It’s an early start today, 4.15am to be accurate. I am stumbling around my room in Chanda Lodge trying to find matches or a phone to try and light up the room – yeah the power is out (again).
The power has been something I only discovered here but it is affecting the whole of Zambia. Last night I was in the city centre of Ndola looking for somewhere to go for dinner (more importantly wifi). As I left the bank after withdrawing cash – 3, 2, 1 the lights and power go out. Total darkness. What’s strange is you can see people just getting on with it, using their mobile phones to light up their tables as they continue wining and dining. My friend tells me that this is rare and so we take to the road to find somewhere with a generator. What is more concerning is that this has been a regular thing for the past year and it has been suggested this could last the next 3 years, its not just residents and businesses affected but transmitter sites and even hospitals!
Anyway, it’s 4am and I am getting ready, packing my belongings getting ready to leave my accommodation at 5am and head to the bus station. I am really nervous about this, before now I had heard rumours since I arrived about the shocking state of public transport in Zambia with it common for buses to breakdown in the middle of nowhere and crashes too a familiar site. Eeek, what a way to begin.
I will be getting two buses today, the first one is from Ndola to Lusaka followed by a short break then the second from Lusaka to Livingstone. A long day a travelling lies ahead..
The 1st bus was fine, it took around 5 hours, although the leg room was non-existent. Am I a giant? I had to awkwardly stretch my legs into the aisle. On the bus they had a tape playing “bus radio” which lasted around an hour and it was on a loop. “Bus radio” had a discussion about comfortable travel footwear, a reading from the bible and plenty of Christian music. But here’s the thing, it had paid-for commercials on it – perhaps we should do a similar thing in Scotland and make a killing.
They are quite clever too – they ran a competition on Bus Radio (that’s what it was called) where you text in some of the companies being advertised on the station. I am not sure what the reward is… something cool no doubt!
I arrived in Lusaka and the locals stopped me as the bus drove slowly around the station. Some of them even chased the bus, I was shitting myself. Boss, hey, boss – you want a taxi, hire a car my friend, taxi. You get the picture. This lasted around 10 minutes and continued when I had alighted the bus. It was very intimidating. Before coming to Zambia I had been warned that locals would insist that you get a taxi or hire a car but I didn’t think they would be chasing the bus which left me quite shocked.
I stuck out like a sore thumb, I was the only ‘white’ person there. Men continued coming over to me trying to sell me purses, perfume, belts, sweets, water, juice, bags, solar charges, torches – you name it. They had it. But the thing is there was around 50 of them all coming along and pitching their items to me. Fuck – where is the bus? And as soon as it arrived I headed straight to the front of the queue – get me out of here!
Here’s the thing, I hadn’t eaten all day – well there’s very few places open at 5am. So I bought a “meat” pie at the bus station, I really wasn’t wanting to travel far into the bus station to raise awareness of my presence and I wanted to make sure I got on the bus. In Zambia public buses, well the long distance ones, allocate your seats before you get onto it – but often they over sell their seats so you could be waiting hours for the next one. Anyway, I’m not sure what meat was in this pie. That’s all I have got, a meat pie and it’s 11.30am. I need to take my malaria pill around 1.30/2pm so it will need to wait until then. I think I would have bought something else if I wasn’t being chased down.
Ah, let’s turn to something more positive – yesterday in Ndola I met a man called Tutule who told me he was getting married in December and wanted to wear a skirt – he meant a kilt. It took me a while of explaining before he started calling it that. Anyway, I have suggested that he wears my clans tartan and he’s going to! (I’ll post photos when he sends them over!)
Anyway, and off to Livingstone I go – in my mind this morning I thought the trip to Livingstone would take no time at all. It would take a while but not the 14hours it actually took. Someone has compared the journey like driving from Glasgow to Paris, it certainly felt like it. As we edged slowly out of Lusaka bus station a man boarded the bus, he placed his belongings on a seat and took a book from his backpack. The bible. The man then stood up in the aisle, whilst being thrown about as the driver tried to navigate it around the potholes in the road. The man then begins shouting on the top of a voice, don’t worry – no alarm caused to anyone else apart from me. It’s fine he is a preacher. This man spent at least half an hour on the bus as we slowly crawled through the congested roads of Lusaka reading chapter and verse of the gospbel. If I’m honest I don’t know how many people were actually paying attention, certainly the young people on the bus were chatting and sniggering. Once he finished he thanked everyone for listening and supporting then went round with a hat requesting money. Odd.
This bus took forever, again leg room was an issue and I was getting really agitated. I was starting to get annoyed with the situation, my problem is always trying to do too much is so little time – I do it in my work life and in my personal life. I usually manage it but I am always too optimistic. Well, this journey to Livingstone was poorly planned. I was starting to doubt whether it was worth it, especially when you are still driving through the middle of nowhere and the sun is setting.
When the bus eventually arrived in Livingstone it was pitch black. Guess what? As the bus pulled into the station there was a group of people again asking if anyone needed a taxi, I told everyone no, then randomly picked one of them to take me to my accommodation. It wasn’t far away but I didn’t want to walk around Livingstone myself and at night.
I arrived at Fawlty Towers backpackers which came highly recommended, it was good to hear music I was familiar with from Fatboy Slim to the Smiths. I actually still had the christian music I had heard constantly all day spinning around my head. I was shown to my room then headed straight to the bar and ordered a beer. I asked them whether they were still doing food, no was the answer so I tucked into a packet of crisps and drank my beer. It was one of the few times in my life I had ever felt so isolated from the world.