In and Out of Africa
A Real Bed in a Real Room
The new day soon washed away the cold of the night and the trials of the day before. The first task of the day was to get a South African visa for Fiona. Malawi was one of the few countries in southern Africa to maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa during the time of international sanctions and was consequently the only place we could get this visa. Malawi was also one of the few countries in southern Africa with a reasonable range of produce on the shelves in the shops and supermarkets. Even though Malawi has few natural resources or export items, apart from tropical fish, they managed to sustain a reasonable economy. The shops all seemed well stocked with all manner of consumer items. The consumers and shop owners seemed largely to be the local population in contrast to many of the other countries where both the shop owners and clientele were often foreign nationals. Lilongwe itself is a purpose built capital city, an obvious prestige project for the Banda regime. With its wide streets and half built suburbs it is so reminiscent of Milton Keynes, a purpose built city in the UK, that I began to wonder if the same design team had been involved. In the centre is a shopping and administration complex which includes the South African Embassy. The visa turned out to be no problem although it would take 48 hours to process.
We have two days to kill in an unfinished city, so we visit the hospital. The Indians are all looking much happier today. Abdulla's foot has been operated on and is in a cast. They are flying back to South Africa tomorrow. We may well be in Johannesburg within two weeks so we promise to visit them there. Unfortunately they didn't fly to Johannesburg the next day after all. The flight had been arranged and they had gone out to the airport only to discover that they weren't allowed on the plane without a registered nurse on board. Because of this delay they didn't fly out until the next day, three days after the accident. By the time they arrived Abdulla's foot had become badly infected. The doctors in South Africa used an irrigated cast for several days to flush out the wound before even attempting to operate again. The foot was then immobilised with a metal frame attached to the bones. When this was finally removed Abdulla was still in pain and the wound didn't seem to be healed properly. They decided to operate again and discovered two large thorns still embedded in the foot. The bone had now begun to die and the only action left was to fuse the bone. Sadly, although his foot has been saved he will never be able to move his ankle again. Thankfully the others eventually recovered well and, considering the circumstances of the accident, the outcome could have been much worse.
By mid afternoon I was feeling quite sick and I lay in the tent for most of the afternoon watching the local workers digging the foundations for a new building. In this case the word 'digging' is perhaps a little imprecise. These guys would make council workmen appear hard working. One of the guys was in the trench with a shovel and would occasionally move a spadeful of earth before returning to the serious task of resting. I could understand his reluctance to work particularly hard when his colleagues where busy roasting and eating Cola beans around a little fire. At one point in the distance the boss's pickup appeared. With a speed I would not have not believed possible all of the men were now in the trench and spades had miraculously appeared in their hands. The pickup drove past without stopping and as soon as it was out of sight there was once again one lone man moving the occasional spade of dirt.
Some more travellers arrived in a couple of Landrovers and also a bright orange tour truck full of well organised people with identical tents. One of the Landrovers was a 33 year old series II full of five Australians, all of whom were probably younger than the vehicle. A surf board would not have looked out of place on the roofrack and they looked like they had taken a detour on the way to the beach and ended up in Malawi. Most 33 year old British cars have either rusted into oblivion or are enjoying their retirement owned by the type of person who lavishes care and hot wax on their 'classic', washing it every week and only driving it on Sunday afternoons. This particular classic had instead been taken on some of the most testing roads in the world and apart from a bit of a wobble in the steering due to a worn out steering box and some oil leaks this Landrover was still going strong. The other Landrover was the white one belonging to Andy and Annie who we had met in Tanzania. The very latest Landrover stood parked gleaming and white opposite a well worn vehicle from a generation earlier.
On our way into town for another look at the shops we stopped to fill up with diesel. One of the attendants came over and started to clean our impressively dirty Landrover. "No, No", we cried in horror. "We don't want it cleaned". He looked at the gleaming clean spot he had just made and at the thick coating of mud and looked puzzled for a moment. "The service is free!", he said. "No we like it like it is. We have mud from ten African countries all merged together. It is our bit for African unity". He looked puzzled for a moment and then smiled. The idea of mixing the soil from every country in Africa seemed to appeal to him. We drove away, one small patch of shiny grey British paint in stark contrast to the light brown and red African dust covering the rest of the truck.
