Camping Out in Suburban Lusaka

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Lusaka is not a beautiful city by any definition I would venture to say, but it would be an injustice to say it is lacking in character. I soon discovered that Zambians are, by and large, quite friendly and helpful by nature. I spent the first 3 nights in a hostel called Kalulu. It was a busy place in the evenings since it had a bar, a pool table and DSTV (digital network channels broadcast from South Africa). I didn’t mind this particularly because the patrons seemed to behave themselves and those of us in the dormitories were left to our own devices.

I soon discovered that Zambians are, by and large, quite friendly and helpful by nature.

The first night I shared my dorm with a German student, Ursula, who had come out to research indigenous foodstuffs, something which I’ve always been curious about. I mean, what did Africans eat before maize came along? Indeed, what do they eat when the maize doesn’t come along (so well) i.e during droughts and economic upheavals? (both of which are fairly common in sub-Saharan Africa). She needed to get an early night before catching a bus to Livingstone and the Falls early the next day so we didn’t get to chat for too long.

The other occupants of the 3 bunk dormitory were a couple of guys from Canada who belonged to the organisation Engineers Without Borders. They were all very young, not yet out of university. They would spend 3 months in Zambia, each stationed in a different part of the country. What a fantastic idea! The two guys, Dawson and Mohammed, were both very friendly. A third, Caroline, was sleeping in another dorm. They were also off to – you guessed it – Livingstone! I was happy to hear that most of them were checking into Jollyboys, where I assured them all that they were sure to have a jolly good time (yes it’s another pun!).

The other occupants of the 3 bunk dormitory were a couple of guys from Canada who belonged to the organisation Engineers Without Borders. They were all very young, not yet out of university

The following day I took a walk to the nearby Levy Mall. I thought it ironic that the first mall I visited in Lusaka bore the name of one of the wealthiest (and most loathed) property-owners in Harare, the late Sam Levy, whose legacy is a shopping centre which bears his name. I gathered that his son now ran the show there but I still wondered if there was a family connection to this ‘straight-out-of-RSA’ shopping mall in suburban Lusaka?

It had a good assortment of shops: many South African clothing and food franchises; a few international ones e.g. Bata shoes; and a minority of local brands. The busiest was undoubtedly the supermarket (Pick and Pay). It didn’t lack for much and I had to resist buying more than was strictly necessary for my immediate needs.

I thought it ironic that the first mall I visited in Lusaka bore the name of one of the wealthiest (and most loathed) property-owners in Harare

I decided to take a walk in the afternoon in the direction of the show grounds where I fell in sync with a local middle-aged Zambian man wearing an English rugby jersey. He was on his way to watch two games (one half of each apparently) in the vicinity. Firstly he was going to the Red Arrows Sports Club and he invited me to accompany him.

On arrival he was greeted heartily by most of the patrons. I learned then that he was actually quite a well-known figure in Zambian rugby circles, coaching both an army team (he was a sergeant in the ZNA) and simultaneously involved in youth development of the sport. I was quite taken aback. Rugby is traditionally seen as a white man’s sport. Not so in this neck of the woods.

I decided to take a walk in the afternoon in the direction of the show grounds where I fell in sync with a local middle-aged Zambian man wearing an English rugby jersey

Both teams that took the field were composed entirely of black players although there was a young white chap scouting for talent from the balcony beside us, for his team in Livingstone apparently. How coincidental I thought; I had seen a poster in that town advertising for players for their inaugural rugby team. By half-time the Red Arrows had run in several tries and looked to be dominating the game. Taking into account the hour we had waited for the game to begin and the fact that my sergeant-friend had disappeared to monitor the game from the sidelines in some official capacity, I decided to call it a day at the pitch.

From the club I walked across the edge of the show grounds to the Polo Club of which I had heard so much from my friend Mandy back in Jo’burg. Actually, she wasn’t particularly enamoured of the Polo Club, complaining that it seemed to be the only place where the local whites hung out. She had spent several years in Lusaka but never took to the place. It was evident that the ground had seen action that very afternoon. A number of jodpur-wearing, horsey types were strolling around or sitting on deck chairs enjoying a beverage whilst the horses were being led off by local groomsmen. It was getting late though so I didn’t stick around to make conversation.

