Borders I’ve known

Borders I’ve known

With cold beer in my hand, I watched the sun setting over southern Angola just across the Kavango River flowing at the bottom of the Guest House garden. Behind me lights were coming on, the town market buzzing with activity, optimism returning now SWAPO had freed Namibia of South African rule. But across that border there was no optimism, indeed no lights, except those from a single 4×4 truck, with mounted machine-gun, patrolling the border-line.

Ten metres of water separated one country from the other, one growing the other in decline. Cousins lived on both sides of this border, a line drawn on a map in the conference room of a European country by men who had never set foot in this vast continent of Africa.

On another continent I have seen a stream, a trickle of water no more than a metre wide, as the border. Again on one side a country in the anguish of armed conflict the other peaceful if not democratic. One side the makeshift camp where several hundred internally displaced people were making their home with what little they could carry with them when the army attacked. On the other side red flags fluttered above the bamboo houses to warn the helicopter gun-ships they were on the other side of the border and not to be attacked.

People on both sides of this stream spoke the same minority ethnic language, ate the same kind of food, grew rice and raised pigs and chickens, separated only by another line on a map, agreed at a peace conference they knew nothing about.

At least these borders where not demarcated by fences topped with razor-wire as we have seen thrown up across borders of European countries in recent years to keep migrants out. Nor walls of stone or vallum et fosaas made by the Romans or King Offa, or President Trump as much to assert their authority by keeping out undesirable tribes.

Try as we might to break down borders and barriers, the human psyche seems to wants them. We still have a need to be identified as part of a family, a group, a tribe, a country; an evolutionary imperative for survival of our species.

And when it comes to the written or spoken word we seem to revel in having borders to define different genres. Often it appears that the devotees of a particular genre are superior to those devotees of another, or lesser genre. But here in Penzance the norms found elsewhere have less relevance. A man walking down Causewayhead in black top-hat and tails, and Doc Martens is less likely to attract attention than a man in a smart three-piece city suit.

So whatever genre-lover you are then you will find yourself at home at the Penzance LitFest. Here no borders exist, once you’re west of the Tamar!

Robin Knight