Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Destination: Kasama

Kasama is the head-quarters of Zambia's Northern Province. There was a flight to Kasama from Ndola international airport three times a week which used to go up to Kasaba Bay in the northern border.

On that day, the Kasaba Bay flight arrived rather late and was nearly full. We had no confirmed bookings. However, the airport authorities were very sympathetic and allocated three seats to us even though there were many others in the waiting list. Probably it was due to the fact that we were "new arrivals" in the country and this was the next available connection flight to our destination.

The Fokker Friendship aircraft was not flying very high. Most of the time during the flight, we could see the landscape far below as a map in an "Atlas". Even though a bit "bumpy", we enjoyed the flight. After about an hour and a half, the "fasten the seatbelt" sign flashed on and the aircraft started its descent. It landed smoothly on a grassy airfield and taxied along the runway until coming to a standstill.

The airport building did not appear very impressive. It was a small, low, single storied structure. There were hardly more than two or three vehicles in sight in the parking area. Our baggage were the only ones offloaded from the plane. There were no porters in sight. As a matter of fact, there was no one from the Ministry of Education to welcome us. Some people with long fishing rod in their hands, probably holiday makers in Kasaba Bay, boarded the plane and it taxied away for the take off. Even the few cars in the parking lot have disappeared. We realized that we were the only ones remaining behind. Our baggage stood in a heap where it was put down from the plane.

We were feeling tired and hungry. My five-year old daughter had started complaining already. Leaving my wife and my daughter at the baggage, I walked to the airport office and asked if I could use their telephone. I looked up the number of the Provincial Heaqdquarters from the phone book and the operator got me connected.

A disembodied voice asked in a monosyllable "yes?" and I said in one breath " I am a new teacher recruited by the Ministry. I am waiting at the airport with my family. Can someone come and pick us up?"

The answer came in another monosyllable "wait" and the phone was hung up.

Barely fifteeen minutes elapsed; a maroon Peugeot 404 station wagon pulled up to the parking lot and a man came out of the driver's seat. He was having the dignified appearance of some high ranking official. He came towards our small group and with outstretched hand introduced himself to us " I am Mayondi, the Chief Education Officer, Northern Province. I apologize for any inconvenience caused: Lusaka (Ministry H.Q. at the capital) did not inform us that you were coming today". After shaking hands with each of us, he walked towards our baggage and started picking them up.

I was totally embarrassed. Instead of sending one of the drivers from the motor pool, the CEO himself had come to pick us up. This was something unheard of in the country from where I had come. Not only that, he even apologized for the delay in meeting us, even though it was not due to any fault of his. In addition, this provincial chief was picking up my heavy suitcases and loading them into his vehicle in spite of my vehement protest. I felt ashamed. We were then whisked off to the Guest House where we would stay until we were ready to proceed to our station.

It was our "Day Two" in the "Friendly Country" where we were destined to spend nearly 30 years of our life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lost and found

On my first arrival in Zambia we had to spend a night in Ndola as the connecting flight to our final destination would be on the next morning only. The hotel where we spent the night was right in the centre of the town and the intermittent sound of speeding motor vehicles gave us some discomfort. The breakfast which consisted of toast with butter and marmalade, bacon and eggs washed down with a generous pot of African coffee enabled me to have a cheerful disposition by the time we left the dining room and came to the foyer. The suitcases were stacked in one corner, ready for transportation. I asked the European lady at the "Reception" to ring for a taxi. While waiting, I thought of calling the airport to ask whether the flight was on time. The receptionist connected me to the airport and my wife and daughter waited patiently while I talked.

The flight would be on time. Soon the taxi arrived and the bell boy put the suitcases in the trunk. We all got in and the cab took off. I was running a check list of my baggage- three suitcases and a 5 gallon tin of cooking oil (someone in Tanzania had told us that cooking oil was a rare commodity in Zambia, and hence the 5 gallon tin. We soon found out how much mistaken we were) in the trunk, my wife's hand bag and her overnight bag just beside her on the car seat, my brief case.... where is it?

It should have been with me. I looked down. It wasn't there. I turned round and looked on the back seat where my wife and daughter were sitting., asking my wife at the same time "where is my brief case?"

She looked left and right and also in the space between the seats and asked me "Is it not with you?" which meant she could not find it. It contained all the money, travellers' cheques, passports, air-tickets and other important documents.

I told the African driver to turn the car round and go back to the hotel. Fortunately he could understand English. While he managed to make a U-turn I told him about the brief case. He muttered something about too many thieves hanging about in Ndola. I was panic-stricken.

Even though it took only another fifteen minutes to reach the hotel, it felt like ages. Even before the cab came to standstill, I jumped out and ran up the steps to the Reception. The European lady looked at me enquiringly.

I simply blurted out " my brief case..... did you see a brown brief case?"

Without answering, she bent down and picked up a brief case and put it on the desk beside her. I realized with a great sense of relief that it was my own brief case which I thought as lost for ever in the foyer of Ndola's Savoy hotel, even before she asked with a smile "Is it the one?"

I had no words to thank her. She said "you are very lucky because I saw it on the telephone table immediately after you left. It would have disappeared within another five or ten minutes". Then she reminded me to make haste so that I would not miss my flight.

This was one of the many incidents of friendliness I experienced during my stay of nearly thirty years in Zambia- the Friendly Country.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Warm heart of Africa

Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) can be called the warm heart of Africa as it is one of the friendliest African countries. It is situated in Central Africa, surrounded by Zaire (formerly Congo-Kinshasa), Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania. As a result it is a land-locked country and has no sea-port of its own. However, Zambia has access to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, the Angolan port of Lobito and to the Mozambican port of Maputo through its rail links. During the period of the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) after Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (U.D.I) from Britain, the TAZARA railway line was built with Chinese help for the express purpose of connecting Zambia with the port of Dar es Salaam as Zambian import/export through Southern Rhodesia came to a standstill. Under the able leadership of Dr. Kenneth David Kaunda, Zambia came out
with flying colours through the most difficult times of that country's history.
The writer and his family lived in Zambia for 28 years, from 1968 t0 1996. Even though they live now in Trivandrum, India, they cherish many happy memories about Zambia and wish to return to Zambia once again, sometime in the future.