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A Slow Zambian Get-Away


View The African journey on Ofelia's travel map.

The day of leaving Lusaka for good finally came, and oddly enough, it didn't feel like much; it didn't feel real, leaving my lovely family, and especially the kids.
Rich and I took a bus to Kapiri Mposhi, a nowhere town on the copperbelt fringe, where we met Beata and Anya, and started our 50-hour train journey to Dar es Salaam.

After being picked up and fed by an overly-excited nun in a preschool (don't ask), we arrived to the sterile-looking, utterly un-African Tazara station, in the middle of a field and at the end of a bumpy dirt road (and this is the most important railway in Zambia). We wait. I hand over our tickets (I'm forever in charge of tickets, hostels, taxis and haggling, but I kind of like it); they are handed back, and taken again. We are at the platform ten minutes before departure time, expecting hours of delay- really, we are lucky if the train leaves within the first eight hours. Three minutes past four, the train nudges and we all nod cynically; yes, it's just pulling up to the top of the station.
We are all incredulous when it actually starts on full speed- it's unheard of- the Tazara has left on time.

Rich and I hadn't, oddly enough, found a single vendor by the station, and so we are a bit concerned starting a long journey with no water, until Beata pulls up two twelve-packs of water, donated by the happy nun. The conductor brings in more, and suddenly the compartment is half full of backpackers, half full bottled water; we have thirty bottles, and so we do the only thing possible, and head for the restaurant for beer to balance things out.

The Tanzanian side looks immediately more lush; the grass is taller, leaves on trees bigger, the bush more dense. I stare through the dirty window and watch villages, elephants, sunsets pass. I shower in the tiny cubicle out of a bucket while the train jumps, like a rollercoaster.

We sit in the cramped compartment, sheets wound around ankles, watching trees and foliage pass, playing inane games and eating scarps of leftover, tossing and turning.
We sit in the unflattering, artificial yellow light of the lounge cart, eating cold fish, cold chicken from plastic plates. The miles tick past in the slow clanking of the train, and the scene is like an American small town roadside diner. The mood is somber, and we stare out of the window into the darkness seeing nothing but our tired reflections.

Food stop. Everyone becomes more alive; the train is running late, and the restaurant is almost out of food. At the station, the frantic scramble for food begins even before the train has come to a full stop. The train screeches, and the vendors, mainly small boys and women clad in bright, happy chitenges of pink, green and turquoise crowd both sides of the train. Everyone carries a bucket of something on their head; fried chicken, frittas, coconuts, bananas. Furious exchanges take place. Anya is practically hanging off the train, shouting, waving, her whole upper body beckoning a man with chapattis wrapped in newspaper to come closer. How much, she shouts. Two hundred. Too much, she says, I want five for five hundred, she says, displays five fingers, and the man nods, wraps the chapatti, and takes the dirty note from Anya. I push away from our first-class carriage, quickly, there's no time, into the third class where the majority of the vendors prop their baskets up to the windows. A woman demands 1500 shillings for a chicken drumstick; the train nudges, starts heavily, and the price suddenly drops to one thousand. Last newspaper parcels are passed, and we return to our little cocoon compartment to examine all this strange, new food.

The train pulls to Dar only a few hours late. It's hot, sticky, dusk- Dar is full of people, bicycles, women in hijabs and mullahs calling their flock to the evening prayers. The hotel smells like spices, the breeze comes in from the sea, and I think I'm in love with Dar.

We spend the day wandering around the city, looking at the organised chaos of it all, the colourful colonial buildings with peeling orange paint and lime green shutters, all with lacy balconies; the fragrant Indian food, the colourful African fabrics, the cacophony of cultures.I eat ice-cream in a Disney wonderland, and spend an hour trying to finally send my parcel to Finland, wrapping and re-wrapping it till it meets the approval of the lady in the blue sari, manning the counter.

The next day we follow the girls to Zanzibar. I haggle with the gag of ticket sellers, sometimes shouting, sometimes laughing. I buy the cheapest ones, and we go on a slow, uncomfortable cargo boat. I watch the men load the ferry; maize, chicken feed, unidentified canisters. We get on. Rich and I are the only white people on board.

Zanzibar. My camera finger itches whenever I hear the word. I'm expecting a fairytale land, something out of my childhood leather-bound story books. I have no idea what it will be like, but as the ferry pulls up and the buildings come into focus, I'm pretty sure that's what it will be. I'll tell you all about it later.

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Posted by Ofelia 02:19 Archived in Zambia Tagged train_travel

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