Monthly Archives: August 2013

Journey to Victoria Falls



I decided to take a weekend jaunt to Livingstone, to see the famous Victoria Falls. Because we have a half-day on Friday, I could grab an early-afternoon bus from the inter-city bus station in Lusaka and hopefully be in Livingstone by 9:00pm…or 2100, as they say here.

The most reputable bus company is called Mazhandu, but they did not have a bus leaving in the afternoon, so I opted for Shalom bus lines instead. You cannot buy your ticket on-line, as you can in the states; instead, they recommend that you go into the city the day before to purchase. I was unable to do that (I got my car back finally, but that’s another story) but I was able to reserve a seat on the 1400 bus with the promise to pay on the day.

One of the drivers from school took me into the city and boy was I glad he did. The inter-city bus station is an absolute madhouse. As you drive in, representatives from various bus companies try to convince you that you have booked your trip with them and try to direct you to various bus kiosks. Buses are coming and going and backing up into spaces you would never believe a bus could fit. People are milling around with huge baskets of produce on their heads – oranges, pineapples, bananas – trying to sell them to the other people, who are lining up at the various kiosks to buy tickets.

I was the only white person there and I got some curious looks.

I finally got my ticket and found my seat on the bus, which left a little bit after 1400. Except that this was actually the 1300 bus. At any rate, the bus was a modern coach, the seats reclined, there was decent leg room, curtains on the windows to block out the sun and air conditioning. Again, I got some curious (but not unfriendly) looks and one young man called out something about a “mzungu” on the bus and grinned at me as he asked if the air-con was adjusted correctly. I grinned back and told him that I was a very happy mzungu. He laughed.

There was music playing on the bus. Loud music, all throughout the bus speakers. Loud, repetitive contemporary Christian praise music…some in English, some in African dialect. And this was interspersed with preaching. Loud, repetitive preaching.

For the entire trip, which ended up taking 8 hours.

I did see some interesting sites before the sun set. A big, open trailer full of piglets, being towed by a blue mini-van. Several cows and a calf on a similar trailer, looking as mournful as only cows can. Women and children carrying impossibly large loads of firewood on their heads. Thatched, round huts and little paths leading off the road to distant cottages and huts. The ubiquitous AirTel top-up shacks. People sitting right at the edge of the road, selling bags of tomatoes and onions.

And trash. Mountains of trash…plastic bags, plastic bottles, styrofoam containers, bags from chips and candy wrappers. All strewn along the side of the road and in the abutting fields.

I finally arrived in Livingstone, grabbed a cab to my guest house and fell into a very comfortable bed. Today, I visit the falls!


Signs and gates…walking a different way!




Walking in Lusaka is always an adventure in and of itself.  Although a huge percentage of the population walks everywhere (when they are not taking the little blue mini-vans!)  there is a decided lack of sidewalks or places to walk next to the road.  Most roads have no shoulders and because of the torrential rains during the wet season, there are ditches for the run-off on either side of the road.  Some of these ditches are lined with concrete or pavers, but more often, they are simply dug out of the dirt.

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Every once in a while, there is some kind of sidewalk.  Sometimes it is merely a dirt path, but sometimes, the owner of the building will create a sidewalk in front of their property as the Anglican Church has.  It is kind of odd to be walking in dirt and ditches and then suddenly have a proper sidewalk for 100 yards or so before going back to the dirt!

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Most of the houses and complexes in my area are walled and gated – that is, they have a gate or a sliding door at the entrance that is opened for residents by a guard.   Some are quite simple, like the one at my flat.



But others are much more elaborate affairs, with ironwork and scrolling.  Some of the walls have pieces of glass at the top, to prevent anyone from gaining entrance.

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There are security companies that will provide guards for the complexes and some of the “fancier” places and the embassy residences hire a whole slew of them.  Being a gate-guard may seem like a boring job, and perhaps it is…but the unemployment is so high here that the more jobs that can be created, the better.  One guard saw me snapping pictures on my walk and asked if he could pose!

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The signage along the main roads is quite interesting.  Many of the signs are produced locally and lack the uniformity we are so used to seeing at home.  But some look just like any busy corner in any city.

