“So you don’t have any money?” Phillip looked at me with the kind of look that said, ‘I’m curious to know more but not sure if I really want to’.
It was just past 13:00 when I found myself on the outskirts of Chome, at the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, surrounded by 22 hitch-hikers and approached by three drunks trying to convince me to buy them drinks.
Desperation for a ride was sticking to me like these inebriated folk.
“So you don’t have money?” Phillip repeated.
Being on the road for 15 months, you learn to read people pretty quickly. Body language becomes your mother-tongue. And reading Phillip debating with himself, I knew he would eventually say, “OK, let’s go.”
He took on two other passengers, retired gentlemen who needed a ride to Maambo, about 70 K’s down the road. My aim was to reach the Kariba Bush Club, home to one of the world’s largest crocodile farms with 80,000 dinosaurs. Both the lodge and the farm are on the banks of Lake Kariba. It’s a croc-infested, hippo-swarming lake where the Zambezi flows in and then out the other end to continue its journey to the Indian Ocean.
The day had started casually enough. It was the first time I had woken sober after four days of partying with Irish Dave, an Irishman crossing the African continent from Cork to Cape Town who happened to have started his journey from Cork in Ireland on May 13th, 2013.
I had started my journey from Melbourne, Australia, diagonally from Irish Dave, on May 13th, 2013.
I blame Irish Dave for having to undergo white-water rafting and the zipline\bungee\gorge swing completely inebriated (not that I’m complaining. Not sure if I’d had the balls to do it sober).
Grubby, owner of Rafting Extreme and The Grotto, a campsite for overland tours (and nomadic barterers like myself) who had allowed me to camp since last Thursday, offered to drop me off at the roadblock where trucks are checked for papers.
He spoke with the friendly policeman who agreed to organise a ride for me to Chome, about 200 K’s north-east of Livingstone.
“How much can you pay?” the officer had asked me.
I explained that, “I don’t use money.”
He raised an eyebrow but said he’ll do his best.
I had barely planted arse-in-seat when he called me over to the 18-wheeled rig that had stopped.
It was the quickest ride I had ever hitched on my travels. I swung the passenger-side door open and threw my bags and guitar up to the driver.
“Simon,” he introduced himself.
A big laughing, bald-headed full of life Zimbabwean, we conversed all the way to Chome, discussing things about Africa, his travels to England – “Too cold, I ran back to Africa” – Dubai – “Too hot, I ran back to Africa”. I answered his questions about Australia and blew his mind with my philosophy of not using money.
We entered the district of Zimba, a rural town where we stopped and Simon bought me a banana-maize energy drink called Mahu. “Much healthier than Redbull,” he said.
The mahu was delicious and rejuvenating.
As we passed through the villages of Kalomo, Mukwela, Shanga Ubone (which means, ‘Nice to see’) and finally to Chome to the Mwetoka turnoff to Maambo, Simon said, “This is real Africa. There is no town planner. Everything is a mess.” Just like the potholed roads. He shook his head in disappointment. “I can’t believe people still live like this in 2014.”
I kind of agree although I think part of Africa’s appeal is the ruralness. At the turnoff, Simon helped carry my bags over to the side of the road.
“Do you have a religion?” I asked him before we parted ways.
“I’m a strong Christian believer,” he said proudly.
I presented him with a hand-carved wooden cross that a pastor in Tsumeb, Namibia, had given me. Simon widened his already wide smile as he firmly shook my hands.
“If you see me on the roads of Africa, you’ll stop for me again?” I asked him.
“You bet,” he grinned as he walked back to his rig.
Simon had yet to climb into his cab when a drunken local approached me. It was just on 13:00 and this guy was on-his-ass drunk (although standing, awkwardly).
“I want to invite you to play pool,” he said, eyes yellowish-red, shirt dirty and ripped as were his shoes.
“I’d love to, but I’m waiting for a truck,” I explained, casually, as though he were sober.
