26 Feb

Hey all!

I write to you from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, having spent two weeks so far in this beautiful and welcoming country.

I’ve here administering surveys to loan officers at microfinance organisations for Durham University’s research. But first, let me tell you the story of how I traveled to Zambia.

Coming off the heels of my time with OWU in Tanzania’s students, I hung around in Dar Es Salaam for a couple of days. I’ve been salivating ever since hearing about the TAZARA (Tanzania-Zambia Railways) train running from Dar to Zambia. 50 hour train ride, spanning over 1,000 miles of scenery – what an adventure!

Here’s the station.

The reporting time for the train was 12:30pm for a 1:00pm departure. At 1:30pm, a loudspeaker announced that the train would depart at 6pm. In the meantime, I snatched some photos of the cars.

At 6pm, after a long wait, another announcement pushed back departure to 8pm. Finally at almost 10pm, we departed from Dar under full moonlight.  I purchased a first-class ticket, which was only $9 more expensive than coach. The difference? A compartment with four beds instead of six beds.

The train had a dining car.

And even a bar!

The ride was bumpy at times. I scored some good airtime on a few occasions when the train was moving very fast.

The TAZARA railway connecting Tanzania and Zambia was built by China in the 1970s.

The ride’s scenery was breathtaking, especially in the Southern Highlands area of Tanzania, rising to an elevation of 8,200 feet. Here is one of the railway’s 23 tunnels.

And one of 300 bridges.

After passing through the Highlands, the Uporoto mountain range takes over near Mbeya.

Kenya and Tanzania have been in the middle of a very dry season. I had read that Zambia would be in the rainy season. Minutes after passing into Zambia, it started to rain. And then this beautiful double rainbow appeared!

I changed money at the border. I instantaneously turned into a half-millionaire…here’s 500,000 Zambian Kwacha (roughly $100).

The train’s scheduled arrival in Kapiri Mposhi (3-hour drive north of Lusaka) was 1pm Sunday afternoon. Actual arrival? 9am MONDAY. Yep, 20 hours late. Had to cancel survey appointments for Monday morning. Advice: don’t travel on the train if you’re on any kind of schedule. Still, to me it was well worth it for the ride.

After spending 4 days and 3 nights on a train, I took a pic to document the exhaustion.

Lusaka is a busy city, although more laid back than Nairobi. This is the main street downtown – Cairo Road.

Zambia’s tallest building, the Findeco House.

It has been an exciting time to be in Zambia. Two weeks ago, Zambia’s national football team, the Chipolopolo Boys, won the African Cup of Nations. Everyone is happy, smiling, and some are still partying, adorned in scarves and blowing vuvuzelas. The Monday that I arrived, the team had arrived back from Gabon where the game was played against Ivory Coast and they held a celebration at the city showgrounds. I took a bus down that way wanting to take part, and by the time I got there everyone was leaving. Here’s the best picture I took of the huge hordes of people walking in the middle of the street through busy intersections.

I hopped on a bus back to my guest house, and on the bus I met some guys who invited me out for a drink. They were all students at the University of Zambia. I had a fun time discussing the African Cup victory and other things with them. Many see the win as an act of God, that the win acts as remembrance and dedication to the Zambia national team that died in an airplane crash in 1993. I’ve always been one to laugh at anyone who thinks God cares about sports, but this is particularly remarkable. In the disaster, the team crashed en route to an African Cup final in Gabon, where this year’s final was held. Zambia’s 2012 squad was not talented this year and won four games in a row against teams ranked much higher than them. Zambia beat Ivory Coast in the final 8-7 on penalty shots after a 0-0 tie.

Last week, I received a text message from Airtel, my cell phone provider here, that “doors open for the Esther vs. Monalisa fight at 3pm.” I asked some guy sitting next to me on a matatu (‘minibus’ in Zambia) what it was all about. A women’s boxing match! I went to the fight at Mulungushi Conference Center.

Before the main event took place, these two heavyweights battled. The other day, I was in a taxi and the driver recognized this very same heavyweight champion driving the car next to us. I rolled down the window and congratulated him!

Time for the main event. Let’s get ready to rumble! The Zambian Esther Phiri (green shorts) pitted against Zimbabwe’s Monalisa.

Esther KO’d Monalisa in seven rounds. It was a quick fight. Zambia has been spoiled as of late when it comes to sporting successes!

While I usually prefer eating local food to get a feeling for the culture, in Zambia I’ve given into temptation forced on me by two American fast food giants – KFC and Subway. In Kenya, there are no Subways and I’ve avoided eating at the two KFCs there, due to this website. But I’ve eaten at each place here in Lusaka multiple times.

Let me tell you, the Subway tastes just like it does back home. I’ve gotten my specialty each time I’ve eaten there – Tuna with Sweet Onion sauce. Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Also in this picture is a hat I purchased to take part in Chipolopolo Boy celebrations.

