“You want a beer?” asked the passenger from the truck’s cabin crawling behind a line of slow-moving cars.
It was just past zero eight thirty. Marius had dropped me off outside the new stadium and although it was about 25 degrees and I normally wouldn’t say ‘no’ to the offer of a cold brew, I just really wanted to hit the road and get out of Lusaka.
“Oh, you want a ride?” he said after I declined his beer offer. “Then come on.”
Kennedy was riding with his uncle driving and another guy lying in the bunk.
“How far are you going?” I asked.
“Serenje,” he said.
“Sweet,” I grinned, pleased with the 500 K ride on this very slow-moving truck (I could run faster. Just not in the fast approaching 30 degrees).
We reached Kapwe, about 300 Ks north of Lusaka when Kennedy asked, “You want to get off here?”
I was confused. “Aren’t you able to take me to Serenje?”
“Uncle is worried you won’t pay,” Kennedy lit the fuse.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” I said as the fuse sped along its line of fire. I explained my way of moneyless traveling. “I play music or work for food and bed.”
Kennedy was not happy. Neither was his uncle. In my rush to get out of Lusaka I had forgotten to explain my ways.
“You will have to get off here then,” he said.
“Not a problem,” I said, apologising for the miscommunication. We parted on friendly grounds, Kennedy even wanting my email.
I began to hike through the town of Kapwe trying to flag down a ride. After a 2-K hike Harry picked me up (after I first explained of my bartering lifestyle) and drove me to a place where I could easily hitch and there, within ten minutes, George picked me up and, learning of my Aussie background, demanded I help him get an Australian woman to be his wife.
“I want to have coloured kids,” he said.
“Sure,” I laughed. “I’ll help ya.”
He took me halfway to Kapiri, my turnoff to what’s known as The Great North Road that heads north-east to Tanzania (there’s also The Great East Road that’ll take me to Malawi in a few weeks). Within another ten minutes I was picked up by Albert.
“I am from the Copper Belt,” he said proudly. “I am the local fire chief.” To prove it he showed me his ID.
He had a stuffed monkey hanging from his mirror.
“Cute,” I commented.
“Yes,” he grinned. “In my village we eat monkeys.”
“You eat monkeys?” I gasped. How could anyone eat something so human-like?
As I was heading towards Bemba land he taught me some useful words to get by with.
“Moolishani means ‘how are you’,” he explained as I wrote the phrases down. “‘Twatotella’ means ‘thank you'” – sounds Italian – “and ‘Mkwai’ (pronounced: Em-Kwai) is good to use to almost everything.”
He took me all the way to the truck stop in Kapiri and asked a local waiting for the bus to look after me. Not that I needed it but the gesture was appreciated. It was here that I hitched a ride on a petrol tanker heading to Tanzania with Adbi, a Tanzanian who took on two fellow country men who conversed in Swahili for the next eight hours.
A lot of African dialects are spoken loud. What may seem like a heated argument is in fact, just the way they speak it. Swahili was no exception. Rain began to splatter the windshield as we passed three over-turned trucks on the road surrounded by green bush land.
At about seventeen we stopped for dinner of nshima (the maize pap they eat three times a day).
“What is this?” I asked, regarding a strange looking side dish that resembled tongue yet was hollow.
“Goat’s intestines,” grinned Adbi, slurping down a mouthful.
I shuddered. “You can have the intestines,” I said, pulling a face that had the men laughing. “I don’t eat the insides of animals.” Just doesn’t seem right.
200 Ks later I was dropped off at the Mpika truck stop. Thanking Abdi I wished him a safe journey to Tanzania. Now I needed to find somewhere to pitch a tent and hope that it won’t continue to rain as my tent lacks water proofing. I approached Emmanuel, the security guard of the truck stop, and he kindly showed me where I could safely pitch my portable dwelling.
Right in front of a truck.
