Lusaka -> Livingstone

I made my way to the Lusaka bus station, a seething maelstrom of touts, porters, buses, merchants, and indiscriminate riff-raff. Jammed to the gills with buses of a multitude of colors, each representing a different private bus company, the air was thick with loud horns as drivers were announcing their imminent departure.

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I boarded my 9:00 am bus to Livingstone to find that someone had already taken my pre-assigned window seat. I was not in much of a position to make a fuss as the interloper was a nun. I gamely agreed to take the aisle seat, which would be a bit more uncomfortable for the seven hour ride as I would have nothing against which to lean my head for a nap.

The nun, Sister Maureen, was a kindly woman who was on her way back to her church in Livingstone. As I looked at her from the seat next to her, I saw so much of Oprah Winfrey in her face.

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We we had very pleasant talks throughout the journey, and as we came into Livingstone, she expressed interest in exchanging phone numbers so we could stay in touch during my visit. She also made it a point to invite me to Mass on Sunday.

As I descended the bus steps, once again I was mobbed by young men all yelling “taxi, taxi” at me. The first man in the crowd was yelling “I’m first, I’m first! He’s mine!” – to the other drivers and me, as if I was a fresh piece of meat being argued over by a pride of lions. So, Owen got the fare.

Owen was a very energetic, talkative young man promising anything I wanted in Livigstone – restaurants, rides to the Falls, girls, pretty white girls, discos, tour guiding. He was in full hustle mode.

He dropped me off at the best backpacker hostel I’ve stayed in yet – Jollyboys.  A large, well-conceptualized operation, this place has anticipated every need the traveler may have. They even have three tour & activity booking desks to help one get the most out of their stay in Livingstone / Victoria Falls.

Dinner brought yet another culinary curiosity: crocodile pizza.  Yes, that’s real croc meat on the pie.

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The the restaurant is run for the benefit of local orphans, who are at tremendous risk of following the wrong path in life. An admirable venture, to be sure.

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After dinner, I came back to Jollyboys to find a large group of other travelers sitting around a large  table drinking beer and having a rousing time.  Every one of them was traveling alone, though some had joined together in previous towns to travel together for a while.  Lee from South Korea, Sarah from Germany (speaking English with a beautiful British accent), Jocelyn from Winnipeg, Malcolm from Malta, Ross from England, Mar from Holland – it was a virtual United Nations of travelers.

Some were heading north, others south. We talked late into the night getting to know one another, sharing stories and providing tips to those who would be traveling through locations others of us had just been.  While my travels have taken me to some incredible locales thus far, I’m also very thankful for all of the wonderful people I’ve met, both transient and local.

Post Script: It’s the day after my bus trip and Sister Maureen just called to make sure I’m doing well.

Lilayi Elephant Orphanage

Yesterday, I had the distinct privilege to visit the Lilayi Elephant Orphanage, located about a half-hour south of Lusaka. This facility is dedicated to returning orphaned elephants to the wild after their mothers have (in most cases) been killed by poachers.

Elephants have a life span similar to humans, reaching an upper age range of 80 and developing on a similar time line as humans. When they are younger than 10 years old, they are at significant risk of dying if left on their own.

With due attribution to Lilayi, I’ll quote their website to describe the incredible work they do:

“Situated in the beautiful, 650 hectare Game Farm of Lilayi Lodge, the Lilayi Elephant Nursery is home to the youngest members of our rescued elephant calves. Here they receive the dedicated care needed to get through the vital, vulnerable early months and years of rehabilitation before they are taken to the Kafue Release Facility and greater exposure to wild elephants and their new home in the Kafue National Park.

“The surrounding bush provides the perfect classroom for the calves to learn to browse, behave as a herd and interact with other wild animals in a safe and secure environment.

“A team of locally employed, highly trained Keepers care for them and watch over them constantly – whether out during their daily walks, or sitting close by their stables at night. Together with their new siblings and Keepers these young elephants learn to overcome the tragic loss of their natal family, as they browse, play and bath together in a natural environment.

“As soon as the calves can be weaned from milk they will be moved to the Kafue National Park​, to join other older orphaned elephants at the EOP Kafue Release Facility, where they are more independent of human support and spend most of their time browsing freely in the National Park. The Facility backs onto the ancient Ngoma Teak Forest where there is a 1,000 strong local elephant population, which maximises the opportunity for the orphans to eventually reintegrate with fellow elephants back in the wild.”