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Lusaka is really in transition and a period of growth…but sometimes the money runs out and people abandon their building project, leaving the skeleton of the house or complex incomplete and taken over by the wild flowers.

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And always, there is a riot of color amongst the trees and flowering hedges.  Even in this dry season.

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Hats, hats, hats…



Every primary student (up to Grade 5) at the school is required to wear a hat when outside for lunch or recess.  If they don’t, they are restricted to a small shaded area.  The Zambian sun is very hot mid-day and kids could easily get sunstroke.  Copious water-drinking is also encouraged.  Most teachers also don a hat and carry a water bottle when outside.

When I was on a break the other day, the array of hats on the playground was so colourful that I thought I’d snap a few pictures.  Some of the kids were happy to pose for me, showing off their chapeaus.

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The older kids have no such restrictions – presumably they have enough brains to stay hydrated and out of the sun on their own.  And for the most part, they do!  The campus is open and there are plenty of ready-made places to sit for lunch, or study or a giggle with your friends.

IMG_1157 IMG_1158 IMG_1159 IMG_1161It is a very different lunch-time scene than ones I am used to, with all the kids crammed into a cafeteria, sitting at long tables and making a racket.  Somehow, being able to find a shady nook to sit and eat with a small group of friends seems much more civilised…

A backyard barbecue…



This weekend, the tenants in the flat next to mine had a big barbecue in the common backyard and invited everyone in the surrounding flats to come.  Apparently these weekend barbecues were a regular thing last year, but this was the first one since I have been here.  It was attended by a large number of ex-pats, mostly in their 20s and 30s and most of them working for some service organisation or other.   (These service organisations are called “NGOs” for “Non-Governmental Service Organisation.”)

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And they were from all over the world, too…some Americans, but also folks from Spain, Holland, France, Venezuela and several other countries.  There were also folks from Zambia; some were service workers as well and some boyfriends/girlfriends of the ex-pats at the party.

The three little girls who are daughters of the on-site manager were also invited.  They had made (with help from one of the girls who lives next door to me) a delicious chocolate mousse.  This was devoured within 15 minutes of being put out on the table.  Other folks had brought offerings such as cous-cous salad, baba ghanoush, some kind of spicy popcorn, fresh pineapple with rum and mint and other kinds of salads and side dishes.

But the real deal was the meat.  The huge grill was filled with charcoal and after the coals had turned to embers, piled with meat of all kinds.  Marinated ribs, sausages, steak, pork, chicken, shrimp…there was even a kind of cheese that could be grilled.  Unlike a typical picnic where the meat is eaten along with the rest of the food, this was like a separate meat course.  Good thing, too, as there was no room on the plate for such things as salad.


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A lively game of Beer Pong was set up and played with great gusto throughout the evening.  I was informed that the red Solo cups being used were “regulation” and had actually been shipped over from the states.  Over near the pool, a more sedate game of Jenga was taking place.  The little girls darted in and out, always somehow having a full plate of food.

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It was fun talking to everyone about where they’d come from and where they’d been.  After a few hours, I went back to my flat, but the party continued into the night and I could hear the laughter and the cheers from the Beer Pong game for quite some time.


(Doot, doot, doot) Lookin’ out my back door…


Late yesterday afternoon, I took a stroll around my little garden and the common backyard and noticed how many different (and beautiful) flowers and bushes there were, just in this little area.  And in the dry season!

I am no gardener (although I do love colourful growing things!) so maybe someone can tell me what some of these are…or at least a close approximation!  The only one I was sure of was the mint growing right by the walkway.  And I do love mint.

Late afternoon here is not the same as at home.  Because we are so close to the equator, there is no real twilight or lingering sunsets (or sunrises!)   BAM!  Sun’s up!  And BOOM!  It’s down!  But there is a sort of hazy change in the light, right around 5:00pm, which is when I took these pictures.

I tried to get some pictures of the little lizards (chameleons, I think) that skitter up and down the path (and even onto the porch) but they were too shy.  Next time!  Apparently there are also tortoises and voles who inhabit the yard, too.