A number of jodpur-wearing, horsey types were strolling around or sitting on deck chairs enjoying a beverage whilst the horses were being led off by local groomsmen

That evening at Kalulu there were three new arrivals to take the place of the previous evening’s occupants. Two of them were Dutch nurses coming from Malawi where they had been active at a clinic for three months, ministering to the needs of local Malawians. I gathered that it was some sort of Christian-oriented organisation. The girls were themselves avowed Christians.

The other new arrival was another Canadian, this time of Sri-Lankan extract. Her name was Mary, newly graduated from university. She had come via a rather impressive overland route encompassing such nations as Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya. Like me she was travelling alone but was doing voluntary work en route. She had also just come from Malawi which she had really enjoyed. A very friendly, warm character doing some inspirational stuff.

That evening at Kalulu there were three new arrivals to take the place of the previous evening’s occupants

The following morning it was back to Levy to find a SIM for Mary. She was leaving later that morning for Mazabuka, south of Lusaka where she had volunteered for a project working with blind people. She would receive free food and lodgings in return for her assistance. Joining us too was one of the Dutch girls who needed to draw some cash. She failed to find an ATM that was either online or able to dispense cash, a problem would come to encounter quite often myself. I lent her 100 KW to pay her bill. She assured me she would pay me back later in the day. She did.

On the way back just short of Kalulu we passed a man who was hobbling along looking in great discomfort, clutching his left side. Beneath his hand he had a wad of toilet paper and another bit protruded from one of his nostrils. I asked him what was the matter.

“I am suffering from gases,” he explained. “It happens to me from time to time. I came to get help from some friends but they are not here. They usually help me with money for the hospital.”

On the way back just short of Kalulu we passed a man who was hobbling along looking in great discomfort, clutching his left side

When I pressed him on the details he was a bit ambiguous. I wasn’t sure if it was his stomach or something else. He called the condition something that sounded like ‘separitis’ although I could find nothing to match that term online. One of the nurses suggested that it might be his liver and to ask him if he had been drinking. He assured me he hadn’t. He wanted 30 or 40 KW to get home.

I told him to go and wait down by the road and I would come back and assist him. At this point I genuinely believed the man was suffering. Either that or he was a damn good actor. When I returned I volunteered to go to the hospital with him to which he readily agreed.

Two taxi rides later we were at Lusaka Market, a place alive with the activity of dozens of hawkers and vendors, taxi drivers and pedestrians, along with some smelly cesspools of water by the roadside. My afflicted comrade, name given as Edmund, hobbled along asking to stop every now and again. He advised me not to come here alone as I would be easy pickings for thieves, especially considering I was the only white man in sight. Eventually we found a taxi that would take us to the hospital. And where exactly would that be I asked him? In Kafue, he replied.

He advised me not to come here alone as I would be easy pickings for thieves, especially considering I was the only white man in sight

As we sat in the vehicle for 5 or 10 minutes as the driver waited for further customers, it occurred to me that I was being an idiot. Kafue was probably an hour away. I told Edmund that I wasn’t comfortable with the idea and once again he readily agreed to an alternative. We walked/hobbled back to the Cairo road where I drew 150 KW for his treatment. I gave him a further 40 for the taxi to Kafue. He assured me that he would let me know how he was doing.

He didn’t have a phone at that time but he told me to write him an email and he would reply. I did and eventually heard from him several months later. He was in danger of eviction he told me. Could I send some money his way urgently? Sorry mate, no can do. Glad to hear you’re alive though…

The rest of the day was spent washing, socialising and catching up a bit online. Later in the day after Mary’s departure we made our way back to Levy’s Mall for the sake of the other Dutch girl, bought some mince and other items for dinner, enjoyed a coffee at an indoor food market, and then returned. One of the girls was very reserved, the other more talkative.

