As I left my hotel in Lusaka for my bus ride to Chipata, I was acutely aware that my luck on could go either way. To begin with, the bus company gave me a departure time of 9:30am, while every single person I met from Chipata had told me it leaves at 7:30am…ON THE DOT. Then, of course, there is the threat of being mobbed at the bus station by touts claiming your bus has already left and guiding you on to their bus instead (often with a several hour wait attached). Then there is the threat of bus break-downs, and so on and so on.
Yet it seems luck was on my side. I grabbed a taxi with two other Aussies in the hope of a 7:30am departure. Our taxi driver – John – just happened to have a friend who was a security guard for the council – Ruben – who also happened to be working at the bus station that morning. He ushered us in safely and tout-free to our required buses thanks to his all-important security badge (because let’s face it, his tiny physique would not have stopped anyone). He even carried my bags and helped me get a ticket and good seat. Some kindness money can’t buy.
It turns out, the bus did leave for Chipata at 7:30 (on the dot…ish), provided you’re happy to forego the “Royal Service” at 9:30am. Furthermore, if there was ever any doubt that we might not make it, the trip began with some early morning religious instruction from a passenger pacing the aisle, assuring us a safe journey in exchange for complete surrender. Bless.
So, there I was, ticket in hand, complete with a seat number….for a seat that was already occupied. Never mind, chaos delivered me another spot crammed amongst the 71 passengers (and unknown number of chickens) next to a lovely young Pharmacy student called Violet. Over the next 9 hours, Violet gave me a great run-down of Chipata life – the nightclubs, the shops, and the food (dried bush rat intestines, anyone?). All the while, classic hits of the 80’s blared away in the background.
Perhaps it was the anticipation of finally seeing my new home, but that nine hours seemed to fly by. What’s more, it provided a fascinating peek into the flavour of each district. Luangwa, by the Luangwa River, is the home of fish and grass baskets. Nyimba has the best bananas in Zambia (according to a biased source). Petauke’s full of oranges, Sinda’s replete with tomatoes and sweet potato, and Katete equals one hour until home. By 4pm, I was in Chipata – a leafy, vaguely hilly, not-quite-metropolis that I could see myself settling into nicely, and quietly, over the next 11 months.
I was met by Natalie, a British volunteer who had spent her morning kindly sourcing me accommodation and a taxi driver. The taxi driver took me to an “Italian Farmhouse” just outside of town, where I am residing temporarily with a young Zambian lady called Zindiwe, next door to Italian Enrico, Marco, Phillippo, Damiano and Giuseppo. I feel I must now change my name to Isabel-o.
At long last, three weeks after arriving in Zambia, I could dig out my runners, take to the road and meet my neighbours. It’s good to be home.