During my visit to Lilayi, they had four orphans under their care, with the most recent addition, Zambezi, having joined the group just a week prior. This one-and-a-half year old had been found on an island in the Zambezi River, and to ensure that his mother wasn’t just out foraging and leaving him temporarily, the Lilayi staff left him on the island under their supervision for a couple of days. When Mom didn’t come back, they rescued him to ensure his survival.

Without the help of Lilayi, these orphans would most certainly have not been able to fend for themselves and would have been killed. Thank God we have people dedicated to the preservation of these magnificent animals.


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Zambezi

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Two of the other orphans.

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The four orphans together.

 

Thank You

As I have traveled over the years, the key thing I have discovered is that the most important phrase to learn in the local tongue is “thank you”. 

And it has been reinforced again and again while I have experienced different cultures here in Africa. A heartfelt, sincere “thank you” with a genuine smile goes so far in ingratiating you to the locals.

Thus far, whether I have said “asante sana” (Swahili in Tanzania & Kenya), “murakoze” (Kinyarwanda in Rwanda) or “natolela sana” (Bemba in Zambia), the look I continue to get on people’s faces is priceless.

It is rare for them to experience a tourist who takes the time to learn even one local phrase. From moto-taxis to shop clerks to waiters, so many have appreciated that a visitor took the time to learn more about them and their culture. On the flip side, it’s disappointing that tourists don’t even take the time to learn something while they are visiting.

While I try to learn at least a few other key phrases while I’m in their communities, it’s always a priority for me to at least learn “thank you”.

Random Observations

Having now spent a little over three weeks here, it’s been amazing being a stranger in a strange land. And it’s fairly obvious to anyone I come across that I’m not from these parts. I’ve attracted everyone from very nice people who just want to say “Hi!”, some who have helped me when I was looking for some place in particular and a lot of “touts”, the nickname for people who only want to sell you something or get a handout.

While in Zanzibar, I was pegged twice as a German and once as a Pole. No one seemed to grasp that I’m American, probably because Americans don’t travel through these areas very often. In fact, my dear friends in Nungwi asked why Americans don’t come here, and the only thing I could think of is that Americans tend to be a little more narrowly focused when it comes to travel, unlike Europeans.

At one point in Zanzibar, a tout approached me and observed, “You have been to Africa before. I can tell by the way you walk.” Exactly what I have wanted to communicate. I was pleased to hear that.

i was walking through a bazaar in Zanzibar, the only muzungu (white person in Kiswahili) anywhere until I saw a white woman walking through the crowd coming the other way.  We both looked briefly at each other, cracked smirks at each other to say hello rare muzungu and continued on our respective ways.

Earlier today, I went to a shopping mall here in Lusaka to get a new Zambian SIM card for My mobile. Yes, a shopping mall – quite impressive:

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One of the security guards was very friendly, shaking my hand and wanting to know where I’m from.  The people I have met during my travels thus far have been wonderfully hospitable and friendly.

Today has been a low-key day, getting acclimated to Zambia – booking my bus ticket to Livingstone for tomorrow, buying the SIM for my mobile and watching important futbol matches on the tele.

Liverpool beat Norwich with :30 left in extra time, and this after Norwich scored an equalizer 1:00 before that. An incredible game. Right now I’m watching the African Cup championships with Zambia leading Uganda 1-0 in the second half. Needless to say, it’s a fairly partisan crowd here. Go Zambia!!!!

With a minute and a half left in the game, we lost power here at the hostel. The crowd is on pins and needles as the score was still 1-0 with Uganda pressing. Update: Zambia won.

And they have a delicious shot available here at the hostel bar. It’s called a “Soweto Toilet”. The name aside, it’s quite good 😀

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My room has a mosquito net, just like every other room I’ve stayed in thus far, with the notable exception of Dar Es Salaam. I guess even the mosquitos don’t want to hang out there.

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The nets are designed to cover the bed so that the risk of contracting malaria is reduced. Female mosquitos need human blood to fertilize their eggs, and they are much more active at night. There are a number of charitable organizations that work to make sure every person in Africa has a mosquito net over their bed at night. It’s relatively inexpensive, but the payoffs are immense.