Back at the campsite we met Heather, one of the Kiwi girls from Senga Bay. She had been expecting to catch a bus from Lilongwe to Victoria falls. Due to some complication with paperwork the bus was no longer allowed to enter Zambia. No one knew when the 'paperwork' would be sorted out. Maybe a week, maybe two, perhaps even longer. So we left Lilongwe as we entered, with a passenger. This time the passenger was not in need of urgent medical attention. We were also now in convoy with Andy and Annie, who were going through Zambia as well.
The border into Zambia was one of the most chaotic with a large number of people pushing towards the counters, which were completely unmarked. Andy and I decided in true African style to let the women do the queuing and pushing, which they did extremely well. There was one nervous moment when we realised that Zambia was undergoing a cholera epidemic and that the cholera stamp in our passports had expired. The health official looked at our papers, saw the meningitis stamp from C.A.R., which was less than two months old, and let us through.
We travelled as far away from the border as far as we could get before dark. The road to Lusaka is parallel with the Mozambique border. At its closest point it is only a few miles from the border and we had been warned not to camp along this stretch. Rebel soldiers from Mozambique had been known to cross the border in the night, raid the nearest villages or stop vehicles on the road and then return across the border by morning. The road was bumpy but by 19:00 we had managed to travel 400 km (250 miles). It would be dark soon and in half an hour we would be at the closest point to the Mozambique border.
We tried the mission hospital first. "Yes, people stay sometimes, I must check with the head nurse". This seemed hopeful. After half an hour waiting we began to get concerned, it was starting to get dark now. If we couldn't stay here we were rapidly running out of time. A little more investigation revealed that the nurse in charge was not expected back for several days and there was no one prepared to take responsibility for letting us stay. Someone suggested we try the other mission, which was very close and easy to find. Half an hour later we found the mission, this time run by Belgians. They offered us a cup of tea and regaled us with African mission stories. The village had indeed been raided by soldiers from Mozambique. However things had been quiet for several months and they didn't think we would come across any trouble. It was fully dark by the time we started preparing our meal. Andy and Annie got out their Optimus paraffin stoves, which were twins to our Optimus stoves. We made a mixed meal between us and discovered that the supplies we had chosen were very similar. While the meal was cooking we started discussing equipment, we both had diesel Landrovers (although theirs was newer and turbo charged), two spare tyres, extra padlock hasps on the doors, two batteries, enough oil for the trip, a water filter, the list of things in common soon became larger than the list of differences. Andy was even wearing the same trousers made by Rohan (outdoor clothing specialists), although his were a different colour.
In the morning we all awoke at the same time, took the same amount of time to get ready for the day. Andy and I performed almost identical daily checks on our vehicles and we set off. On the road to Lusaka we took turns in the lead. Regardless of who was in the lead the distance between the vehicles was identical, as was the speed at which we travelled through the various obstacles. It was almost as if we were twins separated at birth.
We reached the bridge over the river Luwangwe. The Belgians had warned us to be very careful crossing here. We had to travel at exactly the speed limit, no more no less. Stopping on bridge was prohibited and the soldiers had shot and killed people who had failed to observe these restrictions. The Zambian government has often supported liberation movements in nearby countries and has allowed Namibian, Angolan, Mozambiquan and Zimbabwean forces to form bases here. During the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe the Rhodesian forces executed a campaign of sabotage and military intimidation. Among other things they blew up the bridge over the Luwangwe. Ever since it was rebuilt the security here has verged on the paranoid. Only one vehicle was allowed on the bridge at any one time and the speed limit was 10 km/h. A saloon car full of South Africans was coming the other way. It drove over at the heady speed of about 40 km/h. As they reached our side a soldier waved them to a stop with his AK47. He pulled the driver out of the vehicle and dragged him over to the sign saying 10 km/h. "Can you not read?", he said pointing at the sign. "That is a stupid speed for a bridge, you cannot expect me to drive that slowly", the South African replied arrogantly. A soldier started walking towards us and indicated that we should cross the bridge, which we did extremely cautiously and as near to 10 km/h as our speedometer would allow. At the other side I stopped to wait for the others. Another soldier walked over and indicated that waiting was prohibited. I did not argue and we drove on up the hill and waited where we could see back. The others drove across equally cautiously. None of us particularly wanted to be shot at or treated like the South African driver, who had eventually been allowed to proceed after being forced to apologise, something which probably didn't come easy to him.
