Shawn and I had a lot of catching up to do.
But we had only seven hours to catch up on four years and two months. He had errands to run in Cape Town as well as other people to visit before he drove back to Swellendam. I had Donald Duck to color and a book to write.
We chatted in that haphazard way that people do when they haven’t seen each other for years (and didn't know each other that well in the first place). We jumped from topic to topic, forgetting to finish stories and then occasionally sitting in silence.
My favorite Shawn story from the last few years was about his second trip to Zambia. On his first trip--as told to me in 2001--he’d been mugged in Livingstone while riding a bicycle.
This time he had not fared any better. Worse, actually. He’d been thrown in a Livingstone jail within days of entering the country.
Shawn has made his own business of being relief manager to upscale lodges throughout southern Africa. He’s replaced vacationing managers in Mozambique, South Africa, and Botswana in addition to Zambia.
He’d entered Zambia on a tourist visa, which is a common enough practice for people not planning on full-time or permanent employment. Perhaps he’d been planning to get his work permit later or maybe he was not. Sometimes it’s better not to ask.
A few day-workers had come over from Zimbabwe, also on tourist visas. It was a Friday afternoon when the police showed up to check their permits. Perhaps a disgruntled employee had notified the authorities.
The police warden told Shawn and the Zimbabweans to get their passports and mobile phones. They were working illegally, and they were going to jail. The lodge owner would have to pay a fine to get them out, but this was not possible over the weekend as all the officials would be out of the office. No doubt this Friday afternoon raid was scheduled for maximum inconvenience.
The cell was a temporary holding cell in the police station, but there was nothing temporary about the crowd that had obviously been inside of it for a long time.
“What about the toilet?” I asked. “Was it public like in the movies?”
“It was a hole in the ground but it was so dark that you could not see the hole. I decided immediately that I would eat or drink nothing. And the hole was so full that there was…” he paused and grimaced, “…thick sludge all over the floor.”
“My first thought was that I was going to stand for the entire weekend. But within a few hours, I was sitting in the sludge with everyone else. The Zimbabweans were too. They were even more scared than I was.”
Shawn had been in jail before, when he’d refused to join the South African army to fight Angolans. That jail had been relatively nice. He’d gardened and cut hair in the South African jail.
There was no fun happening in Zambia, until Monday when the lodge owner paid the fines and got the proper documentation. After that, the warden greeted Shawn warmly whenever he saw him in town.
“Shawn, my friend the Namibian! How are you?” And the warden had such a huge smile, said Shawn, that he couldn’t even stay mad at him.
Shawn must be a very kind-hearted man. I could never be nice to a person who made me sit in sludge and shit for an entire weekend.