"South & East Africa 2011" story # 29

Isoka Region, Zambia           August 28, 2011

I continued to meet and hit it off with amazing people, during my week in Zambia. This place was heaven!
     -- Flashback: to Livingstone. Even before I'd met beautiful young Mary and Mercy, I met a young man named Kelvin.
     -- We'd met on the lawn of a cathedral.
     -- A Zambian-born guy living with his guardians in South Africa, he had traveled to Livingstone to sell computers. But, the computers got held up in customs. He'd finally run out of money and, like me, he'd come to ask the cathedral for a place to sleep.
     -- Father Timbo wasn't eager to help us. But, the bishop opened up a hall for me to sleep in. Then, he looked suspiciously at Kelvin.
     -- Kelvin was not only trustworthy. He was exceptional! He'd studied to be a missionary, questioning the teachings as he learned; given motivational speeches; and been given a job in a gallery after discussing art so well. He carried books on theology and psychology. And he dressed and communicated cleanly.
     -- The bishop and two church administrators interrogated him like their misbehaving child. I said I'd welcome him into the hall with me. They said, "How can you trust a guy you've just met?"
     -- I was lucky I wasn't a Christian anymore, or I would've been ashamed by their actions. "I have faith," I should've said.
     -- After a trip to the police station to clear Kelvin's name, the bishop let him into the hall with me. We smiled and talked.
     -- Kelvin had traveled a lot - sometimes, as a missionary. He said he was still searching for something.
     -- I was impressed by his communicative and questioning abilities. I said he could be the leader Africa needed. He could teach the people to forego their selfish tendencies, brought onto them by money, commercial materialism, and egocentric religion.
     -- He probably wouldn't, though. He - like all the other dummies - aspired to be rich. --
     A few days after this ... even after Joseph the trucker had dropped me off in northern Zambia, saying I should come to his uncle's wedding in two weeks ... I got a ride in one of the country's large and shiny government vehicles.
     The 4WD pick-up carried three large guys and me. I sat next to a humble and energetic man, a round 43-year-old bachelor named KK.
     We began by speaking about Zambia's history.
     The renowned Tanzanian leader, Julius Nyerere, had helped Zambia achieve its independence in 1964. A fellow socialist Kenneth Kaunda ruled the country until 1991, when he was forced out. The new capitalism that resulted from this was good for Zambia, for a little while, my drivers said. In all, they'd had four presidents so far; when Zambians spoke of these four, they didn't complain too much. The current president, Banda, would face another election this September.
     I then gave KK some creative writing tips. A passenger named Kache instructed KK and me we must marry someone and give her children. And then darkness fell, on our paved road with enormous potholes.
     In darkness, we told tales of African witchcraft.
     In Congo, apparently, wrestlers fought and pushed one another without touching. Black magic!
     Once, some city-dwellers bought fish from an old villager. They slyly helped themselves to more fish than they'd paid for. Driving, they got five-hundred kilometers away. And suddenly, their car wouldn't run. They had to spend the night there, on the road in Congo. In the morning, the old villager came riding up on his bicycle. He asked them to return the stolen fish. They did so. And they even offered to drive him home. "Don't worry about me," he said. "How do you think I got here?"
     A pilot couldn't take off because he hadn't apologized to a man whose chicken he'd run over.
     In some markets, it was possible to purchase "lightning" which would strike one's enemies.
     And we'd all heard stories of humans turning themselves into leopards and crocodiles in the night.
     This night, I would put my sleeping bag in a dark orchard which I couldn't see properly. At three a.m., and until morning, the villagers around me pounded drums. I tried not to think about black magic ...

Black magic sounded cool!
     But, I didn't experience it first-hand. So, it wasn't going to find a place in this episode of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! Don't YOU bad-mouth this list, though; or I'll learn Congolese witchcraft and haunt your dreams!
     Just kidding. I might just push you around with my mind.
     Here were ... The Top 5 Best Things about Zambia!:


     It seemed African women worked hard everywhere. Zambian women washed my clothes twice, sewed them once, and cooked for me countless times.


HONORABLE MENTION included the chunky maize drink, MAGEU.
     I loved Zambia!
     But, even heaven needed a list entitled ... The Top 5 Worst Things about Zambia!:


     Big families were beautiful. But, they contributed to the overpopulation, and general poverty, of Africa.


HM included BAD ROADS.

While Kache and KK and I had been traveling together, we counted a dozen semi-trucks that had broken down due to potholes. These potholes, in addition to the hitchhiking pigs, were aspects of travel on Zambia's main roads. One could only imagine the hazards that would face me once I opted to take a side road to Malawi.
     Against my best wishes and better judgment, I ended up in a long white car that served as a shared taxi. I was scrunched between a fat woman and the door. Bags were on everyone's lap. The small trunk was crammed full of bags. After ten minutes, two bags from the overloaded roof-rack fell, and we stopped to get them.
     Our dirt road went up and down hills. Places for deep rivers and huge puddles had been carved into the road by rainy seasons. In my mind was the warning of a traveling doctor from my hometown: Stay away from Malawi!
     After fifty kilometers and an hour and a half, we got a flat tire.
     We fixed it.
     Thirty minutes later, the car broke down completely.
     I didn't like the burly driver, who'd pestered me to join and overload his taxi. I didn't like the passenger who'd offered to pay half my fare; his smile seemed insincere. These two gave me a bad feeling about Malawi. I decided to pay my fare, turn around, and walk seventy kilometers back to the main road. It was noon.
     By ten a.m. the following day, I'd walked six.
     But luckily, Zambia came to save the day!
     A young woman named Ruth said, "Come in my house." We went to one of the village homes on this road: white-and-orange striped, with a straw roof. She began washing my clothes and cooking - outside, among the hills and red dirt and savanna trees. She had a stony, shadowy, pretty face, with short hair like weeds.
     She didn't talk much. So, I figured I should start us talking about romance. "I'm celibate," I said. "I love kissing." She said, "That sounds interesting." She invited me to stay the night, and - even though it meant overstaying my one-week visa - I knew I should.
     She led me through the school she taught at. In her classroom was a huge pile of maize from her farm; she was in the process of putting it into bags so she could sell it. I lightly put my arms on her. She gently stood in front of me. SMACK! I kissed her. She stuck her thick tongue in my mouth.
     We began laughing and talking more together. For the rest of the day, I ...
     chased and caught and threw the neighborhood kids in the air; learned to say, "Wayiya, zanjiko!" (Come, friend!); was shown Ruth's farm, across the road in Malawi; rode Ruth's bike around Malawi; ate her thin, crispy cabbage strip salad; and lay on a mattress in my tent with her.
     What a day!
     In the morning, as I was packing, I found a single white maize kernel on the ground. "Here. You can sell this," I told Ruth for a joke. One kernel!? She burst into laughter.
     She helped me get on the bed of a truck that would go near Tanzania. I was one of several dozen paying passengers here. I sat on my bag. Crowds on either side of me squeezed my knees.
     Man, I was going to miss this country ...

Justin Breen

Thanks to Hussein & Faki; Charles, Kache, & KK; Lama; and a man transporting bags of food for rides!
Much thanks to Ruth & her school for the place to stay!

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