Town Day in Lusaka from another angle

‘I welcomed the darkened car windows, so that I could stare to my heart’s content at the passing world of downtown Lusaka, without being stared at in return.’Lusaka traffic

This past week, Heather and her husband Phil (both from Ireland and working with Wycliffe Bible Translators at Mongu in Western Province) joined Gabriele, Flying Mission “administrator extraordinaire”, on her weekly trek to town so they could stop at Immigration Headquarters to update some information in their employment visa. Here is Phil’s fresh perspective on the trip. We hope you enjoy it!

‘Our friend Gabriele had a number of stops to make in town, including a couple for us. We had to go to Immigration, to get our work permit stamped. And we had to stop at the bakery, to order twelve health loaves to last us the three weeks in the interior.

She had other places to visit, and had decided on her order of stops, experience telling her to drive anti-clockwise round the town, for with left turns only you don’t get so blocked. Still, it wasn’t helping us right at that moment, as traffic was moving ahead so slowly we were passed at speed by a couple of snails…

But there was entertainment, life and bustle on all sides, so we didn’t mind too much.

Out of my window, behind the hawkers selling everything imaginable, were huge bales of second-hand clothing. A mixture, from men’s winter coats, to women’s underwear, all being sifted through, mostly by women customers, with vendors distinguished by the money satchels round their necks. Why would the local Zambians want such heavy quilts, we wondered? Because this is winter for them, and they are cold, came the reply. Lusaka is one of the windiest cities in Southern Africa, we learned.Lumumba Road, Lusaka

Behind the bales were the more permanent stalls. One entrepreneur was selling ladies’ handbags, with fresh carrots on the shelf underneath. Sensible, I thought. A nice bag to take your carrots home in…! Household goods, electronic stuff, ceramic toilets and plumbing. Our car stopped again, and here I could buy rubber shoes for the whole family, for only 5 Kwacha (50 pence) each: mum, dad and three kids all shod for two pounds fifty ($3.25). Pretty good, eh?

Soon we arrived at the reason for our slow progress. A palaver (hubbub/argument) was in full swing at the crossroads. Although the lights were green, then red, then green, we could not move for the crowd who were busy listening to a motorcyclist arguing with a lady policeman. His eyes were bulging behind the visor of his helmet, which gave him a definite advantage. Our windows down, we still couldn’t work out what the problem was, but fingers were wagging in all directions. And the growing audience was smiling quietly in bemusement. A lot of referees for this fight, I thought. Back home, you don’t see a lot of emotion from under a policeman’s cap – it’s different here. However, there were visits to be made and work to be done, so with a blast of several impatient horns behind us, we inched forward and were finally through the traffic jam into an eerily empty road.

On we travelled, and eventually reached Immigration. A young boy was bravely standing in a vacant parking spot by the roadside, “keeping” it for us. Not legal apparently, but enterprising. He would watch our car for us, and if it was anything like other places we have been on this continent, for a small fee he’d be making sure no-one slashed our tyres while we were gone.

Immigration consists of offices on several floors, and it’s clear when you enter, that you are an outsider when it comes to understanding the culture of the place.  It’s not always what you know, but who you know. I looked around, but none of my cousins, relatives or friends were to be seen, so that put me at an immediate disadvantage. However, Gabriele has been here umpteen times before, and knows exactly where to go, even after being directed to the wrong desk initially. She and Heather lead the way upstairs, and I follow, watching their backs. We pass bewildered Chinese and befuddled Americans going from desk to desk. Locals in neat blue and white uniforms sit importantly behind desks, or slap hands loudly with friends in the corridors. There is much stamping and scrutinising, much dumping of files in piles on desks, much cheerful greeting, and perhaps a little administrative progress here and there.

Amazingly, with a smile Gabriele announces that our business is done, and we troop back downstairs, past the raised oriental eyebrows, and the muted American protests. Gabriele has made friends here over the years, and today, we are the beneficiaries.’