They told me about their experiences in Malawi which chimed with those of other travelers I have talked to i.e. Malawians are extremely poor yet at the same time extremely friendly people. The rest of their time in Africa would be on a package safari from Livingstone through to Chobe and the Okavango in Botswana and hence to Namibia and then South Africa, terminating in Cape Town.

They told me about their experiences in Malawi which chimed with those of other travelers I have talked to i.e. Malawians are extremely poor yet at the same time extremely friendly people

The following morning they left early, around 0530, to walk to the intercity bus station, where I had arrived a few days before. They said a quick goodbye and then they were gone. I decided that it would be a good day to move out as well, not out of Lusaka per se but to another campsite. The cooking facilities at Kalulu were sub-par and I was a bit miffed at having my camping cutlery being used by everyone passing though, and my spoon was missing.

Before I left I had a chat with a Congolese woman who had flown up from Jo’burg to register one of her siblings at the local university. She told me she was sick and tired of living in Jo’burg and only persisted in the hope of getting the said sibling into Wits University. He or she was on a waiting list indefinitely.

Before I left I had a chat with a Congolese woman who had flown up from Jo’burg to register one of her siblings at the local university

I asked her about her situation in Jo’burg in the wake of the recent xenophobia which had gripped many of the cities and townships across the land. She lived in Hillbrow, a rather notorious part of the city, but unafflicted by the recent trouble. The real problem she said were all the Zimbabweans next door.

The real problem she said were all the Zimbabweans next door

“They play their music all night and very loud as well. I always have to go round to tell them to turn it off,” she told me candidly. Furthermore she said they could not be trusted. “So many of them are thieves,” she insisted shaking her head vigorously. It is sad to hear these sort of reports of my countrymen, many of whom are recognised for their hard-working nature and honesty, but I suppose by virtue of so many of them being in the country, a good number of whom have not found employment it was inevitable that some would turn to crime.

“So many of them are thieves,” she insisted shaking her head vigorously

Thus it was that later that morning I moved across to The Wanderers, a property operated by Lusaka Backpackers. It was a clean, well-run place but with the major drawback of being so near to Addis Ababa Rd, which had tons of traffic night and day. We even heard a rather nasty sounding accident that evening, a regular occurrence apparently.

There were only a handful of occupants: a young English couple who had come out to start a safari lodge on the Kafue River and were waiting for final permission to start building; a South African couple who were traveling the region by 4×4; and a couple of other male individuals. Nothing particularly exciting occurred during my several nights there but it was as good as any in terms of location. I was able to walk without too much difficulty into the city.

There wasn’t too much in the way of buildings or industry to take in but my first perusal was of the neighbourhood where most of the embassies were established (plush). From there I strolled across to the sector housing the various ministries (agriculture, finance etc), many of which still stood in what appeared to be pre-independence ‘classroom-like’ structures. After that I took in the pleasant High Court buildings and the two new multi-storey constructions that would house the Ministry of Home Affairs, under the supervision of a Chinese contractor.

There wasn’t too much in the way of buildings or industry to take in but my first perusal was of the neighbourhood where most of the embassies were established (plush)

Next door was a cemetery which hosted the graves/mausoleums of three of Zambia’s late presidents. Interestingly, the only completed mausoleum was that of the late President Mwanawasa. That of his predecessor, the late Frederick Chiluba, was still under construction, even though I was pretty sure he had died some years before. It was only later that someone shed some light on that anomaly.

You see he had been under investigation for corruption after being voted out of office and quite likely his fall from grace tarnished his legacy. Apparently he had only latterly been acquitted or at least forgiven his transgressions. President Sata, who had died quite recently, lay entombed in a grave lined by black granite. I assumed the mausoleum would come later.

