It was now early June, well into the sub-tropical ‘winter’ at that latitude. In reality this translated to cool nights and mild days in the range 20 -22 degrees C, with few clouds in the broad blue sky. In other words, almost perfect weather for backpacking!
I hadn’t been at the roadside at Mkushi long before a local man approached me with the offer of assistance. I told him that I was wanting a lift heading northwards toward Serenje, about 100 km away to the NE. He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats, my backpack placed up front with some other passenger luggage. The only inconvenience was having to occasionally disembark when someone further away from the sliding door wanted to get out. I can’t remember what I paid exactly but it wasn’t more than 20 ZMK.
He very helpfully flagged a passing minibus and without further ado I was crammed into one of the rear seats
Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me. The lady in question, who I struggled to turn and talk with face to face, introduced herself as Megan. She politely enquired if I was an NGO worker or a tourist. She in turn informed me that she was in the Peace Corps. I had heard of these guys, even met a few of them back in Zimbabwe years prior (they were no longer welcome by the present regime), but was unclear as to what it was they did exactly. I would meet quite a few more later on and get a clearer picture.
Quite unexpectedly a woman’s voice with an American accent piped up behind me.
Conversation was difficult in the circumstances so we didn’t get a chance to exchange much information beyond the fact that she was working in a nearby village on a social project focusing on women and that she loved it. She had the option of staying a further year and she told me she would take it. She was off to Serenje to get some provisions I seem to recall and before we knew it we were there. Megan hopped off without so much as a backward glance and was soon lost in the throng of bystanders, hawkers and roadside merchants.
Someone advised me to remain on board a while longer as we diverted off the highway towards the main trading area. I hopped off and once again, a helpful local person introduced me to a long-haulage driver and his companion. Yes, they would be prepared to take me further up the Great North Road to where I next needed to disembark.
The driver was a Tanzanian man of few words but that was okay with me considering that the road was only a dual lane highway and that it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. I would rather his concentration be on the road ahead than with me. I also got the impression that he had limited English. Someone previously told me that many Tanzanians are only conversant with foreigners in Swahili, a tongue spoken fairly extensively in east-central Africa.
…it was his job to transport several hundred tons or more of copper to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania
His companion was a young and rather earnest Zambian who spoke basic but perfectly understandable English. He was the one who told me about their valuable cargo and the long hours involved in hauling it to the distant port. He expressed an interest in keeping in touch, as many Zambians I met would, and I imagine that I gave him either my local number or an email address.
It wasn’t long before the driver pulled up by the small roadside town of Kanona and told me that the locals here could point me in the direction of the waterfalls I wanted to see. I thanked them with a small contribution and wandered over to a nearby store.
By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings. A young shop-keeper pointed up the road and informed me that it was the next turnoff that I wanted. Fortunately it was within sight of the town and 15 minutes later I was at the junction, reassured by a metal signpost reading ‘Kundalila Falls’ with an arrow pointing down a dusty dirt road headed southwards.
By this time it was quite warm and the few inhabitants of the small town that I could see were relaxing in the shade provided by the buildings.
The only other distinguishing feature of the junction was a house, evidently a new build, a hundred yards or so away on the right side of the road leading to the falls. It had a broad veranda fronted by stylised, red iron railings and supported by four fluted, unpainted concrete columns in the doric style. In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA. On either side was a crude concentric pattern also in relief and the cement behind the letters was roughly stippled. The two sides of the roof inclined at a very shallow angle from the apex and appeared to be of some corrugated material.
In bold capitals, written in relief on the gable above, was the name TONGA LALA.
“Hello!” someone greeted me heartily from the verandah. He waved me over and introduced himself as the owner and architect of the said building. He was an army man from what I could gather and he had some idea that the place could become a guesthouse for wayfarers like myself. It occurred to me then and later that being someone of rank in the Zambian Army obviously brought with it some advantages. I had already met a well-respected, rugby-coaching officer in Lusaka and I would meet a few other military men involved in other ventures before my trip was done.
