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Vroom, vroom – driving in Lusaka!

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Lusaka city map

NOTE: Pictures from various sources!

It’s now been 3 months since the unfortunate mishap with my car, and I’ve been back on the road for about 2 months.  I figured it was time for a short description of what it’s like for a right-side of the road Yank to be driving on the left…and to be driving in a “frontier town” like Lusaka.
Outside Manda Hill
Paved roads and car ownership are both fairly new to Lusaka.  Although the roads in the downtown area are nicely paved, with neatly painted lanes, traffic lights, directional signs, sidewalks and shoulders, and even colorful billboards, the rest of the city is not so well equipped.

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Most of the roads that are paved are very narrow, with no shoulder to speak of and a huge drop-off where the pavement meets the side of the road.  In addition, there are ditches lining the road to accommodate the rainy season.  Right now, there are workers out on almost every road, making these ditches even deeper…the rains are coming!

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Much of Lusaka’s population still walk almost everywhere (or grab one of the mini-buses…more about that later)  Since there are no sidewalks, the people walk on the side of the road when they can.  But many times the people walk along the pavement.  And because there are so few “main” roads, most of the traffic in the morning and evening is all going on the same road in the same direction as the people walking to work.  This includes bicycles, small passenger cars, larger 4-wheel drive vehicles, pick-up style trucks (often with a dozen or so people sitting the bed) larger construction trucks and the ubiquitous mini-buses. There can be some spectacular traffic jams.

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Learning to drive on the right instead of the left would be a nerve-wracking experience under the best of circumstances.  (I managed to live in the UK for 4 years without ever driving!) On a straight away, it is fairly simple…you drive on the left, constantly thinking to yourself, “Stay on the left!  The LEFT!  Stay to the left!”  and if there is some traffic, it is not too bad, because you are simply going along with the traffic.

But then you might have to turn!   First, you put on your directional signal…only sometimes you put on the wipers by mistake.  Now, a left-hand turn is easy.  You turn left and you stay on the left.  A right-hand turn is a little trickier.  You turn right, but you stay on the left.  My right-hand turns are usually bit wider than they should be.   But then…there are the rotaries.  (Round-abouts to some of you.)  Here’s where things get a bit dicey.  Everything is reversed and your instincts about where to merge, where to exit, when to yield, when to accelerate…it’s all backwards.

I have been known to look at a map and drive well out of my way to avoid a rotary.  But sometimes it cannot be helped and usually my inner dialogue goes like this, “Oh, God, here comes a rotary!  Okay, just stay to the left.  The LEFT!  Now, blend into the traffic!  Why is that guy beeping at me!  Okay, just m-e-r-g-e right into the lane.  Look, there’s the exit…so…careful now…just put on your signal – no, those are the wipers!  Put on your signal and c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y get over to the left and there you are! See, you did it!”   There is no way to be relaxed while driving, because letting your guard down could mean that you react instinctively and your instincts will be WRONG!

In most places, only the main road is paved…dirt roads are still the norm in Lusaka, and  indeed, in all of Zambia.  And you often share the road with livestock; even right outside the main center of the capital city!

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Even in the middle of the city, where there is a divided highway, people tend to treat the road like a walkway and vendors spread their wares out right on the pavement.

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Potholes are common and often ridiculously deep.  And if the dirt road isn’t properly graded, it can become nearly impassable in the rainy season.

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Driving at night has its own special challenges.  There are no street lights and people drive just as fast and turn just as suddenly as they do in the daylight.  In addition, the walking traffic does not abate…and people have not yet learned about wearing light colored clothing for visibility.  So you have dark-skinned people, wearing dark clothing walking along a dark road with no sidewalks or shoulders. So far, I have avoided driving at night unless absolutely necessary.

And the mini-buses…ah, the mini-buses.  This is Zambia’s local public transportation and used by most of the citizens to get around.  They are 18 – 34 seat vans, usually blue  and they go everywhere!  How do you know where a particular mini-bus is headed?  Well, the bus drives down the road and the “conductor” is leaning out the window, shouting the destination, while the driver beeps the horn.  “DOWNTOWN!  DOWNTOWN!”  or  “CROSSROADS!  CROSSROADS!”  The locals seem to know which bus is going where and often the bus is stuffed full of many more passengers than there are seats.

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Anyone can flag down a bus and they will stop almost anywhere, although there ARE some designated stops.  The bus will pull over, bumping over the edge of the pavement and onto the side, sometimes narrowly avoiding a ditch.  If the traffic is going too slowly, a mini-bus will often drive on the wrong side of the road, until they come up against oncoming traffic and have to pull over.  It is not unusual (but a bit disconcerting) to be driving along a paved road and see a mini-bus approaching you, head-on.  I have seen them driving over curbs, onto sidewalks and grass strips, along the dirt by the side of the road and squeezing past the traffic by driving into places that you would think a motor vehicle simply could not go.  Many of the mini-buses are in a state of disrepair and there has been movement to regulate them and require the owner/drivers to obtain a license.  But they remain a cheap way to get around Lusaka and almost anywhere in Zambia.

However, plans are moving forward to improve the roads, add sidewalks, better pavement, street lights and a “ring road” around the city.  The engineers I met in Ndola a few weeks ago were very enthusiastic and positive about the work being done and about how Lusaka is moving forward.  Just down from my school, on Leopard’s Hill road, the project to create a 4-lane highway is well underway (financed by the Chinese, who do a great deal of business with Zambia.)