And it’s Friday.  Made it through the first week of school!  Still don’t have my car back, so likely will do some more walking this weekend, or perhaps be really adventurous and brave the little blue vans that pass for public transportation here.

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The First Day of School


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I have been teaching for almost 40 years and the first day of school is still filled with a special kind of excitement and anticipation that is like no other.

The American Embassy School where I work in Lusaka has over 500 students from “play school” (age 2)  up through  grade 12 (age 18+)  from more than 40 different countries.   This year, almost 25% of the students were brand new to the school and many came with anxious parents trailing behind them, making sure they found their classroom, checking their book-bags for supplies and lunch, cornering the teacher or principal for reassurance that the day would go well for Johnny or Susie (or Mtwalo or Sasha…)  After a brief time in advisory class or homeroom, all the students trooped down to the PAC (Performing Arts Center) for the opening assembly.

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It was quite a sight as the kids filled up the auditorium.  There was that unmistakable vibe of a new year beginning.  Students filled in with their classes – everyone from the strapping, know-it-all seniors at the back, to the teeny-tiny preschoolers at the front.   Rhythmic music played over the sound system and kids came in grinning and waving, wide-eyed and nervous, some holding hands, some of the younger ones being propelled by their teachers, some bounding into the space like they owned it.


And then the director stood up and asked everyone to stand and sing the national anthem.  My musical debut at the school, I played the piano while the student body sang with great gusto!  And then…the school year began!


A walk through an “unplanned settlement” in Kabulonga


Today I took a long walk…not towards the city, but the other way, into what is called an “unplanned settlement.”  These settlements are areas that have sprung up over the past 40 or 50 years, as people build houses and other structures on vacant or unclaimed land.  The Kabulonga Dam (also called the Kalikiliki Dam) was built across a stream in a marshy area in the 1960s by the owner of the plot.  After several people drowned in the resulting lake, hostility towards the owner (a white man) caused him to give the plot and dam to someone else, who later died. Because the dam is on private land, it has not been maintained since 1990. The current condition of the dam is hazardous. According to Lusaka City Council Engineering Department, seepage has been detected at the base over the past few years and it is in danger of collapsing. The dam wallhas also been heavily eroded as people have built right into it; they have even used soil from the dam wall for construction purposes. The current structure of the wall would not withstand strong currents were the dam to be allowed to fill up.

You can read more about the dam, the settlements and what the government is (and is not) doing about it in this study done in 2007.  CLICK HERE.

I took a right out of my driveway and walked down Sable road.  I crossed the (unnamed) paved road at the end of the street and walked onto the dirt extension of Sable road.  There was a lot of new construction; big houses with yards and carports.  Lusaka is expanding.  I got some curious looks, but mostly smiles and “hellos.”  Then I turned onto the road going towards the dam.  There was a school, with a colorful sign and a group of boys playing soccer with a tattered ball.
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Although the dam shows up like a blue lake on the map view, in reality it is a marshy area, with piles of trash on either side and houses crowed along the edge.  One of the larger piles of trash was burning, and there were people picking through the smokey rubble.  Where the “lake” would be in the rainy season, someone had planted a large garden, with what looked like cabbages and other greens.

As I walked further into the settlement, the looks became more curious.  Several times I was asked “Where you going, Madam?”  Apparently the answer “Just taking a walk” was very odd, especially for a white woman dressed in hiking shoes and shorts, carrying two bottles of water in a waist pack and wearing a floppy LLBean sunhat.  I am sure I looked ridiculous.    There were houses crowded in together on the side of the “dam” and little stores – there was even a bar. Lots of grinning children ran up to me, saying “Hi!  Hi! How are you?” and then running away again.  Some of them let me take their picture.  I was apparently quite a curiosity.