We chatted for some minutes while I sipped at the water-bottle he kindly allowed me to refill from his well. I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon. He looked a bit incredulous. “It is very far, do you know?” Obviously I didn’t. Yes I could walk but he was very doubtful whether I could get back that evening; besides which he told me that I would be able to camp out there. It would no be a problem.
I told him that I intended to get to the waterfall that day and with any luck be back at the roadside by mid-afternoon.
At that moment a beige land-cruiser honked its horn from the side of the dirt road leading past the house. The owner and the driver exchanged greetings and then had a brief conversation. “It is your lucky day” said the house-owner. “If you want a lift he can drop you off near the place you want to go”.
Without need of a second invitation I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns. The driver waved me to a seat at the back amongst an assortment of boxes and supplies. There were two or three other people besides the driver and I realised how fortunate I was because there really wasn’t any further room available.
… I dashed across to the waiting vehicle which I noticed belonged to the Ministry of Health. Attached to the roof were several loud-speaker horns.
We set off down the road, crossed the main railway line, and continued for some minutes until we came to the first of several villages en route. As we passed each the driver slowed the vehicle, took the loud-speaker microphone in his free hand, and bellowed something in the local language. I didn’t really stick around long enough in any one place to get a feel for the local dialects except to say that there are a number of them.
An intelligent young receptionist at the Wanderers Lodge in Lusaka had given me a fairly detailed overview of the ethnic makeup of the country and the linguistic regions. She was from Serenje and ethnically a Lala. I wish I could recall everything she told me but I can’t. Most Europeans I spoke to simply boiled the local languages down to Nyanja and Bemba but there were evidently many other groups such as the Lozi and the Lunda with their own dialects – more than 70 according to Wikipedia.
Anyway, on this occasion the proclamation of the ministry official via the amplified speakers was to inform the local people that there would soon be some sort of clinic held in the area to coincide with a global event – the Day of the Child? I imagine that UNICEF or the WHO were involved somewhere behind the scenes. It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears. What they made of the announcements I couldn’t fathom.
It was interesting to see the villagers going about their daily routines suddenly stop and prick up their ears.
There is a tendency for so-called educated Westerners to poke fun at Africa and other parts of the developing world for being ‘trapped’ by superstition and religion and not embracing modern developments. It is a fact that the line between undeveloped and developed is not a linear one and the criteria for becoming developed are not always clear. From what I saw in Zambia there were indications that they are making progress in the path of modernizing whatever values, positive or negative, you might attach to that process.
When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries that have crossed its well-watered lands, from the time of David Livingstone to more recently, than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled. If you followed my progress from Livingstone to Lusaka you would have seen the picture of the monolithic cathedral erected by the British in the 1950s, reference to a proselytising pastor and a photograph of a mosque.
When it comes to religion, Zambians were no less in thrall to the successive waves of missionaries … than any other European-colonised nation south of the Sahara through which I have travelled.
Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity. I have written about this previously in the context of Zimbabwe and in an earlier post about the white farmers of Mkushi.
Of course the complete picture is not just one of Africans bowed at the foot of an altar or caught in the rapture of a preacher but also of Europeans and Asians expressing their own religiosity.
On this occasion I noticed the relative modesty of these villages, the unassuming general stores or grocers, surrounded by assortment of traditional grass-roofed huts and occasional brick structures. Life was a lot slower here than in the cities, the people closer to the land of their forebears. It did not surprise me either to see evidence of religious affiliation although I did not expect to see quite so many signs proclaiming the presence of a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in this village or that. There were many between there and my journey to the northern extremity of the country.
The ministry official deposited me at a junction in the road after some 20 minutes or so with the instruction to continue on for a short distance after which I would see the entrance to the waterfalls. And so it proved. It seemed as though there was no one there on arrival at the carpark/campsite but whilst I delved in my pack a man approached on an old steel-framed bicycle, coming to sudden halt a few yards from me. He greeted me, introduced himself as the warden, and invited me to his office.
