Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My visit to Zambia in October 2005

I travelled to Zambia at short notice to attend my mom's funeral. The following were the most impressionable things after being away from home for about 4 years:

1. Mobile Phones- Be it at the market, road side or shop, the incidence of mobile phone booths was unmistakable. Why was everyone glued on the cell-phone? I asked myself. Communication is certainly essential but is this useful technology? I asked myself these questions because I saw people who were prepared to buy a scratch card (minute top up) at all costs, even at the expense of forgoing other basic needs. The question going in my mind was, “Do people have their priorities right?” Almost all my numerous young relatives asked me how I could help them get a cell phone. I once read about the Chicago fire and a guy I met in Montreal told me that the fire extinguisher was invented after the Chicago fire. It turned out that major inventions were made out of necessity. Connection to the cell phone? Well, I couldn’t see the urgency of the cell phone when so many people were hungry, naked and sick. I just wondered why we have never come up with an invention to tackle these ills.

2. The Tent churches. I am always fascinated by physical buildings that human beings erect as centres of worship and fellowship. Solomon of the bible was no exception. He built the most elegant temple that made people wonder! I found tent churches so common everywhere I went in the capital city (Lusaka) and the Copperbelt towns. I asked brothers and sisters at a bible study why this was so. I was told that there is a lot of religion that has sprang up in recent years, most of it with a cultic tilt. Some groups are genuinely expanding and need extra space. The tent is the temporary solution to space requirements. I took pictures of a tent church in Kaunda SQ and the Cathedral of the Holly Cross along Church road. I must say that I was greatly fascinated by the purple colours of the Jacaranda trees along Church road.

3. Orphanages/Day cares. Due to the growing number of orphans and street kids, a lot of orphanages have come on the scene. Someone remarked that orphanages were the fastest growing industry in Zambia. I walked from Evelyn Hone College to Great East Road to catch a bus. I saw quite a few orphanages in that area. While many orphanages are genuinely there to give a helping hand, I heard stories of some that are charging unreasonable fees for non-existant services.

4. Transport. I found significant improvements in public transport. Timeliness, luggage care and proper loading appeared to be followed. In situations were overloading or time wasting occurred, there was quick response from the public. In one incident at Kulima Tower, passengers grabbed the keys of the driver and handed them to a police officer. This was in protest for not taking passengers to the main station from Kafue. The driver got a scare and drove us to the main station. I also took a long distance bus from Lusaka to Luapula via the so called Tuta road. The ride was comfortable. Passengers were glued to what looked like West African soaps that the crew played all the way. I did not pay much attention to them since I am generally not a television or movie person. I enjoy reading a good book on along trip. I was however stealing bits and pieces and what caught my attention in the soaps was the strong African culture and especially the witchcraft twist in the movies. I thought sharing African culture in this manner was a big plus. Around Kapriri-Mposhi, I really wanted to sleep and asked one of the crew to reduce the volume since my seat was just next to one of the speakers. I was told that this was actually not loud enough but he asked me to trade a seat which I obliged.

5. Foreign goods. Brand names of pretty much any item were common place. I figured out that it is probably not necessary to take along bulky gifts to relatives since these can easily be bought in Zambia. Obviously local manufacturing has suffered and at the same time it has created a lot of ingenuity for survival. A relative in some manufacturing business told that he has diversified so much that he wondered why he didn’t think of that earlier.

6. The Gulf between haves and have nots was ever present wherever I went. It reminded me of a book that was quite popular at UNZA during my time called “Narrowing the Gaps.” My impression this time was that the gaps were getting wider than before. Basics were everywhere but not affordable but not affordable by most people. I was particularly amazed that I saw very few ordinary people (the masses from the compounds) trouping out of SPAR or Shoprite.