I was in my sleeping bag by twenty-two, awaking every few hours by truck engines sounding dangerously close to my tent. I could also feel that I was coming down with a cold due to the sudden temperature changes between hot, wet and cold. The next morning I packed my gear and hit the road, deciding to hike until a ride might come by. 10 Ks later, as the threat of rain loomed above me in large dark grey clouds, a truck pulled over.
“Kasama?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the driver and took me on.
A few villages later he pulled by the side of the road to buy a stick full of fish and lay them on plastic bags between us. Thankfully, he opened my window.
A few hours later I was dropped off at the maize mill about 10 K’s outside of Kasama. As I hiked a taxi stopped for me but I explained that, “I don’t have money.”
Surprisingly, the driver took me for free, dropping me off in the center of town. I decided to look for a lodge where I could barter for the night. I needed to extend the last 30 days on my 3-month visa and then head up to Lake Tanganyika, the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second deepest, sharing borders with Tanzania, Burundi and Malawi.
And it was there that Henry Morton Stanley (the first European to explore the Congo River back in the late 1880’s) found Dr Livingstone after he had disappeared for some years, uttering the famous line, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” (Livingstone would succumb to Malaria a few years later at the lake).
Walking around I bumped into Justin, a former Peace Corps volunteer. He and his partner Claire were building a house by the Lukupa River (www.lovenlightlukupa.com). Her brother Trey was visiting and helping them out.
After explaining my bartering ways I was invited to crash at their host family’s place in the village of Kapata.
“About 10 Ks outside of town,” Justin said.
“Sounds great,” I said, accepting the offer.
I was welcomed into the family with hugs from Beatrice and her husband Chris, a hug from the grandmother and handshakes with the small kids.
Thandi, a family friend and his mate, Blessings, brought out the whiskey while Trey supplied the vodka. I had a bucket shower and after dinner jammed with Justin by the fire. He even whipped out a mandolin. We drank and sang and made merry until the rains cut our party short. As there is no electricity in the village there was nothing left to do besides crashing. Sharing a room with Trey, the rain pounded like machine-gun fire on the tin roof.
I was still feeling sick and the next morning felt worse. Still, I hit the road to Mbala to extend my visa (at Claire’s suggestion) and then find a ride to Mpulungu to catch the ferry to Nsumbu. I began to hike and after about 2 K’s I was picked up by a local teacher who took me 30 kilometers down the road.
Mbala was still 130 Ks away.
I then hiked about 7 Ks until a convey of over-sized trucks roared by. The rear car escorting them picked me up and I rode with Nicholas to Mbala. I was feeling pretty shit as the customs officer suggested I speak with, “Mr Chowa at the power tools shop. He is going to Mpulungu.”
“I will only be leaving at seventeen thirty,” he said when I caught up with him.
It was just passed fifteen. “I can wait if you can take me,” I said.
I sat around and he disappeared across the road. Then one of his workers instructed me to go across where I saw Mr Chowa standing by a Kombi.
“I bought for you a ticket to Mpulungu,” he said.
Damn it. One of my main reasons for hitch hiking was to avoid the Kombis. They’re always overloaded with people spilling from every opening and the drivers seemed to all be auditioning to be stunt drivers. That and I don’t want people paying for me.
“Mr Chowa you shouldn’t have,” I said, shaking his hand in thanks. I couldn’t refuse for fear of offending him in front of all these people so I hopped on.
The Kombi ride was pretty smooth and the driver took me all the way to St Georges harbour where a capinte fish market was on. Hundreds of sacks of capinte were poured out onto the concrete floor by women, some with babies strapped to there backs, as they squabbled and haggled over prices while young kids ran around, stealing handfuls of fish from each piles before being slapped away angrily by the women.
“You can put your tent here after the market ends,” offered Goodwill, the harbour master.
By eighteen, the market was wrapped up but the lingering stench of fish hovered around like… well, like a bad smell. Still, it was shelter from the coming rains and as my nose was clogging up nicely by the cold that was unleashing an army of germs raiding my immune system, I didn’t really smell it all too bad.