It was hard to tell precisely but I guessed that he was in his 50s or 60s. He had calculating eyes but a somewhat inscrutable expression. He peered at me for some moments before rustling around beneath his desk for a ticket book. I was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite. I was not carrying much in the way of cash but I had changed enough previously to pay for the visitation fee but not the campsite. I sought to negotiate and he fixed me with another of his inscrutable stares.
I was advised that it would cost me the equivalent of 30 USD for the pleasure of the visit and another 30 USD for the use of the campsite.
I cast an eye over the ticket book and saw that he had, on average, only several foreign visitors a week. I decided to play another card, the tourist who is happy to make an alternative plan. I announced that I would find somewhere else to sleep. It wasn’t a problem. My stated intention caused a deep furrow to appear on his brow. “How much do you have?” he responded in turn.
“Only $10” I repied.
“Let us make it $15” he said with a level gaze and then broke into a broad grin, “because you and me we are friends.” I reluctantly agreed to the revised price. It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.
It seemed as though the bargaining had raised his estimation of me and with a bit more vigour he showed me around the campsite.
There wasn’t much in the way of facilities. One toilet was blocked and smelly but the other seemed functional. There was no hot water nor showers which didn’t bother me particularly. At least there was an abundant supply of fresh water from the river nearby. General waste was disposed of in a pit dug for the purpose. He lamented the village children who would come and dig around inside it. We hoisted a few cans and bits of paper strewn around the edges back into the cavity.
Of course what I really wanted to do was get on and see the falls whilst it was still light. It was still early afternoon and I had several hours of light remaining. I realised that taking my backpack along would be an unnecessary burden since I was to return later and so I asked the warden if I could leave it somewhere safe. He agreed to letting me leave it in his office. In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.
In the process of looking for something or other he opened the door to an adjacent storeroom. I peered inside to see it strewn with empty beer bottles.
He escorted me along a path that skirted the summit of the waterfall a few dozen yards hence. He pointed out a barrier of green, painted metal and told me that under no circumstances was I to go further than that point. I could hear the waterfall thundering just out of view.
“There was a very terrible accident” the warden informed me. “There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down,” he said with another gesture. “She died.”
“There was a girl from Denmark. She slipped over there,” he said pointing towards the barrier. “All the way down”…
With that tragic story in mind we parted ways. He had some business to attend to. I assured him I would be back by 4 o’clock or so. It seemed he wanted to see me before he disappeared for the day. Of course I had to take a closer peak at the spot where the Danish girl had allegedly fallen from.
A short way from the barriers the layers of steeply inclined rock fell away into the void beyond but the head of he falls could be seen a short way off. For a while the falls were hidden from view as I descended further, but after 5 or 10 minutes they appeared again between the trees and a short while later I was at the base.
It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left. It continued to flow down in a series of cascades and rapids. I have recorded a video clip on my phone which speaks for itself. Best of all I had the place to myself. There was no-one else there. The vegetation was lush and green, some of the riverine trees towering straight up many metres up to where the gorge widened and their crowns unimpeded.
It really was a fantastic sight: the waterfall cascading first into a pool just out of sight, the billowing mist caught by the afternoon sun streaming down from my left.
I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river. A nervous energy coursed through my veins as I scampered over the rocks, following the river downstream, ducking under old branches and dead trunks. At one point I had to climb over some slippery surfaces and it wasn’t till I looked up again that I realised that the waterfall was out of sight. Here the water ebbed into quieter pools, their depths hidden in the shadows, and the atmosphere was more sombre.
I remember feeling like a little boy with his first sight of a natural wonder – seeing the ocean for the first time or a great river.
I clambered down yet further until something caught my eye – an old bag, much the shape and size of my daypack. It had obviously been there a while. It was old and rotted. I couldn’t find anything alluding to its former owner whoever he or she may have been, except a brand label which read Bjorn Borg, which sounded Scandinavian to me. Images of distant fjords came to mind and a country name – Denmark.
As morbid as this may seem there is no means of connecting this article with the deceased tourist. And even if it could be what would it achieve? It did give me pause for thought though and I wondered for a few solemn moments who this young girl had been, her life snatched away from her so cruelly in the prime of her life. It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly. I was prepared to take risks but I wasn’t a thrill seeker.
