A Travellerspoint blog

Zambia

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 Comments (0)

The wonders of Zambian transport


View Tazara on Gelli's travel map.

When I look back at Zambia in weeks or years time and i'm asked (or, more likely, i get very drunk and decide to share my “wisdom” with the world) what i remember most about Zambian public transport, I'm not sure what my response will be. Perhaps the glorious redemption of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, being imparted to you at great volume and with great passion by well-wishers who get on buses to preach before the start of virtually every journey, and by people who if only they would finish quickly and get off the s0dding bus would possibly enable it to leave only 30minutes late. It might be the wonderfully rickety railway service which sometimes works on a couple of routes, but can take you a week to travel 50km, more or which follows in a few episodes time.

Perhaps it will be the Zambian populations general time-keeping principles which means that an 8am bus might leave at 8.45am (unlikely), 10.20am, 11.57am, Thursday or not at all, depending on vague circumstances which will never be mentioned let alone understood. “Now” means at some point today. “Now Now” means maybe in the next hour if you are lucky. “Now, Now, Now”, shouted to a driver and with a knife to the guys throat whilst waving a 100usd bill, might mean you will leave in the next 20minutes but I wouldn't bet on it. For somebody like me who is used to delays of days and weeks (heck, i grew up on used to BRST – British Rail Sub-Standard Time) and is also not on any kind of schedule, it can be mildly frustrating and very hot, but no big deal. To Zambia's foreign residents and many other visitors it is an invitation to commit mass murder, or at least sob quietly or seethe publicly.

Potentially, it is the customer service. Asking the time of departure generally gives you the time they think you want to hear, and changes repeatedly depending on who you ask and why: The sheer uselessness, unhelpfulness (Which I doubt is a real word) and brilliant ineptitude of the average Zambian bus company employee is almost awe inspiring. All fares are negotiable, even those which really, really aren't. And for those uninitiated in similar places, arriving on foot (in particular) or by bus to somewhere like Lusaka's central bus station for the first time there is potential to have a coronary on the spot. By the time you have to walk there for the 3rd or 4th time, you almost seriously start considering whether to hire a private helicopter instead of using a humble coach.

Maybe I will remember fondly that minibuses are pleasantly full, but not stupidly so (A Toyota Hiace, the standard minibus of Zambia, would seat 10passengers in Europe and 15 - plus kids who don't count – in Zambia, but at least 20 in many other African and Asian countries and probably 35 in Cambodia excluding the dozen on the roof....) and leave when full. Which is no great problem on short and popular/city routes, but can easily be 3 or 4 hours+ to smaller outlying towns and areas.

Having said all that, I have a feeling that what I will remember most is the scenery, which is almost uniformly pleasant, with a few dodgy spots and highlights thrown in along the way. Zambia, at least at this time of the year is a lovely green country and at least on many routes, the roads are good enough that you can actually enjoy it. The only problem is that you routinely end up sometimes seeing too much of the more boring bits of th countryside up close and for longer periods than expected...

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3 punctures – plus a punctured spare, and passing at least a half dozen puncture, crashed or overturned buses and trucks - on our first 2 bus journeys is all part of the experience. And after somehow surviving Namibia without a single puncture (which I am still stunned by), we were long overdue

Posted by Gelli 09:28 Archived in Zambia Tagged bus Comments (0)

I've always wanted a power shower but...

And then there was 3, and I was down to but a single Finnish girl. A very cute Finnish girl, granted, but still just a single Finnish girl. Which after having 3 for so long, comes both a a relief and a sad disappointment. At least I don't have to listen to all that strange foreign warbling anymore.

Just different foreign warbling.

Dr. Livingstone famously noted* on discovering Victoria Falls that it was the grandest and most glorious sight that he had seen, far surpassing any sight that any European had ever set eyes on. I think I can safely say that Dr. Livingstone did not reach Victoria Falls just after a bad rainy season. I saw virtually nothing. But it was still great.

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A doubtless very cheesy (and very wet) family picture

On the Zambian side of the falls (where we were), you are so close to the falls that during and after bad rainy seasons, the Zambezi is so over-laden and has so much water, that you can't actually see the falls. All you see are occasional glimpses of the falls amongst the vast torrents of water that gush over them barely 50m away, and perhaps more relevantly from a personal point of view, you.

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After Angola, Zimbabwe became the second country this month that i've seen but not been able to visit. This is the bridge across the Zambezi linking Zambia (left) and Zimbabwe (right) with idiots (centre) constantly bungeeing off it as well.

No guidebook or information in Livingstone really prepares you for just how wet you are going to get. Even in the park itself, there is a solitary man renting waterproofs and umbrellas (! - what use is an umbrella when water comes at you from every conceivable angle, and several unconceivable ones), but still no warning. Maaret had been here on her way to Namibia (and look how well that had turned out) and so had warned me. Nothing was taken that was not waterproof, or well wrapped in several plastic bags, or called Fred.

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Top, this is pretty much the best view of the falls i got due to the spray, whilst (centre) the photo is not corrupted just spray covered and (bottom) Fred and I crossing the small bridge over the falls, which is an exercise in attempting not to drown from the mass of spray

Despite the perhaps slight disappointment at not seeing the full glorious vista (no, no XP jokes here), it was great, for it is probably only at this time of year that you really get it appreciate the sheer volume of water and awesome power it contains. And besides, it just gives me an excuse to return in dry season to see it properly...

And what, i don't hear you ask, of Fred? He kept making friends, of course:

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  • He didn't, really. But he did allegedly say something almost along the same lines, and as i'm too lazy to find a real quote that's good enough for me.

Posted by Gelli 09:24 Archived in Zambia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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