We arrived at Livingstone Safari Lodge, our first overnight stop in Zambia, quite late in the afternoon. It had been described by our guide books as a ‘love it or hate it’ place, so we weren’t sure what to expect.
When I saw the campsite, I realised that we’d been spoilt by our previous stop at Camp Kwando. Unlike there, here there was no green grass, no river over which to watch the setting sun, no shady trees to park under, just yellow grass crunching underfoot, shrubs and trees crackling like tissue paper – much like a dry winter landscape on the South African Highveld.
Worse still were the remarkably ‘rustic’ ablutions. I’m talking about a just-off-cold shower in a rather grubby stall, its corners festooned with cobwebs, dust and little creepy crawlies. There was no loo paper or bins, the walls were dirty and the whole place looked unkempt. Even the loo at reception in the main lodge was spartan – no soap, towel or loo paper, just a door made of reeds which had a hole in it big enough for a 10-year-old to crawl through.
We arrived to the sound of music blaring from loudspeakers ‘next door’ and assumed it was some sort of shebeen. We convinced ourselves this was cool; we were in Africa and should live like Africans, appreciate the vibe and groove with it. I even jiggled my butt in time to the music as we set up camp.
We were less enthusiastic when the music continued till after midnight. A couple of off-key vuvuzelas too.
At 5:00 the next morning the music had stilled, but the sound of shouting wafted in from a distance. At first I thought it was people greeting each other across the landscape, but the single voice went on and on, its cadence like a church minister haranguing his flock. Then I heard, ‘Left, right, left, right’, like a military manoeuvre.
It was only when we drove into Livingstone a few hours later that we learned it had all been a political rally – the music, the shouting, the vuvuzelas, everything.
Apparently a by-election was taking place soon. Everywhere we saw trucks flying flags in support of their candidate – on the narrow sand roads apparently leading nowhere, on the main road of Livingstone where the heat had melted and buckled the tar. People were singing and chanting to show their support. One truck carrying about twenty women, young and old, could have been singing at a choir festival they were harmonising so beautifully.
The general mood was of celebration and excitement, so different from the election mood of Zambia’s southeastern neighbour. Chatting to one of the locals, we asked if there was any tension at election time.
‘Oh no,’ he laughed, as if that was silly. ‘My best friend and me, we support different parties and candidates, but we’re still friends. Here in Zambia we have freedom to think for ourselves, to think differently from other people.’
No wonder most of the Zambians we met spent a lot of time smiling.
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