It reminded me too that in my efforts to commune with nature, to see her in all her wild beauty, I needed to tread gently and modestly.
A little while later I had reason to reflect on this as I scrambled up a rock face to get a better view of the pool beneath the waterfall. It was a sparsely-vegetated side of the gorge and if I slipped down I could sprain an ankle or worse. I reconsidered my predicament, weighing up the secret thrill of swimming in the pool versus the inherent risk of getting there and decided not to on this occasion.
Besides, there was so much to absorb and enjoy that I had no need to take undue risk. A flock of hornbills alighted in some trees nearby and made quite a cacophony. Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze. Growing amongst the rocks on the edges of the ravine were various wild flowers, Gladiolii and others I knew but couldn’t put a name to.
Above the mists billowing upwards a couple of black crows floated with apparent ease, masters of the breeze.
By the time I clambered out the gorge back to where I had parted company from the warden a few hours before it was a little after 4 pm. Suddenly he appeared along the path looking furious. “Where were you?” he bellowed at me. “I have been waiting!”
I apologised and asked him what the urgency was. It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated. With a little more placating he led me back to the campsite by which time he was back in good spirits going on about our enduring friendship and such nonsense.
It was then that the sweet, fruity odour of sorghum beer wafted over towards me and I knew that the man was inebriated.
I waved him goodnight (and muttered good riddance) before finding a spot beneath a large spreading tree to pitch my tent. The evening was drawing in so I decided to head back to the river, a bar of soap and towel in hand. The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.
The river above the falls is perhaps one of the most unspoilt and picturesque that I have had the good fortune to set eyes on.
Part of the charm was no doubt the character of the rock – sheets of it highly folded, vertically inclined and poking out sporadically, the river waters dividing and recombining in turn. Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure. Red-blossomed aloes sprung from rocky alcoves on either side, alongside spiny Euphorbia plants and clumps of wispy grass. Many of the trees were draped in long wisps of green, spidery lichen, colloquially referred to as ‘old man’s beard.’
Beneath the smooth surface algae and fantastic, swirling water grass clung to the sub-structure.
The river either emanated from or flowed through a large wetland area a few hundred meters above the falls. A large clump of palm trees hugged the edge of the wetland a short distance away from where I was bathing. These wetlands are a fairly common feature of the Zambian landscape and on several occasions a most welcome source of fresh water. I am not so familiar with them in the context of the Zimbabwean landscape which is dominated by granite.
That night I cooked a pot of pasta and sauce on a fire made beneath a small, circular thatched structure, using a handful of the roofing straw as kindling, as per the instruction of the honourable warden. I had queried his method but he assured me that he didn’t mind re-thatching it periodically. A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world. A few sounds reached me on the night air from a neighbouring village, besides which I was completely alone (bot not lonely).
A near full-moon appeared over the escarpment to the east and I felt at peace with the world.
The packed the following morning and was ready to move out before the warden had even arrived. I ambled out the gates to the campsite and started heading back up the road. This time around there was no assurance of a lift. By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road. I had a one full dedicated water-bottle and several other smaller plastic bottles with either soft drink or water in them as well.
After a hundred yards or so the sprightly warden appeared on his bicycle. He seemed equally as incredulous as the army man the day before that I would dare attempt to walk unaided back to the main road. “Let me take you on my bicycle. We can negotiate a price,” he urged me. Besides the fact that the bike would struggle to accommodate my person let alone my fully-laden pack I liked the idea of the challenge. I declined his kind offer.
By my reckoning I had at least 10 km to walk (actually 14 km on Google Earth) to get back to the main road.
He walked with me for several hundred meters, past a group of excited, chattering children and a large vehicle that appeared to be loading up on soil (or perhaps off-loading, I couldn’t tell). As was his nature he stopped abruptly and told me that he would go no further, shook my hand, and left me to continue alone.
At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity. My shirt was completely drenched in perspiration along the part covered by the straps and including my entire back. I rested every so often but tried to keep it to a minimum and focused my eyes on the road ahead. Not one vehicle passed in either direction.
