Sunday, May 17, 2009

Departures and Arrivals - chapter ii: Farewells and Beginnings

The day finally arrived where our Southern African team would fragment - just as team Burkina and team SA split at the end of predep our SA team would split at the end of in country training.

On May 13th our good friends on the Burkina team parted ways with us at the airport; it was odd not having our francophone buddies hanging around anymore. (To everyone on team Burkina: bon voyage and safe travels! Be sure to stay in touch throughout the summer)

On May 17th the cycle of farewells continued as we, the Z-team, the Zambian JFs, the IDE +2.... - Well let's stick to the "Zambian JFs" for now - departed for our long journey to Lusaka and fragmented from the Malawi Muzungus. Splitting the team up was both exciting but also a little sad - I think we developed quite the team over the last two(ish) weeks and it'll be strange not having the group around.{ I'll be missing that distinct SA JF vibe that you all brought to the table (figuratively and literally). But it is also very exciting! So very exciting to see where everyone on the team will go as they walk the road that is their placement. - see you all at retreat!}

Traveling to Lusaka

We left bright and early - thanks for the send off Malawi! - and rode a mini bus to the Border. A mini bus is essentially an expanded mini-van. It was an EWB only mini bus since we had so many packs and quite a few bodies. The road was smoother than expected and I slept most of the way to the border. Colorful little villages dotted the roadside; villagers walked by the roadside, what they were doing I do not know, passing quickly into the distance along with their villages. Travel in Malawi feels fast. The wind gusts through every orifice on the mini bus creating a sensation of speed.

Suddenly the mini bus pulls to a halt - a Malawi police roadblock. It seems these police officers (army?) are camped by the road side. Our mini bus slowly crawls off the road and into the red soil - an officer approaches the vehicle and we all file out. I eye him cautiously and curiously - yet another road block...What might he be looking for? The open Malawi air refreshes my lungs and my legs are more than thankful to be off the mini bus. But before I can figure out what exactly just happened we are whisked back onto the bus. The bus grinds to life and heads to the open road at full speed.

We finally arrived at the border and bid farewell to our mini bus and its driver. It is nice to be outside of the bus but I feel very groggy. Immediately we are swarmed by money changers - they come to us in small groups or pairs offering us different rates for USD to Kwacha or Malawian Kwacha to Kwacha. They are enthusiastic and persistent - who are these men and how did they end up here? Every new experience leaves me with even more questions that I will be hard pressed to find answers to.

Crossing out of Malawian territory is very easy; a simple walk through a station and the team is no longer in Malawi. Crossing into Zambia is entirely harder in terms of paper work and financial transactions. It costs a good eighty dollars (USD) to enter Zambia - a small price to pay for the experiences we will all have - but it is still a large amount to spend all at once.

Walking out of the outpost we are greeted by more money changers. We fend them off and head towards taxis waiting to ferry us to town where we can find a bank and catch a bus to Lusaka. The road to town is full of detours due to construction efforts. Work crews and their red stone repair material dot the roadway. I am told that this is because the road was poorly constructed the first time and now the Zambian government must fix it. When we are on the main road the travel is fairly smooth - the pace is almost hypnotic and I have trouble staying awake; however, when the driver takes a detour the taxi bottoms out and we are all tossed a little. I'm jolted back to my senses every time a major road repair stands between the taxi and town. The scenery is very similar to Malawi but is gradually turning into hills and there are many more trees. Eventually we reach the Barclay’s Bank. Zambian style Kwacha, is something I will struggle to get used to. There is about 5000 Kwacha to a dollar - easy right? Except machines only give 50000 Kwacha notes and many people do not wish to change a 50. To put things into perspective the ride to Lusaka cost 115 000 K.

The bus was crowded and full of life - various people from all walks of life continued to pile onto the bus. In one row you might see a man in a sharp business suit and in another a woman in traditional style clothes - there is great diversity on the bus. Patience is an asset on the Zambian bus line as the bus doesn't have a set time of departure - it leaves when it is full. With our huge travel bags stowed and our tickets in hand we all headed onto the bus - tired, excited, and ready for the road ahead. The only remaining section that had enough seats for all of us was the back row so we all sat there. As the bus slowly reached maximum capacity we would hear the occasional engine jitter as the driver revved the bus up. Eventually the bus lurched to life and once again we hit the Zambian roadside. The first leg of the trip begins to blur in my mind amidst games of twenty questions, questions, and book talk. Eventually I succumb to my exhaustion and I am asleep.

