Always on time…well almost always on time

By Jack Bird

DSC02789-impI can only imagine what the Zambians must have been thinking as a group of seven “mazungus” (white people) arrived in three cars at the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus. Our luggage looked like it belonged to an entire tour group. Nevertheless, there we were, suitcases, boxes and bags packed onto a curb witnessing the chaos that is public transport in Zambia.

Whatever organization there might have been, I was unable to discern it. A constant stream of taxis, ticket salesmen, street vendors, passengers, cars and buses streamed past our position filling the air with shouts, horns and roaring engines. The motto of our bus company, “Always on Time!” was blazoned across the ticket stand, yet our bus arrived nearly an hour late. Even though Lusaka has plans to modernize its bus depot, the chances of that happening any time soon I reckon are slim. I began to see how difficult it must be to rely on a chaotic transportation system. After somehow cramming our things onto the bus, we set off to Monze in the Southern Province.

DSC02783-impImmediately after we departed, a Pentecostal pastor in a shiny grey suit and tie began preaching in a loud voice for ten minutes. After we heard about the grace of God, he proceeded to gather donations and got off the bus. Even though we were traveling on the main highway between Lusaka and Livingstone, there were few road signs and other vehicles were scarce. The few towns we passed were small and sparse. At one checkpoint, we witnessed long lines of women in traditional skirts selling produce on the side of the road to truck drivers and other passing vehicles.

The landscape was mostly flat with a few hills. The old forests have long since been cut down for firewood and charcoal leaving much of the countryside deforested. Nevertheless, I found the landscape rather breathtaking and was glad to be out of the city.

Despite our late departure, we arrived in Monze just about on time thanks to a heavy-footed driver. We then loaded up the vehicle, which would take us to Chikuni, by strapping our luggage to the roof. The next road made the first seem like a marble highway. We bumped along this one-lane dirt road for about a half an hour, stirring up a cloud of red dust as we traveled further into the bush.

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We arrived in Chikuni before sunset and to happily settle into our new home for the next five weeks. We strolled through the quiet parish town and even caught the end of a high school soccer game. Many of the players were barefoot. As we walked back to the guesthouse, the air was filled with the smell of firewood, which beckoned everyone home for the evening’s dinner.

I think that I speak for my fellow researchers when I say that I am glad we’ve arrived safely at our new home, and that if we thought the bus was an adventure, surely the rural back roads will be even more so.