At first it was fairly easy-going but as first one hour and then another slid by I felt my thirst increase incrementally and I drained the bottles with alarming rapidity.
Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages, both boys and girls. The boys all wore pale blue open-collared shirts with black trousers and shoes. A few of them were throwing a soft miniature rugby ball between them. I gestured to one of them to throw it to me. He obliged and very soon I was the subject of a new game.
Suddenly out of nowhere a group of school children appeared from one of the villages
I tried to be as cool and unpredictable as possible pretending to throw it one way but tossing it the other. They loved it, scrambling this way wanting to be the first to gather and return the ball to me. The girls were less sure of my antics, smiling shyly and dodging the ball if it came their way.
Eventually they peeled off to the left side of the road and I was walking alone again. Not long after I saw a truck cross the open space between the trees in the far distance and I knew I was almost at my destination. By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped. I flopped down next to a tree for a few minutes, drank the last of my water and munched on some biscuits.
By the time I got back to Tonga Lala I was, for lack of a better expression, well and truly pooped.
I also took off my Salomon walking shoes and let my feet breath for a few minutes, observing the white puckered skin on the balls of my feet where blisters had formed and ruptured. Taking a bare-foot run on the farm in Mkushi hadn’t helped matters. I would have to keep an eye on these particular parts of my anatomy, especially considering how crucial they were to my continued expeditionary success.
Back at the roadside town of Kanona I found a welcome store from which I bought a cold-drink and some further snacks. It was already past midday and the next challenge was to hitch a ride up the main highway, the T2 or Great North Road, to the town of Mpika. I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment between Kundalila and Mpika but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices, although hardly exorbitant, were beyond my modest budget. Another reason to go back in the future!
I’d initially hoped to stop off at the Mutinondo Wilderness Area on the Muchinga Escarpment … but it was a bit off the beaten track and the prices … beyond my modest budget.
I recall having to stand by the roadside for quite some time before I had any joy getting out of Kanona. Most of the traffic on that stretch of the highway had no reason to stop at the little settlement and I soon gave up on standing to close to the roadside as a series of massive lorries roared past, dust and diesel fumes in their wake. Several of these were driven by Chinese men. Apparently Chinese firms had some big construction contracts in the north of the country.
Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun. Eventually, as seemed the tradition, a local man took pity on me and somehow flagged a passing car with two young gents inside. They seemed quite amenable to having a passenger. As it happened they were heading to Mpika as well. As the crow flew it was about 160 km up the road.
Whilst awaiting a chance lift I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible perched on top my backpack, my floppy hat pulled down low and shading me from the glaring midday sun.
The driver and his companion were comfortably conversant in English. They had both been living in Lusaka but were heading north to investigate a business opportunity, something to do with a farm, north of Mpika.
The guy in the passenger seat I was surprised to learn was a computer scientist who had been working for one or other of the banks as an IT contractor. He was pleased to hear that I had been living in the UK and informed me that it was his dream to get work there one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’ How serious he was about this dream I can’t say for sure. I asked him if he was on LinkedIn and he said he wasn’t. I suggested that if he wanted to get in contact with the right sort of companies that he sign up. It hasn’t landed me any jobs but I’m informed that it has done so for many others.
(he) informed me that it was his dream to get work there (the UK) one day, to be as he proclaimed ‘at the cutting edge.’
We talked about various things on our way north, the driver proceeding at a modest speed. I was informed that the tyres were not in great shape and were struggling to keep pressure whatever that meant. It sounded a bit ominous and it didn’t help to see one or two car wrecks by the roadside, one of them very recent and attended by a small crowd of onlookers.
It is quite normal to stop in such instances in Africa which we did. Apparently the accident had happened the day before. The truck, a land cruiser by the looks of it, was in the process of being righted and was due to be towed off that afternoon.
We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership. The previous president, Mr Sata, who’d passed only some seven months prior and apparently well liked, was succeeeded by an unknown entity, Mr Edgar Lungu. One of my companions derided him as a pliable man who had a penchant for the bottle. They both laughed heartily at this statement.