193 million cases of malaria are reported in Africa alone every year. Of those, 400,000 people die from the malady. Malaria is actually a parasite, not a virus, and can lay dormant in its victims for up to a year after exposure. It is a great scourge on the African continent. One that has killed many, including David Livingstone, the famed African explorer.

Finally, tonight I met a group of about a dozen Japanese volunteers who are here in Lusaka to train for a two-year assignment for a Peace Corp-type organization in Japan . After their training, they will disperse to different parts of Africa to help local communities. Very nice kids.

And one of them, Masashi, is such an incredible sports fan, he was able to match my knowledge of baseball stadium  trivia nugget by trivia nugget. Amazing.  He will be visiting the US sometime after his Peace Corps work, and I’ll be sure to show him a few of my favorite ballparks.

 

Dar Es Salaam -> Lusaka

I got up early today to make sure I got to the train station with plenty of time to spare. My cab driver from the previous day had told me that traffic was very bad in the morning and that I should allow extra time. But I wasn’t going to need a 6:00 am pickup for that much time. The train was scheduled for 10:30.

My hotel helped me secure a cab (that, wouldn’t you know it, was less expensive than my cab the previous day! Shocking, I know).

I arrived at the station with plenty of time of spare. After about an hour of waiting, a British woman walked up to me and asked if I was in the train to Mbeya, to which I replied in the affirmative.

“Well,” she said, “it looks like we may have a problem. The train has been cancelled.” It turns out there had been an accident the day before, probably related to a massive rainstorm that had hit the area a couple of days before (and, my dear reader, this is a different storm than my Rwandan Rains). The track was probably washed out. The next train “might” leave the following Tuesday (it’s Friday now). Refunds would be coming later in the day, once the railroad company came back from the bank.

I ended up waiting with a very diverse group of backpackers from Cyprus (the British woman who is now an ex-pat, having lived in Cyprus for the past 30 years), a German, Brazilian and two women from Japan. We ended up waiting four hours for the refund, which was always “in a half hour”.

I ended up making the executive decision that my time, especially as the day wore on, was more valuable trying to get an air ticket out of Dar, rather than waiting interminably for a $23 refund. I gave my ticket to the woman from Cyprus, wished her and everyone well and grabbed a taxi to the airport.

And yes, I know some of you will again call me out on taking an airplane, in violation of one of my rules, but I’ve ended up losing a couple of days to unexpected delays. In the interest of making it to Cape Town on time, I’ve had to bend my rules. But, hey, they’re my rules, so I’ll set and break them as I see fit!

Trying to get a same-day ticket out of Dar to Lusaka was neither easy not cheap. But I really didn’t feel like spending another day in Dar Es Salaam. While I’m sure there are some people who like this city. I was already way ready to be on my way out of here.

I went to number of airline windows to see if they had a one-way ticket to Lusaka. Nope nope and nope. The only airline that had a seat was a regional carrier that only accepted cash. 780,000 shillings in cash. After four trips to the ATM, which dispensed a max of 200K per transaction, I paid for my ticket and finally had a seat out of here.

I ended up hanging out at the airport for another seven hours while I waited for my departure. Locally, everyone refers to this as “Africa Time”, which means things happen when they happen, and not a moment sooner. Hakuna Matata (No Worries). Anyone who isn’t patient will have a very crummy time here indeed.

I met two charming women from the US (St. Louis to be exact even though one now lives in San Francisco – my old stomping grounds). We had a couple of hours to chat, and it was such a refreshing respite to speak to a couple of Americans. They were delightful. Retiring to the US after climbing Mt. Menu, doing some game viewing and spending time on Zanzibar, they were not ready to go home. But job expectations were beckoning for them .

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Goofy Lusaka bathroom selfie.

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My plane had a parrot on it.

I caught my flight to Lusaka, had blessed WiFi when I landed at the airport, and ended up sitting around with the airport police while I charged my phone. I was able to book a room at a backpackers hostel (on an hour’s notice very late at night) and catch up on other items. While waiting for my phone to charge, a heavy-set police officer came and sat down next to me. With large jowls and an extremely lazy eye, I couldn’t help but think of him as the personification of a hippo. He was very friendly and we chatted for a bit. I got up to get a cab, and the officer told me there were no cabs anymore at this hour, but that he knew of a driver.  He walked me to the other side of the airport where he introduced me to a wonderful driver named Biggie, who whisked me off to my hastily  and recently reserved room.

