Monday, 26 August 2013

How to survive in Zambia


Last Wednesday I attended ‘A Magical Night of Music Under the Stars’. It was a brilliant event for a worthy cause. Action for Empowerment Zambia is raising funds to complete the building of Chibolya Medical Centre in Lusaka.

We were treated to some beautiful music, ranging from violin recitals to original songs in local languages. The array of talent on display was truly impressive.

The musicians all got together at the end of the night to sing a rendition of ‘We Are the World’. This is no longer about people half way across the world helping poor Africans; we are doing it for ourselves.

There was an auction and you could bid on massages, facials, a Bubu from Nigeria, even a goat; the perfect example of an all embracing Africa, borrowing from others whilst retaining our own traditions.

The ambiance was great and I got to meet many like minded people while sipping wine and cowering around braziers to warm ourselves. It was a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan crowd. If you needed proof of the famed middle classes of Africa this was it.

It’s great to be back in Zambia and when I first got here I was overwhelmed by just how much was going on. It was nothing like the lethargic, negative mood in a recession ridden UK. Everyone here seems to be busy taking advantage of the huge potential for growth. Believe the hype people.

If, however, anyone tells you settling back in is easy they are stretching the truth a tad. So here are some useful tips for all the recession fleeing cheetahs out there.

·         Be ready with an explanation for why you have returned.

Remember when you had to answer the question, ‘Where are you from?’, and you knew it could mean anything from, ‘Why are you here?’ to ‘Why do you look and sound different to the rest of us?’ Well, it’s pretty much the same here. I mean who in their right mind leaves the prosperous West to come back and live in Zambia?

·         Find other returnees to talk to.

Your family and friends are glad to have you back but they will soon tire of your constant comparisons to your former life. ‘Back home’ was always a mystical land were everyone was laid back and the quality of life was awesome, now you wonder how you will live without a regimented sense of order.

·         Plan your TV schedule.

We are truly in a global village. We can watch TV shows mere days after they premiere in the rest of the world. You don’t have to miss out on the Twitter conversations about live sporting events. Andy Murray about to win Wimbledon? DSTV has you covered. ZESCO, the local electricity supplier, on the other hand might not. There is nothing more exhilarating than the relief of getting to the end of a match just in time to beat the load shedding.

·         Corruption? What corruption?

It’s a fine line between corruption and getting something done; figure out where you draw the line. It may sometimes feel as though bureaucracy is designed to make you give in and pay someone a little extra.

Want a national registration card? If you have dreadlocks you might want to consider wearing a wig to look more ‘natural’, bringing a letter from the Rastafarian Association will also help.

Trying to get a driving license? You will be accorded the opportunity to fast track at every point, you don’t need to see an actual doctor to get your medical form stamped and taking the test is a minor inconvenience best avoided.

·         Beware of the bugs

Your blood has been contaminated by foreign air and the mosquitoes can smell it. They absolutely love it and are all out to get you. When they do get you they don’t just leave you scratching, they leave you with huge tender lumps and bumps. Arriving in the rainy season? Get acquainted with the various brands of mosquito repellents and no matter how hot you feel, close your windows and cover up.

·         No need to restrict yourself to the shops

Why walk into a shop when you can buy anything, anywhere you want to. Stuck for something to eat at home? Why not pick up a rabbit or duck from the traffic lights. In fact stay in the car; you can get everything you need from the traffic lights. Pets, CDs, sunglasses, fruit, newspapers, you name it they’ve got it, remember to haggle as you drive away, don’t worry they’ll keep up the pace.

And my final tip;

·         Take a ride in a mini bus.

No, I mean it. Take a ride in a mini bus. If you really want the heads up on what it takes to make it in Zambia get on the bus.

Watch the conductors shouting and scrambling for customers knowing that if they don’t they won’t be on the journey back. It would be awesome to have sanity on the roads. To do away with call boys and have those talking British buses that always turn up on time. It would all be nice and orderly but how would you ensure that the call boys end up in formal employment?

Upset that you didn't get to finish the latest episode of Mad Men because of yet another power cut? Your fellow passengers are probably living in accommodation were they have to share the cost of electricity across a block of rooms making sure that there are restrictions on the types of appliances they can have.

Does standing in line at the Road Traffic and Safety Agency make you want to take up an ‘agents’ offer to fast track you? Corruption is rife because of poverty but it also exasperates it by syphoning money away from public bodies.  The people on the bus would be happy to line up waiting to pick up their licenses because it means they can afford a car.

Those bugs are annoying but you can get some of that foul smelling spray to ward them off. If you do get ill you’ll probably choose from one of many private hospitals to go to. Some of your fellow passengers don’t have that luxury. I once got on a bus with a man who had to carry his daughter on his back between stops because she had broken her leg and the nearest hospital to him was miles away.

Cut the hawkers at the traffic lights some slack. Don’t knock the hustle. There are thousands of graduates who can’t get jobs, what chance do those guys have?

You’ll be squashed and uncomfortable on that bus but you will have no illusions about the very real disparity between the privileged middle classes and the vast majority of the populace who are only just getting by.


So, what’s the answer to that question? Why did you come back? Why are you thinking about coming back? It’s different for everyone, but something I've come to appreciate is that a lot of the reasons for not coming back are pretty superficial in the grand scheme of things.

1 comment:

  1. Mate this is a great post! Great advice and great insight into the animal that is Lusaka and the hulabaloo and the growing pains of being a developing nation. We are glad you are back in Zambia :)

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