Somewhere during the night the rains came pounding on the tin roof. By zero five I was up, feeling worse. I got my ticket for the ferry and took a closer look at the timetable posted on the wall: Mpulungu to Nsumbu – Departure: 09:00 Arrival 15:00.
I saw Goodwill and approached him. “How long is the ferry ride?” I asked.
“Six hours,” he said with a smile.
Shit, that’s half a day already. And that’s if they leave on time. I was permitted to take my place on board the rickety looking ferry. I started to read Irvine Welsh’s, The Acid House, while battling the cold that was threatening to take me out. As I read, a gut instinct began to linger about like the fish smell of the market.
Don’t go, it seemed to say.
I continued to read, ignoring all signs until I realised I was at page 200. I looked at the time on my phone – 11:11. I looked to the dock.
Still tied up and yes, the boat was still being loaded. Grabbing my pack and guitar I climbed through the throng of people that had collected around me without my noticing (it’s a good book) and found Goodwill.
“The boat is just going now,” he smiled.
“Just now?” I raised an eyebrow.
I was feeling like shit, could barely breath through a very stuffed nose and now this guy, with all of his good will, is telling me that the boat is going ‘just now’? (in true African fashion, just now can mean anywhere from five minutes to five hours).
“You still have three tonnes of goods to hand load on to the boat,” I said suppressing with all my might my anger (I hate when people waste my time). “I’ve been sitting here for five hours – since zero six – and this boat will be leaving at thirteen putting me in Nsumbu at nineteen in the evening wasting my entire day. So no, the boat is not going just now.”
I was being an arse but I was sick. It’s not a valid reason but I was not feeling well at all.
Reluctantly, they refunded my ticket and I slowly hiked through town for a bite to eat and then hitch back to Kapata to rest and recover. Over the horizon black clouds were coming in fast, rain spilling from them like someone carrying an overloaded bucket.
I need to get a ride and I need it now. I spotted a bukky pulling out of a drive and flagged it down. He took me 15 K’s outside Mpulungu towards the road to Kasama. I began to hike – uphill – and after about 7 K’s I was practically done. Low on water I contemplated continuing or opt to pass out on the road.
“Hey!” someone called from a thatched roof by the side of the road. “Come and eat Nshima!”
I wasn’t hungry (a first) but I was damn thirsty so I plodded over and was promptly provided with a stool to sit on. I politely declined the offer of food,
“But do you have water?”
They filled up my bottle as I drank two cups full, rested for a bit chatting before gathering the strength to continue. 200 meters up the road a car with three locals pulled over and took me to the Kasama junction. An hour later I found myself in the backseat of a blue Ford Ranger bukky with Zizwani in the passenger seat and Moses driving.
Both were civil engineers. Zizwani had travelled to Europe and had lived and studied in Russia for seven years. I spoke a bit of broken Russian with him and told them of my philosophical bartering ways which blew their mind.
“Do you believe in God?” asked Moses.
This happens a lot in Africa and especially in Zambia which has been the most religious Christian country I’ve ever encountered.
“I believe in Karma,” I say each time and explain the meaning of doing good and good things happen. “Project good energy and you’ll attract good energy.”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Moses said. “I was impressed with everything you said until you told me you don’t believe in God.”
Still, by the time I was dropped off in Kapata Moses had invited me to his May wedding. “I’ll be in Tanzania but thank you,” I said, wishing him all the best.
I hiked through the village and took a wrong turn trying to find Chris and Beatrice’s house. A teenager came chasing and escorted me in the right direction.
“Tatotwela,” I thanked him and found my home-away-from-home where I rested, drank tea with ginger, diced up some garlic cloves swallowing them like pills and recovered a few days later to join in the celebrations of Zambia’s 50th year of independence from British colonial rule (back when it was called Northern Rhodesia).