When travelling in a place like Africa one should never forget whose country it is and to abide by the local rules no matter how foolish they appear. This is especially true when the rules are enforced by men with semi automatic rifles.
We reach Lusaka by 14:00. Lusaka appeared to be a fairly reasonable looking city, a bit like Nairobi. There were advertising bill boards, wide, well maintained roads and supermarkets. We didn't stop, the thought of another African city didn't seem to appeal to any of us. Andy and Annie turn off towards Zimbabwe and the Kariba dam while we carry on towards Livingstone and the Victoria falls.
The road was under repair, which is good to see. However this did make for hard driving and we started looking for a place to stay fairly early. We tried the mission in Mazabuka but the priest was away. The next town was Monze and there didn't appear to be a mission here at all. In desperation we stop at the BP filling station to ask directions. The attendant takes Fiona and Heather to see the manager. They are gone for several minutes and I am beginning to get concerned. Eventually they return. "Well, we've found somewhere" said Fiona smiling. The manager wanted to ask us to stay at his house but first he had to take them around to see his wife for approval. All we had to do was wait for his son Perry to arrive and give us directions to the house. They had a second house within the grounds for when all of their 13 children are home. Perry spoke with a slight southern English accent. He had been sent away to school there, largely paid for by the government. He had been going to study agriculture at university in England until the government ran out of money to fund overseas education projects. Instead he was back in Zambia helping to run one of his father's farms. As well as running the local filling station they also owned several farms with many head of dairy cattle. They were cross breeding Aberdeen Angus cattle with the local Zebu stock to try and produce a better breed for local conditions. How crossing a breed which is suited to hot dry climates with one from one of the coldest and wettest climates will produce an improvement is beyond me. I can only assume that they had done plenty of research, either that or learning agriculture in England isn't the best grounding for a life of farming in Africa. George (the station manager) and his wife Anne returned home and introduced us to the guard dogs. The dogs, a pair of large looking Doberman crosses looked much more scared of us than we were of them. If a thief ever got into the yard they would probably have run away. The average African is however far more terrified of even the smallest dog than these dogs were of humans so their presence was probably enough.
Our room for the night was fairly basic but came supplied with a mosquito lamp. This was a good idea as the holes in the wall were larger than the gaps in the side of our tent and weren't even remotely mosquito proof. The bed was comfortable and we settled down to our second night in a bed since leaving England three and a half months ago. Leaving the truck on its own in the yard, guarded only by two huge but shy dogs was incredibly hard. I kept wanting to get up and check to see if it was still alright. The depths to which our paranoia had reached became apparent when I realised that Fiona had tied the day bag containing our camera, money and passports to the leg of the bed. I laughed, but didn't even think about untying it...
In the morning the bag was still secured to the leg and the truck was still parked in the compound and the dogs still cowered, especially when we noticed that they had 'marked' all four tyres as their territory. We had coffee with the family, it was Saturday so no one was in a hurry to go anywhere. Perry offered to take us around the local game park, Lochinvar - an African name if ever there was one. Two of George's younger children were also there and they had not yet been to the park either. It was school holidays and he had promised to take them to the park. It was obvious that he had no interest in going himself if he could possibly avoid it so we offered to take the two children too. The only way we could fit six people in the truck was by removing all the boxes and putting them in the spare room. I was a little worried about this and had a stern word with the dogs. They seemed to think they could protect our possessions adequately so I decided to stop acting so stupidly. The boxes were as safe in the spare room as they would be in the back of the truck, perhaps safer.
Perry insisted on paying for the entrance to the park, he paid the local rate in local currency, which was considerably less than the amount we would have had to pay, in US dollars, had we arrived here on our own. He found a guide for us and we headed off into the park. This park is noted for its abundance lechwe, especially the rare red lechwe. We saw several herds of these around the park and the children were very excited, especially as they had a large amount of freedom in the back of the Landrover. We also saw vultures and fish eagles. The fish eagle is a magnificent bird of prey with its black body and white head. We had seen them at Lake Baringo and other Rift Valley lakes but they never stayed still enough to photograph. They seemed to have an extra sense which told them the exact moment just before the camera became focused and chose that moment to fly away. Finally I spotted one in a tree a long way away. Heedless of any dangerous predators which might have been lurking in the undergrowth I wandered off into the bush using some small trees as cover. As I got closer I took a couple of photographs just in case it flew off. I carefully stalked the bird, walking in an increasingly crouched manner to beat perspective and convince it that I was not moving. This is a trick which works well with animals like cows and rabbits, which have their eyes on the side of their heads and can't judge distance very well. Even using one eye the eagle wasn't fooled. I finally got close enough to fill the frame with the eagle. I raised the camera and gently depressed the trigger to engage the autofocus. The mechanism quietly whirred. The prize winning photo began to resolve itself in the viewfinder. I lingered a fraction of a second too long before fully pressing the trigger and I would almost swear that the bird winked at me before swooping off into the distance.
