Two weeks ago, Hanna and I got very very fed up with Lusaka. So fed up, in fact, that we had to get away. To anywhere. I was tired of getting home in the evenings after fighting my way through the pollution, the harassment and the insane traffic, and having the water run brown when I washed my hair, if, in deed, we were lucky enough to have water that night. So we had an emergency meeting on a Wednesday afternoon in our local soda bar (there’re no coffee shops or pubs in central Lusaka) and assessed the length of the weekend and our meagre funds, and decided to take a bus some hour outside of Lusaka to Kafue river, where a glossy brochure offered “river cruises with stunning views”. So, on Sunday, we set off early, reserving a good few hours for getting there, fully expecting to sit in a half-empty minibus on the side of the road for at least an hour while it filled up.
(fisherman on Kafue river)
Instead, we sat on the boat for two hours, watching the fishermen sell their catch and waiting for departure time, feeling a bit idiotic. An insane Zimbabwean man on the boat bought the largest fish, only to decide that he didn’t want to eat it after all. He offered it to us (I think I’ve already mastered the please-give-me-something-for-free-I’m-just-a-poor-backpacker –look) and the staff kindly grilled it for us. About thirty seconds before the boat took off, a very large 4x4 pulled up and poured out a rowdy, smiling bunch of South Africans, with food and crates and crates of beer.
I naturally gravitate towards large groups of people with beer. Not just because of the beer, but considering it was a fairly muggy day, and the boat was moored underneath a motorway bridge, they still looked incredibly exited and happy to be there- just like us. As soon as the bus had left the city limits, both Hanna and I felt instantly better, watching the big nothingness, dotted with occasional bush and vegetable vendor, whiz past. In no time, we were invited to join in, and most of us forgot the scenery- it was just so comforting to be on an empty, silent river on a Sunday afternoon, with a beer in hand and nothing much to do. The group consisted of about four older men, all hilarious, two younger guys, and a lovely girl, who seemed, by far, the boss of the group. As the boat pulled up, another invitation was made; would we perhaps like to come and spend a weekend at Mazabuka where they work and live? I thought this to be a joke, and so I said, Sure, why not next weekend, then? Brilliant, said Theo, one of the older blokes, We’ll pick you up from Lusaka then, on Saturday morning.
Hanna and I got a ride back to Kafue, and jumped on a bus back to Lusaka in the red afternoon glow, smiling.
I called Beata.
“I’ve found you a husband”, I said.
“Oh yeah? Cool. So when can I meet him?”
“Saturday. Meet me and Hanna at Manda Hill around noon, and bring an overnight bag.” She hesitated, and then laughed.
“OK. Great. So where are we going?”
I thought about this. “I’m not entirely sure. Somewhere in the bush. Towards Livingstone. The name of the place sounds a bit like my name”.
“Fine. And who are we meeting?”
“Look, I’m not entirely sure of that either. But they are South Africans, and they’re picking us up around noon”. Although on the phone, I could literally hear Beata shrug her shoulders.
“That’s good enough for me”.
So, the following Saturday we sat in Kilimanjaro, our favourite coffee shop where no one stares at us, drinking over-priced specialty coffees, wondering if it was all a joke, an elaborate hoax.
“What if they sell us to white slavery” I said, “you know, to a Saudi prince on a boat off the coast of Yemen or something, and we’re never heard from again”
Hanna and Beata stared at me, solemnly. “Maaret, have you looked at yourself?”
I looked at my tangled hair with blond roots, and chipped toenails and clothes that I never managed to get quite clean enough
“Do you really think they would pick us, if that’s what they had in mind?”
Needless to say (I think) that we did get picked up, and had a great weekend. They categorically refused anything we wanted to bring, food or drinks, and we had to struggle to smuggle in a bottle of vodka. We stayed at Theo’s house, and everyone came over, plus some people we hadn’t even met on the river cruise. The house stood on top of a slight sloping hill, with nothing but empty savannah stretching in front of us, completed with buzzing insects and a glorious sunset we watched whilst eating tons of barbeque, drinking ciders (me) and beers (everyone else). It was fantastic to meet new people, and to enjoy such luxuries as air conditioning, hot showers and salads. They’d mentioned a nightclub, and as you have it, the nightlife in Mazabuka, a tiny town, seems to be thriving, especially compared to Lusaka, which seems old, tired and not bothered in comparison. We spent the night dancing away until four am- something I don’t think I’ve done in years.
Shaun and Sisi insisted they’d drive us back on Sunday, and we, as poor guests, slept through most of the way. We had lunch together in Arcades and popped paracetamols with cups and cups of coffee until we felt human. We’ve invited them to come and experience the nightlife here in the capital -or rather, in my experience, the lack of it. For the first time, I felt like this was the Africa I’d come to see. People were friendly and yet respectful towards things that people in Lusaka are not- such as personal space, touching someone (which I hate) and probing questions. We’ll see. Maybe I will start enjoying this Africa experience, after all.