I am now well ensconced in a room. Sleep will be quite welcome tonight……

Cats In Zanzibar

“It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I was amazed by the feral cats in Zanzibar. Many of them were very friendly and vocal, coming up to you if you showed interest and quickly rubbing your leg and enjoying any attention you gave them. Loud purrs also. All of them are thin and small, a huge departure from the big beast of mine back home.

And I did not take the time count all the cats in Zanzibar…

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Nungwi -> Zanzibar -> Dar Es Salaam

The day today was one of trying to get off Zanzibar and into Dar in preparation for my train departure tomorrow.

Another hour-and-a-half on the dala-dala to Zanzibar (and a downpour that thoroughly drenched me – one of the locals said that I got a free shower today!), then a two hour ferry ride to Dar, where I caught a cab to the train station to pre-book my ticket to Mbeya.

My taxi driver from the ferry station took me directly to the train station, as I had heard that train tickets sell out early. I wanted to make sure I got one so that I wouldn’t have to take the next train four days later (yes, there are only two trains a week, so if you miss one, you’re stuck for half a week).

We arrived at the train station, and since it was so quiet there, my chances of getting another taxi out of there were slim. I asked the driver to wait, with the promise that he would earn more by taking me to my hotel afterwards. He agreed.

imageThe train station felt somewhat Soviet – old, run-down, quiet (as there was no train today) and decrepit.

I went in to buy a ticket, and a very bored looking woman began to review her books to see if I could get a first-class sleeping ticket. It took her at least five minutes to look at the one page of the booking manifest. Her furrowed brow communicated that she was in the process of making a decision that would affect international relations for decades to come. At first, she only offered me a second class sleeping berth, but after a spell, decided that I merited a first class sleeping berth after all. I got my ticket, but only after she meticulously wrote out the details on the ticket and then into the manifest. The railroad still hand writes passengers names into a master list. I’m not sure, but I have an unsettled feeling I may not have been issued the right ticket. We’ll see tomorrow….

I came back out of the station and told my driver I was ready to go. Anywhere in Aftica, one should always negotiate a taxi fare BEFORE you get into the car so there are no misunderstandings. Especially confusing in Tanzania is the interchangeability of shillings and dollars. When a quote is given, you have to be very clear. When a driver says “forty”, you want to make sure it’s forty thousand shillings (about $20), not $40. They will sometime play the game by quoting 40, you get in the car, and then there is a huge bruhaha when you’re thinking shillings and all of sudden he says he’s expecting dollars.

My driver had me over a barrel because he knew he had me already in his cab, so we agreed to another 40,000 shillings to get me to my hotel.

After I got back into the taxi at the train station, he got into his car, but it wouldn’t start. The ignition was somehow related to his door-lock clicker, which he kept pressing, but it wouldn’t activate the car’s ignition system. For 15 minutes he sat there diddling with the fob, at one point going into his toolbox in the truck to unscrew the clicker housing and check the battery. No go.

He then resorted to asking some random guy leaning against his motorcycle if he could help. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how my driver identified this other dude as a “door lock / ignition specialist”. He came over, said a few things in Swahili, and then reached in and jiggled the ignition collar on the steering wheel.

The car started.

As we were leaving the train station, the driver in all seriousness, looked at me and said “10,000 shillings for waiting”. I was incredulous. I replied, “Wait a minute, Mr Said, I waited for YOU while you couldn’t start your car. That was much longer than the time it took me to buy a ticket!”

“No, you must pay me 10,000 for waiting.”

This went on for a few minutes until I realized I was not going to win this argument, and I didn’t really feel like being dumped somewhere in the middle of a not-so-hospitable-looking Dar.

He finally found my hotel, and insisted that I be ready at 6:00 am the following morning so he could take me back to the train station. It was clear he wanted me to be ready at 6:00 am because it was convenient for him, not me. His reasoning was that there would be a lot of traffic (three hours worth when I reality it only took me a half hour the next morning). He gave me his mobile number, and was very friendly as he drove off. I got to give him credit, he’s got some unmitigated chutzpah.

Later that night I called to tell him my hotel had arranged a car and that I didn’t need his services. I would figure out a taxi in the morning.

I spent the night in a downtown hotel in Dar. Complete with an hour and a half of evening prayers being sung by a man and a woman and blasted from the PA speakers on the mosque next door. Fascinating.

And one last sign I saw on Zanzibar that I think is a wonderful thought:

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