Saturday, 23 March 2013

Between Two Sovereign States

If thresholds are nebulous and boundaries are amorphous, then borders are chains draped in tatters of red and white poly bags, punctuated by flunkies with reams of red tape. Seas of equanimity stranded in eddies of confusion and interest, challenges and entertainment. I love them…. now I understand the rules: There are no rules. Every jurisdictive crossing is different, both in character and method, and if your transfer involves the title ‘Estado Plurinational de Bolivia‘, then it will have the added ingredients of delirious colours and milling confusions.

The frontera is announced by the quality macadam degenerating from slick smooth asphalt to cracked cement. ‘Crete flows, punctuated by leads of tyre-grabbing sand, archipelagos of traders' stalls streaming out from the pavement, islands of humanity aimlessly wandering with determined purpose, all breaking around the reef that is The Establishment; Document Control. Commercial clutter. Mercantile mayhem. Everybody has a dollar to make, but some are more determined, more purposeful than others: The ‘Bagagero’. We’re working our way through the Institutions of Bureaucracy; it’s a leisurely event, a processing that seems deliberately slow, but affords us an opportunity to watch a remarkable happening.

No merchandise crossed by
motor mechanical means in the time we were being franked out and in. All the tonnages, and they were considerable, were moved by a man and his sack barrow. Seventy-five kilos per second, four thousand five hundred kilos per minute, two hundred and seventy thousand kilos every hour. Man, woman and youth, each with their cart, all on piece-rates. Wheat flour, tuna fish, boxed wine, bottled water. It’s biblical. An un-peaceful, human powered, one-way conveyor belt, with the occasional crate of empty, deposit paid, beer bottles returning to the south.

It’s new, it’s novel and I’ve seen it before. The leaf cutter ant. The purposeful endeavor, the bustling scuttle, the
multitudinous organisation. The ants' motorway. The ‘persona-pista’. There’s even a blue pinnied ‘cholita’, a crossing attendant to allow the occasional foot traveller or the rare cyclist to break through. We breach the flow and it immediately heals. Leaving me to wonder: Why? To ponder on pulled muscles,
 back braces and the manual handling commandments.

Leaving us to collect another three stamps, bringing the trip total up to a page consuming, passport depleting twenty-seven. At this rate of attrition, we’ll both need new papers very soon.

The Establishment always has the last laugh. It needs its dollar.