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.
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.
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…
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!