In Zambia you’re granted a 90-day visa for $50 USD at 30-day intervals meaning, every 30 days – actually, the day before the expiry date – you need to find an immigration office and extend your visa for as long as you want up to 30 days at a time.
It makes it a little more challenging when you’re in the middle of nowhere (Kariba Bush Club) and the nearest office is a 3-4 hour drive away in the town of Chome.
Also, time is read in 24-hours but as the digits meaning, if it were nine in the morning then a Zambian would say, “It’s zero nine.” If it were nine in the evening then a Zambian would say, “It’s twenty-one.”
THE DAY BEFORE
“I’m going to Monze (about 70 K’s south of Lusaka) for my daughter’s graduation ceremony,” says Marina, the receptionist of Kariba Bush Club.
“Cool,” says I. “What time?”
“See ya then,” I try to sound chirpy about the early time.
30 K’s separate between the Kariba Bush Club and the tar road. 30 K’s of a flattened sand dune they dare describe as a ‘way’. It takes 90 minutes to traverse this ‘way’. Between the bumps, ditches, trenches, dug outs, cattle and the hiding places for WMDs, I tried to nod off – a slight impossibility when the ‘way’ throws everything it has to separate your head from your body.
You’d think hitting the tar road would make things smoother. The tar road resembled a firing range for mortars. Marina had to conduct evasive maneuvers to avoid tire-imploding potholes. The same maneuvers you’d use to escape a charging croc (not the shoe). The road was Swiss cheese.
I was dropped off at Petoka junction to hitch a ride to Choma, another half-hour down the road. A truck pulled over and took me en route. Then we came by a road block. The police officer didn’t appreciate the driver wanting to help a foreigner and fined him 50 Kwacha (about $10 AUD) cause I wasn’t covered by the driver’s insurance (the currency, ‘Kwacha’, means ‘sun rise’).
“No pressure,” said the driver as I apologised profusely.
From where he dropped me off in Choma I began to head over to the immigration office when a guy ran up to me.
“Livingstone, yes? Come with me.”
“I’m not going to Livingstone,” says I.
“Lusaka? OK,” he summons another guy over as he escorts me for about a hundred meters down the main street.
“I’m not going to Lusaka,” says I.
“Kitwe? OK, go with him,” he points to another guy.
“I’m not going to Kitwe,” says I, keeping my cool.
“Then where are you going?” asks he.
“Nowhere. I’m staying here,” and he stood in shock as I continued down the street where I entered the complex for government buildings.
“Hi,” I smile at a guy in the agriculture office. “I’m looking for the immigration office?”
“That yellowish building over,” he points to it.
I walk over.
“Hello sir,” says an elderly gentleman at the door.
“Hi,” says I. “I’m looking for immigration.”
“That pink building behind you,” he points to it. “Second door from the right.”
“Right. Thanks,” says I hoping that this would be the right building.
I walk into a tiny office. “Hi,” I greet the guy at the desk. “Immigration?”
“Yes,” says he, enlightening me. “Take a seat.”
Within two minutes (a full minute was dedicated to looking for the stamp) I was stamped with a 30-day extension and then I hit the road again to get back to Kariba.
ZERO NINE AND THIRTY
As I walked the 4 K’s to get out of town, I passed by a green-cabined truck and waved a ‘hello’ and, “How are you?”at the guys loading the vehicle in the local dialect of Nyanji.
They smiled and waved back and I knew that instant that they were my ride to Petoka (I have this ability, a super power if you will, to know these things. Like the truck in Rundu that took me to Katima, Namibia. I saw it at the service station for an hour but I knew it was my ride. I can’t explain it).
At the side of the road I passed a dude just standing around. He figured I was in want of a combi (local van-sized bus services) so he signals for one to pull over, pointing at me.
“Lusaka?” the guy hanging out of the door asks as he tells the people squashed in the car to move and empty a seat for me.
“I’m not going to Lusaka,” says I.
“I’m not going to Kitwe,” says I, keeping my cool as potential rides drive by.
“Then where are you going?” asks he.
“Petoka but I don’t have money.”
“No money?” he looked confused.
“I don’t use money.”
“No money?” he still looked confused.
“It’s cool, man,” I say, trying to get him to go.
And then the green truck appeared on the road’s horizon just as the van drove off. It pulled over and picked me up. I shared an orange I had just peeled with the guys in the front seat. Noticing the sticker on the dashboard I turn to the passenger by the window (I was squeezed in the middle),
“You like Liverpool?”
“Yes,” smiles he. “But the driver, him like Chelsea.”
“Chelsea?” I turned to the driver. “Get outta here. I’ll drive. Pfft, Chelsea,” I grinned, acting as though I knew anything about the world of sports in this day and age.
Charles, the driver, laughed and then named Chelsea’s entire lineup. I recognised the names only because I had watched the World Cup back in Namibia.
“That’s a heck of a team,” says I, almost sheepishly.
They dropped me off at the junction I had just left that morning. The same drunk from last time came up to me.
“You remember my name?” asks he.
“Nope,” says I.
“Isaac,” says he, almost hurt.
“Ah,” says I. “Do you remember mine?”
“What is it?”
“Er…” He looked to the ground. “Um…” He looked to the sky. “Ah…” He looked to the road. “Wait…”
He looked at me. “Some assistance please?”
We shook hands and he went off to hassle the other hitch hikers at the junction. He claims to be a transport officer – as in the guy who flags down cars for hitchers. Nobody really paid any attention to him.
After a few minutes a huge purple American Kenworth truck rolled up. On its door was an official looking sign saying, ‘No unauthorised passengers and cargo’. I explained my moneyless mode of travel to Timmy, the driver, who said, “OK, get in.”
In the truck were three other hitchers. The driver stopped to negotiate with every hitcher on the road, picking up just two more out of the 53 he talked to, making a 2-hour drive into a 3-hour potholed massage.
I was losing the light and figured I’d have to hike the 30 K’s to the lodge cause the chances of hitching a ride along that flattened sand dune were about as great as a chance of the Zambian Road Authority fixing the roads.
The driver dropped me off at the 30 K mark and I began to hike with just 2 liters of water and my last orange. The sun was beating down on me like an abusive step-father. I calculated that if I walked at a top speed of 6 K’s an hour I’d reach the lodge by sunset.
After about five minutes a truck pulled up behind me and took me to the 15 K mark. I continued to hike, waving at the locals and the kids who yelled out, “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” I’d respond and then ask to their well-being in Nyanji.
“How are you?” they’d repeat in English.
“Yeah, I’m fine but how are you?” I’d ask as they followed me.
“How are you?” they’d continue, sounding like a stuck CD.
I heard a car behind me.
It stopped and I peered in to see five gentlemen seated in the minivan. Explaining my situation they took me on. As soon as I sat in the car I had a feeling that these guys were, “Teachers?” I asked them.
“Yes,” one answered on behalf of the group. “Are you a scientist?”
“Yeah,” grins I. “A scientist of life.”
“I’m a writer.”
“Ah,” said the representative. “An artist.”
“Of sorts,” says I as we bounced along the flattened sand dune.
“I’m right here,” I said, pointing at the lodge’s gate.
“Ah, we are going here too,” they said and drove in.
FIFTEEN AND TWENTY FIVE
I headed to the bar to order an ice cold Mosi beer to wash down the dust that had gathered in my throat, calculating the 10.5 hours it took me to extend my visa within 2 minutes.