelling wheels in motion – slow-motion, for the moment, but motion, nonetheless.
As always, Anne, a delightful post from a wonderful storyteller! Glad for you, Jerry and the poodles that you’ve made it home.
(What is the name of the lecture series, by the way?)
Anne, I am mistaken – my map is of the Sahara region, not Egypt. However, I like what you wrote about the lands in between political states being an “everyman’s land.”
Kind of scary to me how such a vague piece of land can keep you out or IN!
You write a wonderful travelogue story. It’s fascinating how borders had been a part of your Ancient Civilisations course. Btw – that sounds an excellent idea. At the moment, we are doing one episode of the Waltons before bedtime. Therapeutic nostalgia! Happy homecoming. Lummi Island looks great! _ I googled it too.
You get into the darndest scrapes (giggles). When will you ever learn?
I felt, as I read, that I was following you around. A pity there was no taste to that virtual pizza 😉 You are a marvelous storyteller – my kids would have loved you. They were forever asking me to “make up true stories” such as yours.
Welcome back to the U. S.
You got here just in time to hear about the massacre in my adopted home town. We are grieving in Tucson.
I so enjoy these dense and detailed narratives of your restless wanderings. You have the travel-writer’s gift of being able to interweave subtly narrative and commentary.
A marvelous account of your border crossing! Welcome home.