Lusaka (Zambia).The name has sounded musical to my ears, forever. I imagined this name had something to do with a firefly [Glow worm] that suddenly threw light in the night, a sheer display of brilliance in utter darkness. I am unaware of reasons of my interpretation. No idea really.
Landing in Lusaka with Indian passport & documents required was all wrong. Apparently I had not understood the immigration circular correctly and my intentions to be in Lusaka hung for 2 hours anywhere between getting deported to reaching Taj Pamdozi in town. Finally all got sorted and got permission to be in Lusaka. By the time I finished, the airport was locked from inside and there were no cabs. We stood in a dimly lit building, with a smiling helpful airport attendant who did get a cab driver from the departure section and we were on our way to the hotel.
Most parts of the road were lit with white dim lights, per one’s imagination of Africa and then huge patches of darkness making me feel these probably were islands of thick trees. Several minutes later we reach now a bit busy street, laced by many newly built buildings.
It was 150000 Kwacha’s for the ride from the airport. What? err.. It meant it was $30. The room rent was 1300000 Kwacha. Bottle of coke was 25000 Kwacha. For the next 2 days we lived a million Kwacha life, everything was in million and above kwacha. Apparently the Zambian Currency Kwacha will soon be rebased [read extra zeros will be knocked out] and 5 kwacha will be 1$.
During these 2 days of business in Zambia, I saw, heard and met people with a direct eye contact I am not accustomed to, from Africans in South Africa. A clear speech, indicating clarity of thought was another character I distinctly noticed. I assumed this was due to the fact that Zambia has been an independent nation for close to 48 years and so people were in their own space for generations. It was their own country and they were the first citizens of this country for a long time.
Next day at breakfast, the hotel lobby was filled with business people from several countries. If one was blindfolded and dropped in Lusaka, it could look like any other part of the world, especially the malls reminded me of Florida. The malls are new and are filled with South African chain stores. The attendant at the electronic store was indeed very attentive and helped us instantly, with a flash of smile, a common Zambian characteristic. The food court was colorful and clean. We grabbed a dinner at a place called “Curry”.
Be Zambitious, read the billboard, it was one of the cellular phone companies promoting their services. Like any part of the world the market for cell phones and Internet is ever growing. There are more than 20 radio stations in Lusaka alone, and the numbers are still growing. Since the country is based in far flung mining areas, the major revenue coming from copper, radio stations are in big demand.
The government buildings are spread out flat and have an English look. They also definitely need an upgrade. Most Buildings have beautiful seasonal flowers & they remind me of my school building back home minus the flowers & the crowds. The Parliament is another flat building with acres of green islands around it. One can see springboks and relatives grazing around. The laws for speeding apparently are strict in Zambia. Car jacking can mean a non-bailable imprisonment. The impact of such strict laws can be seen on roads, where you can see every color and nationality walking on the roadside, freely. There isn’t much litter around as well, even though people walk on the roads and am told it’s a generation thing. The new generation is more conscious about littering.
Business days over and we are back at Kenneth Kaunda Airport, at 11am. It’s a very small airport surrounded by few trees, attendants running to help us with the trolleys for our next to nothing luggage. Once in the airport its business as usual. At immigration we have a company of a young African mother travelling to Namibia. Her 5 years old daughter explains to me the importance of pink bag for girls, while the baby boy, with an exceptionally comical haircut, on mother’s back wrapped in a blanket jumps in joy, just for being, I guess. The under 17, Zambian soccer team with red bags, black suits & red ties, is travelling to Kenya for an important regional clash. They sat in tutored silence and tell me they don’t have email to receive their photographs captured on my ipad.
Time to board, we wait in a long passage and I feel like having gone back in times to a kind of military base, where everything is built once upon a time and painted and repainted there after. We are neatly seated on either side of the narrow passage. I look out from the window behind me. It’s a beautiful afternoon with cool breeze blowing on the sunny barren & unending airport tarmac. There are several local kids sitting on the grass under a thick tree, happy at the prospect of watching an aircraft taking off, soon. There is an excitement in the air. Some boys even do a headstand, while the unexcited passengers inside dig their heads into their cell phones, all most all, as a rule. We step out of the security gate and are now on a open bright and sunny airport turf. I turn to my left to wave at the kids on the grass and suddenly a wave of bright smile runs through the beautiful dark faces. Lusaka the fire fly…the sheer brilliance of innocence on dark faces.