“Then I will wait with you.”
Please don’t. I’ll never get a ride with this guy hanging around.
“Buy me a drink,” he then said.
“No,” I grinned. “Friend’s don’t ask each other to buy drinks. If I want, I will choose whether to buy you a drink or not.”
“You are my boss,” he retorted (in Africa, any white man is regarded a boss for the obvious white-black reasons). I laughed at his call.
“No, my brother. I’m no one’s boss.”
“But you are a white man,” he looked at me confused.
“I’m a man,” I said proudly. “A hu-man. Just like you. There is no difference if you are black or white or yellow. We are all people.” Then I quoted Zambia’s motto: “One nation, one people, right?”
At this, his eyes widened and he slapped my hand in a painful hi-five.
I really needed him to go back to the bar (and perhaps pass out). More people were arriving and pretty soon I was surrounded by a village worth’s of locals and their babies (staring at me) with shopping bags, all looking to hitch a ride.
“I’m going to buy another drink,” said the drunken. “I watch you from there,” he pointed to the bar across the road.
Perfect. I gave him the thumbs up. Then two more drunks showed up.
“Mwe uli bwanji?” I asked to their well-being in the local popular dialect (out of 72), Nyanji.
They hi-fived me, one of them having pink nail polish on his nails. “You play music?” he drunkenly slurred, observing my guitar case.
“Eyai (pronounced ‘eh’),” I confirmed.
“I dance,” he then proceeded to wobble his knees as he and his friend cracked up in contagious laughter. I laughed with them as I excused myself to try and flag down a passing car.
After a few repeated scenes of their dance moves they finally trucked on when Phillip arrived to the rescue.
“So you don’t use money?” he asked in the car.
“Nope,” I said. “I exchange things, skills, for food, bed and passage.”
“What will you give me then?” he asked, unashamed.
“Let me teach you the ways of life without money,” and I gave them my spiel.
“What do you plan for the future?” one of the gentlemen asked me.
“I don’t plan anything.” They looked at me in shock. “You see,” I began to explain, “if you plan something and it doesn’t work out, you become angry, disappointed, sad and unhappy. This way, if I don’t plan anything, I’m never disappointed.”
“So you are always happy?” said the guy in the front passenger seat.
“Exactly,” I grinned.
They were shocked that I had no intention of getting married (as in, I wouldn’t sign a contract for love) or of having children.
“It’s my choice whether I want children or not, right?” They agreed. “So it’s my choice to not want any.” For now.
“You have taught me something today,” Phillip said.
“You see,” I grinned, “we exchanged something.”
In Maambo Phillip assisted in organising a ride for me to the bush club with Mostbana who piled his sedan with 7 people. I shared the front seat with a long-limbered skinny kid who had to sit on the emergency brake. To make room in the boot, my smaller pack was between my knees while half of my guitar hung out of the window, the other half lay on the dashboard.
We took the worst road possible through villages that time had forgotten about, dropping off people, picking up more hitchers. Mostbana attempted to get a truck to help me to reach the lodge as he didn’t plan on it for his final destination.
The truck refused and so, finding some more people to cover his petrol costs, we set out for the remaining 14 km’s to the bush club over potholed, trench-dug roads that the sand trucks had decimated (a military Humvee would have struggled here). The full moon rose high on the horizon, the sun setting behind us.
I was thinking what I could give Mostbana for his generosity as we didn’t really converse much. We pulled into the bush club and I was surprised to see a pair of zebra’s munching on the lawn. Impala’s were frolicking about freely as were some goats and three dogs.
I met my contact, Marina who showed me to my new home for the next month. “I’ve just got to pay the driver and I’ll show you the rest of the camp.”
Pay the driver?
That cheeky mother…
Feeling betrayed and false-fed on his generosity, I decided to give Mostbana nothing more than a handshake.
Dinner was chicken curry at the bar overlooking the lake where the sun painted a picture-perfect canvas of reds, orange and blues.