Chelsi and her mother bumped up to the end of the road in the short bus they had all to themselves. This was the portion of their trip that produced the most anxiety and dread in Chelsi when she had originally read it on their itinerary. But more than that just now, it was signaling something more; it marked the last of their vacation.
The driver stopped the bus. “Let me just help you with the door,” he said hopping out.
“Okay, are you ready?” Chelsi’s mother stood up. “Don’t forget the umbrella.”
“NOT the Umbrella!” She exclaimed sarcastically. The passenger door popped open just then. Chelsi looked up. Through the windshield she could see the river. It was maybe only 50 or 60 yards across, she thought, but the potential for disaster made it feel miles wide.
Her and her mother gathered up their hand luggage and met the bus driver outside. “This is the river that marks the board of Botswana and Zambia. You are on the Botswana side now but you will be transferred into Zambia with the help of our boat captain.” He started with their luggage towards an aluminum dingy. Well, at least the boat and its captain are actually here. After a year of transporting through Zambia Chelsi had significantly lowered her expectations for the arrival, departure times of all kinds of transports. With this being her first boat ride, she was not sure what to expect and so mentally prepared herself for the worse.
It’s floating, so that’s a good start. There was no dock, but to ease the boarding of passengers, sandbags had been piled up to create a sort of ramp. Chelsi used the umbrella to balance herself. The boat wobbled a bit under her foot when she stepped on. A few rows of benches were bolted down to the floor. She looked back towards her mother, who was looking far more sure-footed. She confidently picked a spot on one of the benches and settled herself. Chelsi picked the bench just a head of her but never settled.
Just to their right a large barge began across the width of the river, saddled with a semi. “Are we all together?!” The captain called firing up the engine. Chelsi’s mother nodded her head and gave her a wide smile.
“Are you ready? Are you okay?”
“Boats like this make me nervous.”
As they pull away from the brush along the shore the makings of a bridge was revealed to their right. It stretched almost half the width of the river. “Look at that!” her mother pointed. Won’t it make this crossing easier when it’s done?!”
“Yeah, which’ll be sometime in the next decade!” Chelsi hadn’t really thought about it when she said it. The pessimism just rolled off her tongue. When she realized what she implied her heart swelled with a bit of regret. After all they’re halfway on the Botswana side and it looks like the have the end done on the Zambia side, when Chelsi heard the sound of captain over her thoughts.
“That’s the bridge they are building to connect Botswana and Zambia! Now the trucks wait up to four day to cross! There is only that one barge, and it can only work 6 am to 6 pm when the boarder is open! But when this temporary bridge is done the trucks will be able to go, go!”
“It’s a temporary bridge!? And when will it be finish!?” Chelsi’s mother called back.
“The temporary bridge, five years!” the captain said cheerfully. “And there where you see that tower! That is where the permanent bridge will start! They say that one will take ten years!”
Nope, never mind, Chelsi thought, her heart shrinking down. Her mother turned back to look at her in disbelief. Chelsi shrugged an ‘I told you.’
“Why bother even building a temporary bridge? Why not just build the permanent bridge? You would think this would be a high priority, given the traffic, that they would want it done sooner,” her tone was confused and hushed over the sound of the boat motor, which was giving one last reave as it pushed them up on to the shore of Zambia.
“As many a volunteer has said, ‘Welcome to Zambia’. Here reason and truth are whatever you choose them to be.” The hum of the motor petered out. “And just don’t think about anything too hard.” Chelsi stood up, hook the umbrella on her arm and gathered up the rest of her things. They were ushered off the boat in to a throng of people. Chelsi took one last glance over her shoulder at the peaceful shore of Botswana, the two weeks of stress free relaxation. Her heart hardened, her gut unwound, Welcome to Zambia.