Early in the morn we caught the Mazhandu Family Bus Service bus No. 3 to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. The road and the railway, both in pretty good nick, flirted with each other as they headed east. Mopane scrub became baobab and mulobezi teak, which became sugar cane, which became cattle farms interspersed in the miombo woodlands, with the red saplings maturing into yellow and green canopies.
The belting blue bus picked up passengers from towns on and near the highway, and filled up soon enough. Towns that lived only for the buses. Dogs slept in the sun, women balanced sacks of grain or trays of tomatoes, carrots, okra, capsicums, eggplants, and oranges; men hawked green bananas at the bus windows. A yellow plastic booth sold airtime vouchers. Streets were lined with wooden and tin booths, laying second hand clothes out on the pavement.
A Seventh Day Adventist church was surrounded by abandoned brick buildings where a gander pecked at the rubbish. A sky blue herbal clinic, a mustard-coloured ‘Praise the Lord’ auto shop. A minivan went past, so full one passenger balanced outside the window with his legs inside and his fingers gripping the window’s frame. THANK GOD! was sprawled across the van’s rear. On exiting one town, our impatient driver nearly collected a woman who was a bit slow on getting off the bitumen. Thank God, indeed.
We had a ten minute lunch break under a towering grain silo on the railway. The usual greasy roadside diner food with dirty toilets where you paid for the cleaner.
I encouraged Sam to read some Harry Potter.
‘I don’t think so; I would like to decline your offer.’
Where the heck did that come from? We negotiated a different challenge; he was to write a summary of me, written in a letter to Harry Potter.
Dear Daniel Radcliffe the actor of Harry Potter,
Let me tell you about my father.
My father is 49 years old, his is James Andrew Best. We call him Jabber. He takes me to the Africa trip up to 7 months. Dad has seen the 50 billion dollar note in Zimbabwe.
It is now just over 2 months since dad had start of the trip.
He is a Doctor. He has white short beard around his face. He is a little bit tough and sometimes angry and has wine and beer and coffee.
He did the head dance. He has been to Africa without me in 1970s or 1980s.
He is kind usually. Overall, He was born in May 10th 1966.
Cheers Samuel Best.
When I sent it to my wife, I assured her I was having other beverages besides wine, beer and coffee.
As we approached the capital traffic thickened on roads being widened and upgraded by the Chinese. Again crossing the railway, teaming with pedestrians on the tracks, we entered the city. A billboard from a church announced a ‘City Wide Miracle Crusade. Theme: JESUS.’
Lusaka, with its jammed roads, jostling sidewalks and medium scale high rise, is the sort of place you don’t carry a bag that could be potentially stolen unless you have to and you don’t go out at night alone unless you’re desperate. It was a relief to get behind the hostel’s electric fence.
I noticed as we travelled further towards the centre of Africa, the number of white people, referred to by the Swahili term ‘mzungu’, was getting less and less. Sam and I were the only wazungu (the plural) in the hostel. The word literally translates as ‘aimless wanderer’ and was first used to describe European explorers from the 18th Century, who had a disconcerting propensity to get lost. I considered it a very apt term to describe the two of us.
As I organised dinner while Sam chilled in the room, I was approached by a couple of guys playing pool, asking if I wanted to join them. Feeling fairly out of place, I appreciated and accepted the kind offer. Kelvin and Mdala, a refrigeration technician and scientist turned car salesman, respectively, were locals who used the hostel as a safe watering hole. They quizzed me about the trip and Sam and were intrigued.
‘So where is Sam now?’
‘Here he comes.’
Sam bounced down into the open lounge area.
‘He is a big unit, James.’
‘Yes, he will be taller than me soon.’
Sam came over to us, and said (loudly), ‘We are the only white people here!’
Kelvin and Mdala and several others in the bar cracked up.
‘Yes Sam, that is true.’
Sam turned and pointed to Mdala.
‘Are you poor?’
‘No I am not Sam. Are you?’
‘No, I am not. I am glad you are not poor.’
Sam bought himself a Sprite and bounced back to the room shouting, ‘They are not poor!’
Mdala and I swapped email addresses and I headed back to the room, shaking my head.
The next day was a catch up day of school, shopping and running repairs. On Skype, Benison ribbed me about Sam’s description of me, I decided to get her back. Sam was given the challenge of describing her to Hermoine and Ron.
This is the description of my mum called Benison Anne O’Reilly. She has bushy multibrown hair like Hermione. She likes Reading, watching shows like Tuders (sic) and Miss Fishers.
She dislikes eels, messy rooms and camp in the rain. She gets cross at Matthew Best sometimes. She also dislikes dog poo, anacondas and Tricky* stealing Charlie’s** food. She goes to work at North Sydney. She makes books about autism.
Benison’s joke name is called medicine. She also likes tidiness, Lulu the cat and emails. She is kind and makes house tidy but not as tidy as Singapore and organises homework that I have to do. Her brother and sister are called Cameron and Roslyn and her parents are called Gran and Grandad. Gran and Grandad are old but healthy and their bodies are well.
Overall she is lovely and makes her house clean.
Well, at least I am not a neat freak. Though I must agree she is lovely.
* The dog.
** One of our cats.