We continued on towards Mpika as the conversation turned to politics and the state of the nation’s leadership.
They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman but added, with a touch of pride, that we were in fact entering the home area of the late, great leader. I have double checked this fact and confirm that Michael Chilufya Sata was born and raised in Mpika, Northern Province, Zambia.
They lamented the passing of the late president who they claimed to have been a capable and strong statesman
There was a large hill on the approach to the town which he had somehow laid claim to. I can’t remember it’s precise significance. What I do remember off to the left (north-west) of the road was the natural woodland suddenly opening up to reveal acre upon acre of reforested land. The trees of choice were conifers, to my mind completely inappropriate for that area. I wondered whose amazing idea that had been. Was there a public consultation, a well-scrutinised EIA? I have no idea but I imagined it as a so-called ‘green desert’ in years to come. The local flora and fauna would not thrive in such a place.
We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me. A quick perusal of the place left me unconvinced. I was lucky enough to have a bit of data on my phone and was able to do a quick accommodation search on the internet.
We entered Mpika in the early evening and stopped by a roadside hotel that my companions recommended to me.
There was one prospective place on the edge of town in the direction from which we had come and another, Bayamas, which looked promising but which was a little dear for my budget. I talked briefly over the phone to the owner, a European national of some sort, before deciding I would camp at the first place mentioned. I messaged Mr Bayama out of politeness. He messaged back asking me to reconsider. I hadn’t said I wanted to camp and campers could stay for free!
By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful. I was getting some quizzical looks from some of the locals as I went in search of a cash machine, of which I was assured there were several. As luck would have it the first was inside a bank which was closed, the second was out of cash and no-one seemed to know where the third was. I found it eventually, having limped up and down that main stretch of road several times by now.
By now I was hobbling along, the outside of my right foot especially painful.
Meanwhile my companions were struggling to remove one of the wheels from the car which was bald and chronically low on pressure. It was a miracle we had even got into Mpika considering the condition of those tyres. They had promised to look after my pack and I had promised to return with the petrol money we had agreed upon earlier.
I left them in a state of repair and walked back up the road to the main junction, near to where I would allegedly find Bayamas. It wasn’t quite as easy as that and I initially started walking in the wrong direction. What to do in such circumstances? Ask the locals, obviously.
I flagged a couple of youths who were ambling by at that moment and asked the question of them. With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there. I thanked them for sparing the time and told them I would be fine. Nevertheless they insisted on following me inside.
With a certain swagger and confidence they took me by the arm and marched me the short distance back up the road to the junction, across to the other side, and a further 100 yards on we were there.
I found a similarly young male employee who explained that Mr Bayama wasn’t available at that moment but would I like to follow him to the campsite? I tried to ignore the restless trio of youths still waiting by the door to the dining complex as I followed the steward to a grassy patch of land beyond the back of the guesthouses. They were not deterred.
As I scouted out the land I saw the most vocal of them saying something to the young employee. He in turn turned to me with a nervous smile and informed me that they wished to be ‘rewarded’ for their helpfulness in showing me to the guesthouse. Well I couldn’t keep my anger bottled any longer. I looked him straight in the eye and told him what I thought.
“I come to your country as a stranger and this is how you treat me. If you came to mine I would be happy to show you where you wanted to go and wouldn’t expect to be paid for it either!”
The youth looked at me long and hard, his eyes narrowing and I thought, oh no, this is not going to end well for me, is it? Fortunately the old night watchman had appeared. Perhaps that tilted the balance of things back in my favour. Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.
Breaking the tension as suddenly as it had developed, the youth threw his head back and laughed in the same moment reaching out to slap my hand.
“Don’t worry my man, I don’t want anything from you,” and with the same confident swagger, grinning all the while, they departed the premises. I was still concerned that they might come back so I asked the night watchman to keep an eye out for them. He assured me he would.
This was the same night watchman I mentioned in an earlier post: the one who spoke solemnly about the state of the country’s forests and the dysfunctional ministry who was supposed take custody of this natural resource and to responsibly manage it. But that conversation would happen much later in the evening.
