Time is kind of a loose concept here in Zambia, especially when transport -- of whatever sort -- is involved. We were planning to visit farms about three hours away from the city. Pick-up time was 7 a.m. We hoped to attend some meetings starting at 11 a.m.
My friend arrived about 7:30, then we had to go downtown to pick up another person. Traffic was horrendous and took us nearly an hour. We didn’t hit the road until 9 or so, with traffic clogging the two-lane roads. We stopped to get a spare tire fixed because we were heading out to the bush. Then we stopped for a bite. Then to see a conservation farming project on the side of the road. We finally pulled into the town we were heading for at 1:30 p.m. and the person we were meeting was not there -- he was out at a meeting with farmers.
So we piled back into the car, drove about 20 miles down a dirt road to a small town. There we texted him. (Yes, mobile coverage is probably better here than the US). As it turned out, we had passed him on the road so had to wait for him to catch up. Then he led us down even narrower dirt roads for about another hour, until we came to the farmer we were going to meet. But he wanted us to see his corn fields, so we climbed back in the cars, went down an even narrower dirt farm road, following his tractor (the only mechanized equipment for about 1,000 farming families). We road the 4-wheelers through shallow streams, past a 5-year-old boy herding cattle with a stick, and then to the field. By the time we arrived, it was 4:30 p.m.
So what do you do traveling down dirt roads for hours at a time, dodging pot holes? Well, if you're my friend James Luhana, a Zambian who works on a US AID project, you buy a knock-off Luther Vandross compilation from the boys at a gas station and pop it in the CD player. Then you proceed to sing along with "Nights in Harlem," as well as every other cut on the Mp3. James amazingly knew every word. So there we were, music blaring, roaring down a dirt road past village huts, with James laughing and singing.
We were the only ones with vehicles. Most people walk, or if they are lucky have a bicycle. Women strap infants and young kids to their backs. I have not seen one stroller my entire stay in Zambia, even in the cities. But I did see a family of four riding together on one bicycle.
Transport is difficult, which is why those who can manage to buy a tractor are better off. They can make money not just tilling fields for other farmers, but hauling -- whether grain sacks, people or beer. (I'll be writing about this in more depth for this Worldwatch project).
When it comes to transport, you see many novel things, like those two goats lashed to the back of a bicycle that a farmer was taking down the road. Yes, the goats were alive.