"South & East Africa 2011" story # 28

Lusaka, Zambia           August 27, 2011

Zambian immigration officials gave me a deal, when I told them at the border that I didn't have much money.
     They should've charged me $50 for an entry visa. But, they marked my passport with entry stamps before taking any money. Then, because I'd left my money on the counter to show them what I had, they tentatively took 100,000 kwacha ($20) and said, "Is this all right?"
     I nodded my head and bounded out the door. Welcome to Zambia!
     Immediately, I found myself on a bridge over the wide Zambezi River. The clear water became dark blue as it ran over brown stone and green slime. Children in tighty-whitey underwear waded through foaming rapids to small islands.
     Madonna's "La Isla Formita" began playing in my head at this time. "Last night, I dreamt of San Pedro ..." And I began to expect good things from this country. "This is where I long to be. Zambia for me tah!"
     Despite the fact that those children - plus a herd of women carrying their washing on their heads - had managed to wade to the islands in the Zambezi, I failed to reach a nice sandbar island. I had to settle for camping on the shore. Tepa, who baked and sold clay bricks beside the Zambezi, advised me not to camp TOO close to shore, because a hippo sometimes came out to graze there.

Zambian immigration had only awarded me seven days in their country, as a visitor in transit.
     From this remote area near Namibia, I hitchhiked to the town of Livingstone. Other travelers on this road included locals traveling with dried fish from the Zambezi, which they hoped to sell elsewhere.
     In Livingstone, I admired beautiful African colonial homes. They sat back, encircled by porches, as if happy just to watch Africa. The porch pillars supported the homes' "safari hat" roofs of tin, with gently sloping brims and square-pyramidal centers. Local families lived in the whitish, pinkish, browny, earthy not-clean homes, stained with Zambian red dirt.
     Of course, the real attraction of Livingstone was Victoria Falls. The Zambezi was about a quarter-mile wide here, and it fell about seventy feet. These weren't facts. They were just "abouts".
     It fell into a narrow groove which lay between the falls and the rock wall directly opposite them. Atop the falls, the calm river split into dozens of voluminous pools that neared the end of the Eden-like land islands. A native fisherman sat against the sun and cast his reel. The late-evening sun turned bright red in mid-air. Eventually, the white mist that fell like rain ate the sun.

The next day, I headed for the capital: Lusaka.
     It was common for passengers to give money, while hitchhiking. But, a tall trucker named Joseph agreed to give me a ride for free. We passed unspectacular muddy-green scenery, small towns where the whole population seemed to be near the road, and stick-hut villages.
     Smily and smooth-headed, Joseph told he used to be a farmer. The price of fertilizer had become too much, though. Now, he transported cattle feed between Zimbabwe and northern Zambia. His rich Greek boss paid him only US$20 per trip, and the trips could last five or six days. So, he supplemented his income by carrying passengers.
     We stopped in Choma, a farming town, to pick up passengers. They climbed into the open containers hauled by Joseph. I remained in the truck's cab, as the vehicle idled. Repeatedly, I heard the bawls and squeals of screaming pigs. They were being dragged by their ears and legs to the truck.
     We were transporting pigs! I was in no position to question the ethics of such an operation. I ran outside to help load pigs.
     I could pick up the first heavy piglet on my own. The second one was the same size, but it squirmed too much, so I had to have one of the pigs' owners help me. Each pig had to be hoisted up to the people in the truck's containers, and it then needed to clear the top edge of the container, eight feet off the ground.
     The final piglet had somehow freed its legs from the rope that bound them. This piglet ran and ran. One of the two remaining HUGE pigs (the mother?) tried to shield the piglet from us. But, we eventually got the little adolescent loaded.
     I didn't know how we were going to load the huge pigs! Two male pig farmers pulled the pig's legs and ears; a female pig farmer, in a wrap-around skirt, pushed and pulled; I put my shoe beneath the pig's belly and used it as a lever to roll the pig towards the truck. The pig screamed.
     We got her to the truck and hoisted her ... hoisted her ... hoisted her. The pig whined. Finally, we people on the ground and those people in the truck were just barely able to tip her over the truck's edge. THUD! She entered the container with her fellow pigs.
     It had been so tough getting that pig on-board, and it was so funny that a "mazungu" (white person) was helping, that we all looked at each other and smiled - a smile so big and impossible to stop that I think at that moment we experienced 100% happiness. We went and loaded the last pig. The poor farmers told me, "Thank you," and I got back in the cab with Joseph.
     "Now you are in Zambia!" he said.
     "It's fun!"
     We continued on towards Lusaka, picking up some goats along the way.
     People sold charcoal beside the road. The charcoal came in homemade, five-foot-tall cones made of thatched tree bark. These were almost impossible to carry or transport. Joseph bought one for his family in Lusaka.
     Darkness came to our road. We went through Mazabuka. Joseph announced, this town produced a lot of sugar cane. I could smell the corny, syrupy smell of its molasses factory. A sugar cane field was being burnt in preparation for harvest, and it looked like the dark universe was on fire. "It's kind of beautiful," I said.
     We passed a police roadblock, and Joseph was forced to pay a small fine/bribe.
     We unloaded two middle-aged women and their homemade crate of live chickens. Joseph yelled at them to pay the money they'd apparently agreed upon; the womens' poor nephew (who'd come to meet them) found the money in his pocket, with difficulty. And in this way, the pyramid of oppression reached its bottom.
     Elsewhere in the night, we stopped to unload people. A Chinese-bodied guy pushing a wheelbarrow came up to me and said excitedly, "I can use my brain. I can use my muscle. I can do something! I don't have to be a thug. I'm not gonna be a thug!" Then, he disappeared to go haul something. My, these Zambians were hard-working!
     We eventually reached Lusaka and a slaughterhouse or pre-slaughterhouse, where most of our passengers were going. It was past midnight, and I was exhausted. Luckily, I'd been invited into Joseph's house for a bed and meal. But, the rest of these passengers would have to spend the whole night in the slaughterhouse, awaiting local buses that would run in the morning. One educated passenger said, of our trip to Lusaka: "Zambia has a problem of transportation."
     I was disgusted by the fact that the slaughterhouse pigs, even though they were crammed on top of one another, continued to try to have sex with each other.