Next door was a cemetery which hosted the graves/mausoleums of three of Zambia’s late presidents

Also worth a look-in is the large Anglican Cathedral a stone’s throw away from the previous places mentioned. Built sometime in the mid to late 50s it of a particular style which I won’t venture to categorise: post-modern gothic/renaissance? I have no idea except that the ceiling was a good 50 feet above the floor. I managed to get close enough to one of the windows to get a decent shot of the interior (see the relevant photo). I walked back to the intercity to find out some information on buses headed north and in typical fashion by the time I got back to the backpackers my feet were aching, blisters forming on the balls of my feet.

The only other place of interest worth mentioning is a little, historic cemetery near to The Wanderers, heading west on Lagos Rd, about a ten minute walk away. Some of the graves there go back to the 1920s. The largest sections are dedicated to Christian-European graves, but there are also sections for Jews, Hindis, Muslims and a few black individuals as well. In the Christian section were a disproportionate number of Polish graves. I later learnt that over 4000 were repatriated here during the Nazi-occupation of their homeland during WW2.

My guide, who appeared quite spontaneously, was a middle-aged black man. He quickly made me aware of the fact that he was deaf and proceeded to write down odd bits of information on the inside of his forearm. Some of it I could have deduced myself but other bits of info were not so obvious – for instance a grave containing the ashes of two people and the body of a third; and that the grave of a particular black man, an officer of some rank, had died in an air crash.

My guide, who appeared quite spontaneously, was a middle-aged black man … he was deaf and proceeded to write down odd bits of information on the inside of his forearm

There was also a pretty little church which had been restored to its former glory by the Aylmar May Cemetery Project (that person apparently being a district medical officer in early Lusaka). There was a sad story behind it of a young Irish woman who had died of appendicitis shortly after coming out to Zambia at a tender age – 25 I seem to remember. Her husband, an officer in the British Army, had built it in her honour.

I was encouraged to sign the guest-book which I did. I noticed on the opposite page, quite coincidentally, an entry from the previous week made by a well-known Zimbabwean businessman who had business interests in Zambia. I can’t say I knew him very well but the few times I met him I got a fairly good impression of the sort of man he was. Not someone I was likely to see eye to eye with.

There was also a pretty little church which had been restored to its former glory by the Aylmar May Cemetery Project

The next day that I called time on the capital city, as I should probably have done a few days before. I caught a rather expensive taxi across to the intercity only to discover that my 1500 coach had already departed and it wasn’t even 1430! Unheard of in Africa. I suspect my ticket had been sold off to another customer. When I had bought it two days before the agent had seemed skeptical regarding the early-booking, although one of the ticket touts had assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. As it turned out it was a problem.

I caught a rather expensive taxi across to the intercity only to discover that my 1500 coach had already departed and it wasn’t even 1430

“Could I come back the next day?” another of their touts suggested. At this point my anger probably made itself evident because he scampered off and after about 20 minutes returned to say that he had secured me a place on a sister bus. It cost me another 20 KW for the luggage/facilitation but I was grateful nonetheless. Therefore, only 30 minutes or so after my former scheduled departure, I was en route to my next stop, Mkushi.

2 thoughts on “Camping Out in Suburban Lusaka

  1. Beth Lloyd

    Have only read your Lusaka adventure, thus far and thoroughly enjoyed it. Very well written and I could relate to everything you write about. Jhb , Hillbrow today, the Malawians being so destitute. Thanks to the Federation breaking up, it was left high and dry….

    I was born in Lusaka, moved to Broken Hill (Kabwe) in the early 60’s and moved to Mazabuka in 1966 leaving for SA in 1969. Went to Chisipiti for O levels and Commercial Careers College in Union Ave.

    Been back to both countries in the past few years. So glad you didn’t go all the way to Kafue……

    I so enjoyed your writings this 3ven8ng, that I ignored my new Bill Bryson that I was given for Christmas. Am going to read Livingstone now. Spent a wonderful week at the River Lodge on the Crocodile River. Met a Scottish fellow fishing there whose Dad has a b and b in Livingstone. Hope you met up with him. Will report back when articles completed. Defs a book …

    Liked by 1 person

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