I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest. It was at that moment that the esteemed owner of the establishment, a large German gentleman introduced to me as Andreas, hove into view. He had an rounded, bald head, an unremarkable but hospitable face and a large frame. He stood a few inches taller than me and more than a few pounds to the good. He waved me over to the bar and promised to come chat once he had attended to some other business. I obliged and with some eagerness ordered a nice cold Mosi beer from the barman.
I wanted nothing more than to get a good plate of grub and a good night’s rest.
It went down very easily, perhaps too easily. I was simultaneously aware of how tired and sore my body was after my exploits earlier in the day. I was probably quite dehydrated and beer was probably not the ideal liquid to imbibe at that time. A few other patrons of the establishment wandered in – mostly black, but not exclusively so.
A white South African gent introduced himself from across the counter. I was surprised to learn that he had been just about everywhere else in south-central-east Africa except for Zimbabwe. He bought me a beer and then wandered off. He was a regular patron I learnt from Andreas. His forays to the bar were good business for him. In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.
In the meantime I ordered a plate of Nshima (a thick maize meal porridge) and chicken from the kitchen.
Andreas returned a little while later and sat down next to me. He politely inquired as to my business and I explained that I was a free-spirited backpacker. What was he doing here I asked him in turn. He drew a breath and told me that he had come out some good 15 or 20 years earlier with the German development aid agency, DED. He was a carpenter by trade and he had been involved training up apprentices in the local community alongside other tradesman contracted for the same purpose. That sounds useful I remarked.
“Maybe for a short period of time,” he replied somewhat surprisingly. “I mean what’s the point turning out dozens of carpenters and other artisans when the local community only requires a finite number of them.” I nodded in agreement but not really sure either way.
“Anyway, after some time with the DED I decided that we achieved out purpose and were no longer of any real benefit. We had ceased to be useful. Meantime I had really come to like Zambia: the people, the climate, the lifestyle. Sure it’s not Europe but that’s what I like about it,” he continued passionately.
“To start a business in Europe requires all sorts of bureaucracy. Here in Africa you can just get on and do it. Everything you see here I have built,” he continued, gesturing across the wide interior. And if I want to add something on tomorrow I know the people to talk to and I can start as soon as I want to.”
“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here,” looking across to where several of them were chatting at the other end of the bar, “they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic. They grew up without fathers, perhaps only grandfathers. They were told that they were a generation without opportunity but in reality they have all the opportunity now because there was so little economic activity before they became adults. They are the future and this is where I want to be.”
“Zambia has been through some hard times. These young men you see here … they are the orphaned generation. Most of them lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic …”
I couldn’t find any point of his to contend. In fact I was quite taken by his optimism. Why had he called the place Bayamas I enquired of him. He smiled and explained that it translated loosely as ‘uncle’s place.’ He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu. I laughed at this obtuse but somewhat understandable logic.
He had garnered the name uncle – Yama – somewhere along the line and realised that it was worth his while to try make it stick instead of being known as a generic muzungu.
Eventually my food appeared. One of the waiters started setting a nearby table but Andreas gestured for him to bring the cutlery and dining mat to the bar. I could sit and eat and chat to him simultaneously. I didn’t mind. On a nearby television an episode of the popular BBC car show, Top Gear, was playing. He followed my gaze and smiled knowingly.
“One of my favourite shows,” he elaborated. “I love this black humour of you English.” I wondered if that was how the outside world viewed the British – a nation of dark sarcasm. How amusing, especially coming from a German, a nation whose reputation for clarity and precision did not suggest a predisposition to this so-called ‘black humour.’
Around that time the affable German’s wife sidled up to the bar, a smiling Zambian woman in her 40s I would hazard to guess, much the same age as Andreas. They looked like a couple at ease in each other’s company. She talked with him briefly in a low confidential voice and then moved off. He turned to me and informed me that he must be off and that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. I thanked him but wanted nothing more than to ‘hit the sack.’ And that’s exactly what I did a short while later.