The last week of Bookbus in Livingstone coincided with the general election here in Zambia. Campaigning, which mostly seems to involve driving around in cars with “bad quality” speakers on top, shouting (something Zambians are very good at!!) at people to vote for you, has been going on a while at all times of day and night. The ruling MMD party has been in power for 20 years and lots of people think it’s time for change.
The actual election was held on a Tuesday and this basically meant lots of teachers and pupils took it as an excuse to have several days, or even the whole week, off school!! . In fact LOADS of things stopped working because of the election. The whole of Livingstone ran out of bottled coke/fanta, you couldn’t post a parcel, and buses were cancelled. Basically anything that wasn’t working that week was blamed on “oh, it’s because of the election”!!
Everything finished well with Bookbus, our last morning was at Cowboy Cliffs preschool and we took some bread, jam and orange squash and had a little picnic! As always it was sad to say goodbye. We finished up with an impromptu disco courtesy of our taxi drivers radio. Even the eachers and taxi driver were bopping away with the kids and the yellow t-shirted M’zungus to the current Zambian hits! The bus is all packed up now and ready for it’s period of hibernation!!
Now I was meant to travel to Malawi on Friday night with Claire and Bella, 2 Bookbus volunteers, who were joining the project (and the Book Bus Truck) in Malawi, but all buses were cancelled because of the election result being declared! (…Because of the election!!!) The opposition won.
Anyway, we finally set off on the first leg of the journey from Livingstone to Lusaka on Saturday night. We had really loud music for the entire 8 hours even though it was the middle of the night, I kept wondering why no one else was getting annoyed but it wasn’t until the last 20 minutes that I realised that it was ONLY our speaker that was working, the rest of the bus was in silence!
The next step involved changing at Lusaka at 3 in the morning and was, as always, an adventure. There are always so many people clambering to help you, to carry your bag, to show you right bus etc all in the hope of a small tip! And of course 3 m’zungu girls look easy prey but I’ve done it so many times now, I know how to go about it, as soon as you answer them in their language they know you belong and the crowd around you thins out a bit!!
The next bus was Lusaka to Lilongwe and it was literally falling to pieces. It was scheduled to leave at 5am but didn’t move an inch until 7am! It was packed and the aisle was full of crates, baggage and kids. It smelt like dry fish and halfway through the journey I found out why…as a bag of dried fish fell from the overhead racks and landed tail first on my hand as I was dozing. I have 2 nice small scars from where the fish tails cut me! A kid next to us was sick and generally it was just pretty funny…but only because there were 3 of us! We amused most of the bus by taking only one of the three free fantas we were entitled to and sharing it! That’s because we know loo stops are rare or non-existent on trans-African buses. Any food we need is bought through the windows at any opportune stop. Local people with baskets of fruit, chips, roasted corn cobs or even fried baby birds are encamped at any place a bus needs to stop, e.g. any police road block and as soon as the bus stops they crowd around holding up their wares. All transactions are done through the window at the top of your voice!
We pass miles of empty bush, cross the Luangwa river, drive through villages and small towns. The side of the road is always full of people walking along to the markets, to collect water or just going about their daily business. In towns there are markets with people selling all kinds of things from used clothes to fried goat, form bike tyres to flip flops! In Malawi they are very inventive with naming their shops. “No farming No life Shop.” “No money, No friends Hardware” or my personal favourite so far “Let them talk, such is life Grocery”. It can be a good way to pass the time trying to find the funniest title!
One boarder crossing and 11 hours later we arrived in Lilongwe. We spent the night in Lilongwe and then got ANOTHER bus which was meant to leave at 7.30am but left 2 hours late! If we thought the other one was crowded then this was extremely crowded…dictionary definition of “packed like sardines”! Hundreds (well dozens!)of people in the aisle!! And it stopped at EVERY village on the way and it was always the one woman at the back with 10 bags and the chicken that needed to get off and nobody thought that leaving a bit of space in the aisle was a good idea!! We had to all get off twice for police but then everyone piled back on, usually the aisle people first and then nobody could get to their seat! CRAZY! Another bag fell on my head but thankfully no fish!! We finally arrived after 8 and a half hours….it was meant to take 4 and a half!!! There was a bit of a sense of humour failure after about 6 hours but we rallied by playing 20 questions and “seat dancing” to our iPods and that earned us a lot more stares!!
We are finally reunited with the Book bus truck, at lake Malawi, right on the beach and seek out the bar for a cool drink, without having to worry when the next loo stop will be!!
African Bus Journeys….there’s always a story in them! I wonder what will happen when I retrace my steps on my return to Livingstone?