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There was trash and rubbish everywhere.  Plastic bottles, tin cans, styrofoam packaging from food, milk cartons.  All just lying in piles or on the road.  There is no trash pick-up, no place to put the refuse of the fancy packaging from the first world.  Plastic cannot be composted or burned.  People pick through it and sometimes make things…I complemented a little boy who had created a credible truck out of a couple of old milk-cartons and another boy, later on, who had constructed a vehicle out of a wire frame.  But the settlement is basically on top of a garbage dump…and there is no way to get rid of the mountains of trash.  And yet…colorful flowers still seem to grow…

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And then, I took a turn towards town and suddenly I was on a wide paved road with a sidewalk…a rarity outside of the main part of the city.  I made my way towards home, and the sign for the “luxury housing” so close to the settlement I had just come from seemed incongruous.  I stopped at the little stand on corner of the dirt road where I had started my walk and bought some fresh tomatoes, eggs and roasted peanuts.

CLICK HERE to see a map of where I walked!

Scenes from the road





One of the interesting things about Lusaka is that you are literally right at the edge of the bush.  Unlike other capital cities, which gradually get less crowded and more suburban as you drive away, Lusaka goes from congested, crowded city to sparsely populated landscape in a matter of minutes.  There are very few paved roads and even the new “main road” I took out of the city was basically a strip of asphalt with occasional speed bumps to slow traffic down when you reached a small group of “stores” on the side of the road.  These stores were usually home-made affairs, sometimes a simple lean-to made of branches to sell tomatoes or corn, sometimes a bit more elaborate building with white-washed sides and hand-painted signs.  And even in the most remote stretches of road, there were little shacks where you could purchase “top-up” cards for AirTel or another Zambian cell phone service.

I turned off the main road about 20 km from Lusaka (thinking I would find the Blue Lagoon Park…) and drove for another 10 or 15 km on a dirt road.  Here and there were turn-offs with sign for a school or a church.  And there were groups of houses – huts, really – every few kilometers, always with bagged coal at the edge of the road to sell and sometimes with a stand for vegetables.  People lived here.  Most walked everywhere, although the blue and white vans which serve as public transport were in evidence here, too.   No electricity, no running water that I could see.  Most kept goats or chickens and I also saw cattle and oxen.  I assume everyone had a garden plot and the kids went to one of the schools along the road.

Everyone was friendly.  Everyone waved  and smiled at the white lady in the small silver car, slowing down to take a picture.

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Sunday Market and a mini-game drive.



For the last day of our new teacher orientation, we all piled into the bus and went to the Sunday craft market at the new Arcades Mall.  This is a smaller market, with many local crafts such as rugs, baskets, masks, statues, fabric, furniture and other traditional African items.  It was a colorful scene and I could easily see doing most of my Christmas shopping here.  Vendors would stand in the middle of the aisle and if they saw you even glance at their wares, would try to coax you closer to take a look.  “Just a look, Madam!  Not to buy!  Just to look!  See what I have!  Just a small look!”

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There were many beautiful items.  I was looking for some baskets for my house and also planned to buy several lengths of colorful fabric to hang on the walls, as the house is very plain and stark.  I am proud to say that I stuck to my plan, although I was sorely tempted by the incredible array of masks and wooden carvings.  I came away with four beautiful hand-made baskets, two with handles and two bowl-shaped ones.  I think I got a bargain on those.  And I bought five 2-meter lengths of printed cloth to hang on the wall.  I think I probably paid too much for those.  But it all evens out in the end.

Then we piled ourselves and our purchases back into the bus for a trip to a nearby lodge and game farm.  This is not one of the huge game parks that are several hours out of the city, but a more sedate affair only about 45 minutes away.  It was called the “Protea Hotel Safari Lodge.”   A beautiful setting on a lake, with a delicious lunch buffet.  As is my habit, I tried some of the more unusual offerings.  The salad table had an enormous variety.  I had some kind of coleslaw-like dish that was made of thinly sliced turnip with a creamy dressing…very nice.  And a cold lemon soup – again, a light cream base and a refreshing taste.  I also had a skewer of marinated beef and what I think was pork, along with an eggplant dish and fresh green beans.  There was the ubiquitous nsmiba to use as a base.  And my dessert was something called “South African Friendship Cake” which was like a very light cheesecake with a crumbly crust.