We finally arrived back at the house around lunchtime and had lunch with the family. This consisted largely of the local maize meal, a little like the Posho we had tried in Nigeria. Maize is increasingly becoming the staple food in Africa and in Zambia even that staple was in short supply. The nation's economy is on the brink of collapse, perhaps even beyond the brink. Years of exploitation by the colonial powers followed by years of hardship caused largely by support for other nations' struggles for independence had taken their toll. The world wide price of copper, Zambia's main foreign currency earner, coupled with government corruption and mismanagement of both the mineral and food resources have led too serious food shortages. In 1986 people could no longer afford to buy maize, which was in short supply anyway. This led to the first of many food riots which have continued periodically over the subsequent five years. In reaction to the worsening economy and increasing lack of confidence in the single party regime of Kenneth Kuanda the people were demanding a multi party election. We had already seen many people raising their hands and holding up their thumb and two fingers. We didn't know what this symbol meant but judging by the look on these peoples faces we thought it a good idea to wave back. Perry explained that this was the multi-party symbol, the raised fingers symbolising more than one party. The Kuanda government had promised elections several times before and then pulled out whenever it looked like his party would lose. This time he had called the election in a hurry, knowing that the other parties wouldn't have time to form a campaign. The other parties had decided to form an alliance party, the multi-party, to give them a chance to change the government. They certainly seemed to have popular support. From then on whenever we returned the multi-party symbol we would be rewarded by smiles and victory gestures.
Whether or not a multi-party democracy will be feasible in Zambia only time will tell. Most African nations have borders imposed by the colonial powers which have little bearing on geographical, tribal or linguistic boundaries. One look at a map of Africa will reveal these almost comically artificial straight line boundaries. Zambia suffered more than most nations in this regard and the lack of any national identity or common factor is the reason why Kaunda formed the single party state in the first place. The concept of western democracy and choice of government on policy grounds is very new and alien to Africa. Here people will vote on tribal grounds and will probably continue to do so for many years to come. The apparent failure of democracy in Africa is often blamed on corruption and stupidity. In reality the failure is due more to attempting to foist an inappropriate form of government directly on to a diverse people without ever explaining how that concept was supposed to work in the first place. Add to that the exploitation of Africa's wealth without any investment in that continent's development it is hardly surprising that many of the nations are on the brink of collapse. In Zambia's case the British South Africa company took US$160 million dollars in royalties from the mineral resources, the British government took US$80 million in taxes and returned about US$10 million in investment in the colony, most of which was almost certainly only of benefit to the white community. During a ten year period of 'federation' with Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) US$200 million was transferred to the larger colony in the South. Imagine a small company owned by a wealthy multi-national parent. For eighty years the parent company takes all the profit and doesn't even invest enough money to maintain the machinery. Then, when the company is no longer returning a profit the parent pulls out, taking the management with them leaving the people from the shop floor and the cleaners to manage it. No one would be at all surprised if the company went rapidly bankrupt. Unfortunately nations are not companies and a bankrupt nation cannot just stop trading, the people are still there and have very little option but to stay. Especially when all the neighbouring nations are in exactly the same situation.
It is almost 15:00 when we finally leave and there are still 200 km to go before Livingstone and the Victoria Falls. The road is tar sealed although badly potholed. It improved as we got closer to Livingstone, which was a relief as avoiding potholes in the dark is no fun at all. With the shadows cast by the halogen headlamps even the slightest dip looks like it has no bottom.
The campsite cost US$5 each, payable in hard currency which left us with a couple of hundred Kwacha to use up. This paid for a fairly decent meal at the hotel, although we couldn't afford to buy three sodas to go with it. Instead we bought one and shared it. We ate outside on the terrace, with a view over the Zambezi River. In the distance we could hear the roar of Victoria falls almost drowning out the whirr of the Cicadas and the chirping of the crickets.
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