Joseph lived in a "compound" (poor neighborhood). It was comprised of gray concrete houses, dirt yards, and bumpy dirt roads. Because I would wake up sick the first morning, I would spend two nights here. I would love every minute of it.
     (Exception: I didn't enjoy the minutes I spent squatting over a hole in the cement, with diarrhea.)
     Joseph had married Mary. Together, they had the following children:
     tall and thin Mercy (16), a girl with wide and watery lips, a voice that seemed obstructed by water when she spoke, and watery eyes. She giggled as if being tickled. Her dream was to become a nurse. She and her father took care of me. But, because I was a stubborn soloist, I disagreed with many of their suggestions.
     a boy Simba (14), who leaned back and danced to music as if his body was boneless; a girl Memory (10), whose dark skin contrasted with beautiful white eyes and a razor-thin smile; a boy Progress (5), who confidently hogged the bed he shared with me and Simba; and snotty-nosed Justina (3), who never spoke.
     In Joseph's compound, everyone knew and greeted everyone. Women sat outside, washing clothes. Ten-year-old boys played marbles. Kids walked wherever they pleased; they were luckier than Western ones! Justina led her snotty-nosed boyfriend and a gang of three-year-olds around. Their clueless faces looked up at me.
     I recalled a quote: "It seems like God visits everywhere else but lives in Africa." - Will Smith
     Friends visited Joseph and came to see the sick "mazungu". One woman gave me homemade "mageu", a thick maize drink. A twenty-one-year-old neighbor (also named Mary) brought me black tea. Mary kept me company by showing me pictures of her six-year-old and three-year-old, and talking about her fiancee.

This Mary, and Mercy the nurse, would escort me out of Joseph's compound. I sat between them in a taxi that would take us to where Joseph's truck was parked.
     Mary had clothed her strong and curved body in jeans and a tight black shirt. Beneath her blondish hair extensions, her plump purplish face, and plump pinkish lips, a 3D glass heart dangled from a necklace. She wore a square silver ring on her finger, and empty picture-frames dangled from her ears.
     Mercy wore a bandana above her sweet face, a holy white skirt, and a sky blue shoulder-less blouse beneath a leather jacket.
     I put my arms around the girls, and Mercy let my arm slide down to her waist. She held my hand.
     I felt less sick.
     Joseph got his truck ready, and he and I said good-bye to the girls. We stopped out of Lusaka to pick up some goats. And then we headed north, towards northern Zambia, Congo, and Tanzania.
     But, I would dearly miss Lusaka!

Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Pele; Matthias Jiganya; John & his wife & baby; George; Rogers; Benson; and Joseph for rides!
Much thanks to a bishop & St. Theresa's Catholic Cathedral; and Joseph, Mary, Mercy, Simba, Memory, Progress, & Justina for places to stay!

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