“We thank you for your music, your presence and know that we will never forget you,” said Chris as he drove me to Chazara, the entrance to Kasama on the morning of my departure back to Lusuka.
“Aww,” I grinned, “you guys are my Zambian family. Thank you for having me and helping me get healthy again.”
We hugged by the side of the road and Chris drove off to work.
It was just on zero seven thirty and the sun was beating down as though the world were missing some heat.
Jesus. Not even zero eight and it’s gotta be at least 30 degrees. Kids running by to school stopped to stare at me as I set up by the side of the road and stuck my thumb out.
When I first arrived in Zambia, I didn’t mind the stares. I figured the locals were contemplating whether I was in fact the Second Coming or just a crazy muzhungo (‘white man’ in Bemba) with long hair and an almost as long beard. But after two months in Zambia I was getting a little over the whole staring thing.
Sure, my caveman looks have made toddlers burst into tears – not of joy, mind you. Sheer fear. The mothers would laugh as would I. And then, to completely blow their minds, I’d greet them in Bemba or Nyanji (depending on the province).
The best reaction I got was that very morning on the side of the road in Chazara. A girl of maybe 13 years walked by carrying either her baby sibling or, quite possibly, her very own child. She was behind me and as she passed by she turned to look at me and stopped, her jaw hittin’ the ground runnin’.
A local that had decided to hang out with me even though he didn’t really speak English (I think he was enjoying the expression on the people’s faces) was looking at me looking at her looking at me.
“Moolishani?” I asked to her well being.
She gasped, as though I had just turned water into wine. She turned to walk away and then looked back at me, hand to forehead in absolute astonishment.
“Bwino?” I asked if she was good.
She nearly dropped the baby as she spun around, almost collapsing. She decided the best thing for her would be to walk off, muttering incomprehensibly. I shook my head, trying to grasp as to what had just happened, the local hanging out with me laughing.
I grinned at him as out of nowhere a road works crew pulled up, jumped out of the back of a truck and began to set up signs of road work. The traffic control girl with the red flag (who had the power to stop cars) decided, out of her own goodwill, to ask the passing drivers if they could take me to either Mpika (211 K’s south) or Lusaka (850 K’s south-west).
After two hours I finally managed to pull up a bukky.
“You don’t have money?” asked the driver after I explained my bartering ways.
“I play music for food and bed and ask good-hearted people if they can help me get to where I’m going,” I said. I could see the wheels in his head turning. I needed just one more line to make him laugh and I was in. “I have good stories.”
He cracked up, almost choking on the sip of water he had just taken. “OK,” he said, “let’s go.” My three favourite words in Africa.
He colelcted another hitcher, a local who sat in the passenger side. Since I barely slept a wink the previous night for reasons unknown, they conversed in Bemba while I dozed off for almost two hours. An hour later I was dropped off in Mpika. I was aiming to reach Lusaka by sundown.
It was just on 11:30 when I set up by the side of the road, sticking my thumb out. I said my ‘moolishani’s’ to the locals hitching rides and waved on the kombi buses that seemed to purposefully attempt to run me over. After two hours I knew my chances of reaching Lusaka by evening were out the window.
It was hot but clouds began to roll in, relieving me of the sun’s harsh African heat. Finally, just before fourteen, almost two and a half hours of sun-baking by the road, a truck pulled up.
“Moolishani,” I greeted the driver, “are you going to Lusaka?”
“Yes,” he said. “How much can you pay?”
“Here’s the thing,” and I explained my travel methods.
The driver stared at me then to the horizon. “Get your bags,” he finally said.
“What’s your name?” I asked him after climbing in.
“Everest,” he said, pulling onto the road.
“Everest?” I repeated. “Like the mountain?”
He laughed. His brother-in-law, Thomas, sat on the bunk, squeezed in between my guitar and North Ridge backpack and two huge sub-woofers that thankfully, Everest didn’t utilise at the ear drum ripping decibel that Africans have a tendency to play their radios. He had a great collection of reggae which I tapped along too.
As usual, Everest and Thomas struggled with my choice of lifestyle.
“You’re not married?”
“When will you go back to your country?”
It’s as though its the most alien thing they’ve ever heard. And it just might be.
Along the way we passed through several police checkpoints. Just after the sun set, we reached one before Serenje. The officer climbed up to the cab and when he saw me asked, “Are you a Jew?”
I cracked up laughing. “No.”
“What country are you from?”
“Are you sure? You look like a Jew.”
Stereotypes aside, I shrugged him off with a laugh and he let us ride through. When we reached Kapiri, the town where the Great North Road ends and we turn directly south to Lusaka, Everest asked me to run the paperwork to the window of the weighbridge station.
Approaching the nearest window, the girl behind the screen did a double-take at me and then started giggling that turned into laughter, mumbling something in Bemba.
“What is it?” I grinned, knowing it was my beard.
“She thinks you look like Jesus,” said her co-worker, smiling broadly.
“I am Jesus,” I said, winking. After the small exchange, getting the paperwork done was a breeze (maybe even a blessing).
200 K’s later, we reached Kapwe. It was twenty-thirty, still three hours outside of Lusaka when Everset stopped to chat with group of drivers from his company. He offered to buy me a sausage roll but I politely declined. I wasn’t hungry and didn’t feel like eating crappy food. He did insist on buying me a drink so I opted for a ginger beer substituting one crap for another (I love ginger beer. It’s the only soda pop I’ll drink by choice).
As we plodded along sirens flashed behind us. “What are you carrying?” I asked.
“Cigarettes,” Everest casually said.
A few hours before we had stopped in Mkushi, an out of the way town to collect some goods. I didn’t think about much of it until now, when the Tax Corruption Investigation unit pulled us over and attached a soldier to ride shotgun with his AK-47, forcing me to squeeze in with Thomas in the bunk.
I was quite tired by this point and had been dozing off peacefully, awakened only by the few bumps in the road. Even with a loaded soldier onboard, I dozed off, using his shoulder as a pillow (he didn’t seem to mind). We were lead to a parking area a half hour outside of Lusaka and it was here that we waited for the paper work to clear through, have the cargo checked and verified by calling in Everest’s boss.
Three hours later, at zero one in the morning, I was dropped off at the first police roadblock on the outskirts of Lusaka, just before the stadium from where I had first started my hitch hiking journey just over two weeks prior.
“Is there somewhere safe I can pitch my tent for the night?” I asked the police officer.
He kindly escorted me to the cop-shop, a tiny little building and, pointing at a slab of concrete that acted as a porch and said, “Here is OK.”
I pitched, slept four hours, awoke at zero five twenty (exactly 24-hours after I had woken up in Kapata the previous day) and somehow managed to hitch a free ride on a kombi that took me to the Lima Tower bus station from where I walked the 4 K’s to the offices of Paratus from where I am now finishing up this post.