I spent six hours traveling from Duala to Bo Waterside, not because I wanted to, but my travel documents were not in place and I was being threatenedby immigration officers that if I did not go back to Monrovia to obtain a passport, I would not cross over to Sierra Leone.
“We can’t allow you to cross the Liberian border, you are a journalist of the state and you should not be in another country and not have protection or your travel document,” I was told by an official at the Bureau of Immigration. “Go back to Monrovia and if you attempt to cross the border without your passport or Emergency Travel Certificate, you will be arrested and anyone who fools you to cross will be handled by the law,” they threatened.
I was taken aback because in my presence, there were men and women of all ages being asked at the gate where they were going, some were allowed to cross while those who looked new to traveling were being asked where they were going.
“I’m going to the market across,” some would say.
“Okay cross,” they would be told by an immigration officer.
“I’m going to Freetown,” the other would announce.
“Show your documents,” an officer would shout. An ongoing process.
The boarder seems to be one of the busiest places across the western part of Liberia. The market women who travel for hours from Cape Mount, Bomi and Monrovia to buy market (goods) like peanuts, dried fish, plum (mangoes), rice and condiments from Bo Waterside, come dressed in worn out lappah.
They do this for a reason. The dress code seems to give them easy access to cross the border without any difficulty.
“These women live right at the border here and because of lack of certain things that they can only get across Sierra Leone, that’s why we let them cross without documents, because we know them,” stated an unidentified Immigration officer.
Meanwhile, I came back with a Laissez Passé after explaining to the Director of the Passport Division about my situation and urgent need to visit Sierra Leone and was issued one based on the notion that after my arrival, I would apply for a passport.
But crossing Sierra Leone boarder was as frustrating as spending the double fare to return to Monrovia for proper documents, it was like entering into a destitute place, I was treated as if being a Liberian was wrong.
“You better leave the colloquial to that gate. Anyone who doesn’t speak Krio here will not be given visitation. You think na Liberia here huh,” shouted a guy who claimed to have once worked at Hott FM Radio station as a reggae DJ.
He refused to share his name when I identified myself as a journalist; in return he threatened me.
“You better go to your Liberian embassy and ask for permission to write or cover any news in our country when you get to Freetown,” he said
I agreed that I would.
I was asked to pay 5,000 Leones equivalent to 100 LD, which I did, despite my grumble on the fact that all my documents were correct. I was told I should go back to Liberia if there was any problem.
I agreed to pay.
And the process went on through customs, immigration and a check point that I don’t remember ever being there before 2011. I was told by residents that after Ebola, it was placed there to screen anyone who might be sick trying to cross.
By the time I boarded a PutaPuta heading to Bo, Sierra Leone, which cost me US$20, a yellow and orange long tailed station wagon; I had spent close to US$5 at the Sierra Leonean border and US$5 at the Liberian boarder.