Zambia is a riot of colour, bicycles and smiling people. It’s a medley of small shops with engaging names. And its roads aren’t nearly as bad as some people would have you believe.
Every now and again we saw a village with a shopping centre consisting of faded, ramshackle shops with names like Second Chance Grocery, Happy Investment (wouldn’t you invest in that?), Young Don Barbershop, Promising Point Bar or the Last Hope Auto Shop. There were signs of the religious underpinnings of the Zambian people in shops with names like Shower of Blessing, the God Bless Shop and the Blessed Grocery. And there were indications of foreign influence in the China shops, a Yaweh Pharmacy and a Moosa’s Grocery. But my all-time favourite was Where God Says Yes Barber.
It wasn’t unusual to see a woman sitting side-saddle on the back of a bicycle ‘taxi’, a chitenge-wrapped baby on her hip. In Zambia the bicycle is king, and there are thousands of them. Simple black bikes of the sort you don’t see in South African cities anymore – no gears, a bell on the handlebars and a mirror so you can see what’s coming up behind you. It makes the perfect transport, lightening the load, speeding up your journey.
Many bikes have homemade baskets about three-feet wide on their back carriers. One might be filled with a fat black pig, another with clothes of all colours, obviously going to a stall somewhere to be sold. You might also see a bike strapped with ten or more empty 25-litre plastic drums, on its way to collect water from the village pump, or someone pushing a bike loaded with four or five newly filled drums up a steep hill in the heat of the day.
If bicycles, Mosi and Mazoe are pure Zambia, so too are power cuts, predictably unpredictable. In our fortnight in Zambia, we experienced five. Twice, it meant we couldn’t get fuel in a town we were passing through because the pumps weren’t working. Luckily we could make it to the next town, but the lesson is that it’s always a good idea to fill up whenever you can. Don’t wait till you’re low on fuel. If you limp into a town on your last dregs of fuel and there’s no power at the pumps, you’re just going to have to make like the locals and wait it out – usually for an hour or two.
But don’t worry, this is Africa, truly Africa, and there’s plenty of time.
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