Although Subway tastes the same whether you’re in Lusaka or Columbus, there are many differences in what the chain represents. Eating at Subway is a status symbol here, something only the rich can do. There is also some differing customer behavior I’ve picked up on – most people ask for all toppings and all sauces. Yes, all sauces. That includes Mayonnaise, Chipotle, Sweet Onion, Honey Mustard, and Ranch. All together. Mmmmm. Food is thought of differently here – asking for all toppings/sauces seems to be a reflection of wanting to get maximum value for the purchase, which is a relatively expensive lunch.

It’s been a joy meeting with so many different microfinance organisations. I enjoy chatting with the loan officers and most are very open to tea and conversation after they’ve completed their questionnaires. Zambians are so welcoming, and in such a genuine way. On one of my appointment days, torrential downpours nearly ruined the schedule, but some Good Samaritans taxied me around for free. I’m adding Zambia to my list of possible countries for working in the future!

On the work report now – I’ve traveled a lot for survey appointments. I’ve covered nearly 3,000 miles on the road since arrival. Compared to Kenya and Uganda, Zambia has a miniscule amount of microfinance organisations. So, I’ve had to travel all around the country to get the necessary sample size. I’ve been up to the Copperbelt, a province up north where copper, cobalt, zinc, manganese, and others are mined. This area of Zambia is busy with industrial activity and is the most populated region in the country.

I also made a trip to Southern Province. In Monze, a village on the way to Victoria Falls, I had my first ‘Wow, this kind of looks like Ohio!’ moment in Africa. The region’s #1 crop is maize, just like Ohio, and the area is flat. Home sweet home? Between this and Subway, Zambia could be a home away from home.

My favorite town to visit was Siavonga. A small town, it’s situated on Lake Kariba, the southern border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. When I arrived here, the manager of my guest house drove me into town to give me a tour and also invited me to eat with him. We shared freshly caught fish and I even gulped down some lake water (cholera, eh?).

A dam serves as the border crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe.

The dam, built 50 years ago on the Zambezi River, created Lake Kariba. In the dry season, you can see the tops of trees poking up from the bottom.

Here’s me on the dam bridge, in no-mans land. You’re looking at the Zambezi River, dividing Zambia (left) and Zimbabwe (right).

Too bad I didn’t get a Dam Tour. (National Lampoon, anyone?)

During one of my matatu rides, something happened that I’ve never seen before. A passenger loaded a live goat into the trunk and stuffed it underneath the backseat. It surprisingly didn’t make a sound the whole trip!

A new favorite method of transport I’ve found is hitchhiking. Don’t be alarmed, I’ve only been doing it with families or shared taxis. For the same fare as a bus, you can enjoy leg room and a window! Not bad. I enjoy the conversations in these vehicles as well – someone willing to take a stranger in their car is usually chatty and personable. I’ve had plenty of conversations about George Bush, religion, globalization, and even one about how Zambian villagers burn grassland to eat rats that are killed in the fire and if I eat one I should make sure it has a white belly because the other ones are unfit for human consumption. Food for thought.

Today, my friend Amelia, an American volunteer in Nairobi, arrived in Lusaka. Tomorrow, we see Victoria Falls! Then, we begin our trip to South Africa, through Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. When all’s said and done, I’ll have traveled overland from Nairobi to Cape Town. Looking forward to the adventure! Back to work in mid-March.

Stay tuned!


8 Responses to “I ♥ ZAMBIA”

  1. macmcnair February 26, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Wow! What a great posting and adventure! I appreciate your keeping in touch through the blog! Lord bless you on your further travels. We are all well here and enjoy your postings. Blessings, Mac

    • Ben February 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      Thanks, Mac, for following along with me the whole time! Happy to hear things are going well back in the good ol’ USA, although Illinois b-ball sure had an awful end to the season.

  2. Shaun February 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    I enjoy your blog so very much Ben! Keep up the good work good sir:)

    • Ben February 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Thanks, Shaun. Nice to hear from you! Hope all is well with you and the Hoptons, especially the new addition to the family!

  3. Tim White February 27, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    Ben – Your blog posts are so detailed and entertaining. I get more excited with each and every update. Pictures, stories and plenty of details. You could turn this into a novel, I honestly don’t know a soul who’s doing anything comparable.

    A train ride that lasted over 4 DAYS?! OMG. Half of me is in awe and disbelief, and the other half can’t wait to travel to the ends of the earth as well.

    Scott and I DID just get back from a week vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. That counts a little bit, no?

    • Ben February 28, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      Tim, thanks for your feedback, which serves as a heavy dose of ego inflammation!

      4 days, it’s truth. I enjoyed every minute of it, except that it did force me to cancel appointments – microfinance org CEOs sure wondered why in hell a researcher from a prestigious UK university was coming via public transport instead of a plane!

      You should definitely go on vacation here sometime. The Nairobi – Cape Town route is very doable, or at least the half of it I’ve done so far 🙂

      Puerto Vallarta looks beautiful from pictures. I’d say it counts for even a little more than a ‘little bit’! I bet you had a blast. Send Scott my regards!

      Got that wedding planned?

  4. cefa2012 February 28, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Hmmm , love this blog!!! , seem to be having great adventure Mr man!!

    • Ben February 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

      I have 🙂 And the best part is it continues….

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