When I wasn't dancing with the sandman the scenery I saw was far different than anything I have ever seen in Canada, but a little reminiscent of the rolling hills that I saw on the bus ride somewhere between Calgary and Tijuana so many years ago. {perhaps this nostalgia is actually nostalgia of being crammed into a bus?} Rich forests surround the road side – a sight different from what Malawi granted us. Villages are also further spread out. As I nod in and out of sleep the bus becomes more and more crowded. When I fell asleep I was sitting beside Mike Klassen, when I awoke a Zambian man was beside me. Buses continue to pick up passengers as they trudge towards their goal – in this case Lusaka. Different styles of music can be heard in the background: reggae, African pop, some western music too. Occasionally the same tune would loop two or three times – I even heard a rasta rewrite of the old song “where have all the flowers gone”. One time I awoke and heard a heated argument – apparently the bus had been stopped and it was necessary for some passengers to get off. Was it the police? I couldn’t tell. After a good twenty minutes the bus finally resumed and left a few passengers behind. Oddly there is little audible conversation on the buses when they are moving…

As we got closer and closer to Lusaka the sun began to set and a movie began to play… Arnold Swarzteneger’s Commando? Odd movie. It was pitch black when we arrived in Lusaka – we were once more swarmed by taxi drivers upon disembarking. We eventually regrouped at Kuomboka Backpackers, which is a hostel EWB volunteers frequent. The hostel is enclosed by walls and a large metal gate that slowly slides open - agonizing sounds of rusted metal scraping and lurching resound in accompaniment.Upon arriving we we were met by a group of OVS and some other Canadians and had a warm Indian meal waiting for us.

Kuomboka Backpackers is exactly what I picture in my mind when I think of a place expats would gather - only there are many more Zambians than expats. An outdoors bar is covered by a strawstyle roof - behind the bar is a Zambian barkeep who is busy getting beers and fantas from the fridge. A few men sit at the bar watching the tv anxiously; I think a soccer/football game was playing. In the corner is an expat writing in her notebook.

We all filed to the outdoors bar and began to unwind. Mark - a EWB OVS was there - and we were later joined by Hans and John (who brought the food... mmm!) I also met another Canadian named Marissa who is working on a highschool north of Ndola - perhaps I will get a chance to see this project.

Yet another day of travel had completed and it was time for sleep . . .

Intermission: A day in Lusaka

I was informed by Melissa that Esther, my counterpart with SHIP, would be leaving Lusaka on the 19th at 5:35 am. This meant that the 18th could be a day for me to catch up on sleeping, eating, and healing... and also explore Lusaka! A rooster kept cock-a-doodle-doing all night and kept a few of us awake. Every now and then the silence would be shattered by a boisterous and shrill shriek from the beak of a rooster... He reminds me of the rooster in Tijuana, who did the same thing... non stop. The next morning the IDE gang headed to IDE so Mike K and I hit the town and I was able to buy a cell phone, use an internet café, and even eat pizza. (about the pizza: we both thought it would be worthwhile to explore Zambian fast food… you know…. Enjoy something greasy one last time!) We got a whole meal deal for maybe 6 dollars, which wasn’t too bad.

My phone number is: 260 975192692

Lusaka seems a lot larger than Lilongwe but also a lot more developed – larger roads, more traffic, larger concrete buildings, more robots and so on. But ZAIN is still ever present… Even shoe stores are selling units. * in Southern Africa you buy a phone and a sim card – no contracts! You ‘top up’ at different stores by buying a little slip of paper with a number that when dialed adds minutes to your phone. What an enlightened way of doing business. North American cell phone companies should learn from this!*

After another night in Kuomboka I headed off to Ndola. (and yes the rooster was just as loud this night as he was the night before. Mike and I saw the rooster on our walk back into Kuomboka... Cocky little fellow)

Lusaka to Ndola

So this is it – the final fracture. I am now separated from the Southern JFs entirely. Mike K, Melissa, and I headed to the bus depot bright and early (5:20) – I was meeting Esther, and Mike was taking a bus to have his village stay which was arranged serendipitously at the last minute the night before. The bus ride to Ndola was much like the bus ride to Lusaka. We stopped in Kabwe on the way there – more people loaded onto the bus and the aisles are now crowded with luggage. There are Western Hip Hop, country, and pop tunes blaring in the background.

I am now in Ndola writing this from the SHIP house which has wireless internet. Tomorrow I will head to the field to conduct some data gathering. The room is silent aside from the occasional cell phone jingle that plays softly in the distance with a melancholy yearning. Silence is shattered by a pack of dogs howling and yelping – how close are they to the house? I can hear them closer and closer, perhaps it is my imagination. This current situation is so far removed from the EWB house, the airplanes and the hostels. The silence is unnerving after living in so many high energy environments. I once heard that Southern Africa lives and dies by the sun – it would seem this is true. When the sun is in full bloom the markets blossom with life and energy; however, once the sun is out of sight darkness prevails. The energy withers and dissipates and all that remains is the odd passerby and the dark scathing howling hounds.

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