Road project Divided highway

I do not expect to ever feel fully comfortable driving in Lusaka…as much as I love adventure I would much prefer to let someone else be behind the wheel for my travels!

“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid…”

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Meet my wonderful maid, Mary.

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In Zambia, as in many parts of Africa, it is very common (and expected) that anyone making any kind of decent living will hire household help.  A maid, a gardener, maybe a cook and a nanny if you have children to look after.  Sometimes a person might do more than one job.  If you have a large family and a big house and yard, you might have a couple of gardeners and maids.

At first, this seemed very odd to me and a bit uncomfortable.  After all, couldn’t I pick up after myself?  I am perfectly capable of doing my own laundry, aren’t I?  Wasn’t it lazy of me to hire a maid for my little flat?  Would it be condescending for me to hire someone to fold my clothes and make my bed?

Zambia has an incredibly high rate of unemployment and many people who are employed live well below the poverty line.  When you hire a maid or other household help, you are giving someone a job who otherwise would not be employed at all.   Some of the people who work as maids or cooks  have been doing this their entire life – they are trained, experienced and knowledgeable about what they do.  And they are proud of the quality of their work.  Some younger people work as domestics in order to put money away for college or training school.  And while the expected pay is very low compared to what you might pay in the states, it is enough to make a living and put some money aside.  The minimum wage for a maid in Zambia is 550 kwacha per month, full time (usually 5 and a half days per week) however, most experienced maids charge more and deserve it.  I pay 50 kwacha per day, plus money for weekly bus fare and lunch.  (One kwacha is a little less than 20 cents.)

My block of flats has a communal garden and the gardeners are hired by the landlady.  However, everyone hires their own maid.  The two other folks who live here and work at the school “share” their maid (thus giving her a full-time job.)  Mary was recommended to me by one of the teachers who knew her.   Having never had a maid I wasn’t sure what to expect or what to ask her to do and I felt a little shy about it.  Luckily, Mary knew exactly what she was doing.  The first day, I showed her how to use the washer and dryer, where I kept everything and how the flat was set up.  She took it from there.  She is the kind of person who just “feels” comfortable and although her English is not the best and I speak no Nyanga, we can talk about our daughters and our ex-husbands and our lives and laugh together, just like two women anywhere.

She comes 3 days a week and cleans, washes, folds, irons and in general, makes the place sparkle.  Because we rarely cross paths, we leave little notes for each other!  It is absolutely wonderful to come home and have the flat all organized, the laundry done, ironed and put away (neatly folded!) and the bed linens changed, the towels fluffed, the dishes all clean and in the cupboard.  I came home a bit early today and was able to take her picture in her new uniform (they sell them at the grocery store and she had specifically asked for one.) When I told her I wanted to take her picture, she made sure to put her apron on to look “professional.”  After the picture above, she went and got a dust-rag so she could pose as if she was “working.”  She asked me if I would show the picture to my children and I told her yes…I would show the picture and tell everyone, “This is my wonderful maid, Mary!”  She beamed.

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(PS: For those of you who are Broadway musical challenged, the title of this post is a song from Stephen Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”)

Friday market…and lunch at Sugarbush Farm

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Fridays at the school tend to be somewhat more relaxed than the other days.  The students have an activity period called “Global Issues” which is usually an assembly or other activity.  It’s a half-day – we get out at 12:30.  And…there is the Friday market.

Early in the morning, a few of the local farmers bring their produce and set it up outside the canteen.  You have to be quick – it starts at 7:00am sharp and people are ready for it!  Everyone brings their own large shopping bags and coolers to fill.

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There are bags of potatoes and onions, bins of cabbage, cukes, lettuces and packages of tomatoes (which are year-round here) and a variety of other produce and herbs – today there was fresh spinach, scallions, dill and parsley.  My haul included a big sack of smallish onions,  some plum tomatoes, a bag of spinach, some spectacular carrots and more…and it cost only 50 kwacha (about $9.00)

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They also sell beautiful fresh flowers…

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At lunchtime, there is a different kind of market.  Local restaurants and privately-owned business come in to sell their wares.  In addition, there are a few other produce-sellers.  You can buy corn, pineapples, big bags of apples or pears and avocados.  There is the “Italian Guy” who sells chunks of Parmesan and mozzarella, and packages of prosciutto and other Italian delicacies. And you have a smorgasbord of options for lunch – including food from an Ethiopian restaurant or hand-made burritos from an authentic Zambian-owned Mexican restaurant.  (No joke!  The guy who originally owned it went back to Guatemala and before he left, he taught his employees how to make all the food – and now they run it!)  There are fantastic home-made cookies, fresh-made bagels and snacks like popcorn and muffins. And this happens every Friday!

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Today was the first Friday of the month, and so we had the “Ladies Who Lunch” – just a group of us who meet at the Sugar Bush Farm for a glass of wine (or two) and a nice lunch.  Sugar Bush is a local farm, craft shop and restaurant and it was a great way to unwind from a busy week.

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Hard to believe that I’ve been here more than a month – and that the first few weeks of school have gone by so quickly!

 

A walk through an “unplanned settlement” in Kabulonga

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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.
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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!

Sunday Market and a mini-game drive.

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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!