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You could walk around the grounds and view the very tame impala and other deer-like animals who would come right up to the edge of the dining area.  And the lodge has three very old lions – a brother and sister and their father (the mother died of old age last year, apparently) who seem to spend most of their time just lying around, looking as bored as only a cat can.  Then some of us took a short “game drive” with a guide.  No really big game at this lodge, but we did see zebra, warthog, sable, impala, several beautiful large birds and baboons.   And some enormous anthills!  I was not able to get pictures of everything from the bumpy van…but I did get some!  Anthills!A "zebra crossing"Tree grown around another treeAnd baby makes three...A sable

It was a wonderful way to end a week of orientation.  Today all the staff returned and we started to really plan the year!

My Zambian driving adventure…um…mishap.


Today’s post was going to be all about how I drove to the Blue Lagoon National Park and saw awesome wildlife and birds and various flora and so on and so forth.

I set out around 9:00am planning to drive through the city and out west to this new game park that looked to be about 60 miles away on a decent road.   I was armed with a road atlas, plenty of water, snacks and a camera.  I navigated the city roads fairly well, choosing a route that took me around the busiest sections and carefully negotiating the rotary.  I drove out on the new (ie: paved) Mumbwa-Mongu road, following the directions I found on the “Best of Zambia” website and taking time to look around.  I turned at the sign to Nampundwe Konkola Coppermine, and began to look for the “Blue Lagoon” sign on the left which was supposed to come up in “several” kilometers.

Well, I never found it!  Either the directions were wrong, or the sign has gone missing…but I ended up driving all the way to the Coppermine!  I took a few pictures and turned back, passing a number of rustic huts, carts pulled by oxen and numerous goats along the side of the road.

When I finally got back to the city, I was congratulating myself on almost four hours of flawless driving.  I made a turn on what I thought was the road back, but it wasn’t.  I got a bit turned around, pulled over and checked the map.  Seems I was one road off.  So I cut over to what I THOUGHT (again) was the road towards home…Burma Road.

But it wasn’t.  It was Independence Highway.  A divided highway.  A detail I failed to notice (in spite of a car beeping behind me) until I had made the right turn into the left lane and saw the oncoming traffic.

There was nowhere to go.  I couldn’t get off to the side; there was a big ditch.  I couldn’t back up, there were cars coming across the lane.  The oncoming car beeped and braked and pulled to the right and for a brief moment I thought we might escape with a mere bump.  But…it was a bit more than that.  His front left headlight was smashed and my bumper was dashed in (and the radiator punctured.)

To make matters worse, the car that hit me was some kind of “classic” model car.   (Why couldn’t it have been another little Toyota?  On the other hand, it could have been a truck and I wouldn’t be typing this now!)  And the driver was hopping mad, especially when he saw that I was (obviously) not a Zambian.  He swore at me and threatened me and told me that I would have to buy the car right now!  I was fairly speechless, which was a good thing, and another gentleman who lived down the road stopped and got out of his car to help me and calm down the other driver.  A crowd gathered, the ubiquitous guards hovered around and people who were walking by all came up to peer at the damage and shake their heads.   The police were called and the officer who arrived was extremely professional and kind.  He drove me to the police station (after filling my radiator with enough water to get it there!) and I had to fill out a form that described the accident and pay a fee, since I was at fault.  I called my school and Martina (who handles housing and security) was wonderful – told me exactly what to do and not to do.  She said the school will help out getting the car towed from the Police Station to a garage and will bring the insurance papers down to the station.  The other driver had calmed down a bit (apparently he is some kind of well-known businessman) when he realized that I did have auto insurance and that I wasn’t going to be hopping on the next plane back to the states.  I also think he was scared at the time – he told me that if his brakes hadn’t worked as well as they did, I might be dead.  (And he was right.)

My head of school called me to make sure I was okay.  He said that while there have been more than a few car crashes involving staff, he thought I might be the first to do it before school even started.  A dubious honor.

So…I am okay.  My car has some minor damage which is going to be a headache for a little while.  But it could have been so much worse.  So much worse.  And hopefully the insurance will be able to procure the proper parts for the other driver’s classic car.

Pictures of wildlife next time.  I promise!IMG_0989