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The delights of city planning

I'm not exactly sure who designed and built Lusaka, but if i had to guess i would say nobody at all. I would guess that it was designed as some kind of cunning social experiment, as curiously, Lusaka, a populous capital city, notably seems to lack both a centre and anything to do. The 'city centre' if you can call it that is a single main road lined mostly with banks and financial institutions, and pretty much nothing else. By 6pm, it is a ghost town and a no-go area. Admittedly many cities, such as London, have financial and business centres which get quiet at night, but they do at least normally have area where there are people and other stuff as well. To top it off, the city has been built with pretty much no way to travel from anywhere to anywhere else without passing through the small central area, meaning travelers from East to South, HAVE to go via the centre (which pretty much consists of a roundabout at each end of 1km of Cairo Road, the city centre) regardless of if they are using public transport or private car. Which takes time.

The central street is kind of loosely surrounded by 3 big minibus stations and several smaller ones, which are all an absolutely chaotic hive of activity during the day, but again tend to close around sunset. There are also a couple of rough markets fairly close. But nothing else. No real shops to speak of, no restaurants or bars, or really anything else to attract people into the city. Talking to ex-pats in the city, and their general escape of choice and destination for relaxation or amusement are two shopping centres, fairly close together in the North East suburbs and what are at least in a way, white ghetto's. Yup, Zambia is living the Ameican dream: for entertainment, go to the mall. I tend to like 'real' lived in cities, of the sort that other people and tourists rarely like, but even i struggled to warm to central Lusaka. It's a very odd place.

Chawama, on the other hand, I loved.

Maaret had been living in Lusaka for 6months before she came to Namibia, working as a teacher in a vocational school on one compound, and living with a Zambian family in Chawama, another large compound in the south. A compound is pretty much the local name for what in the Western press would be called a slum, and Chawama is one of the largest in Lusaka. Housing maybe 200,000 people (nobody really has the faintest idea), it is a higgeldy assortment of brick, metal and wood shacks and dwellings of varying size and colour, in a maze of dusty, potholed and rubbish filled alleyways and streets. At a rough estimate there were 12 mzungu's (white people) living there. Most residents were poor, pretty darned poor or really, really poor, but at the same time I felt much more comfortable – and safer – wandering around Chawama than I did in the rest of Lusaka, and, heck, parts of most European cities.

It is hard to describe, and for some reason I didn't feel right taking photos of it (even though there would be no problem) so you'll just have to believe that I loved it and try and picture mentally something that you probably can't picture.

But by far the best part of Lusaka was the family, who were stunningly friendly and welcoming, and especially the kids, who adopted me as their latest play-toy and climbing frame with unbridled (and loud) enthusiasm.

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Happy parents Purity and Handsen, with 1month old Gracious

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The crazy kids: Thabo (left), Prince (back), Malelego and Clare (front)

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This is pretty much what I did in Lusaka. Got turned into a kids climbing frame. The inflatable snake is Cedric, though sadly he and Fred did not get on and so he remains with kids in Lusaka

Posted by Gelli 05:44 Archived in Zambia Tagged round_the_world

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