Monday, 6 January 2014


30th Dec - 2nd Jan 2014

The Happy New Year Chicken. Lusaka
Before I left southwards we had a surprisingly good Indian Sunday Lunch at a restaurant in Ndola. One of few hidden gems in the town.
Also visited the town golf course which is in reasonable nick. Suspect it was even better in it's Northern Rhodesian heyday. Unclear why it is the home of 'Cock of the North', but I'm sure there is a good reason.
For those interested in golf courses I attach a couple of pics. Left: GD posing by the 'Senior Past President' parking place. The white stick might give a clue as to his handicap.
Right: .......and one of the greens. This probably turns to a dust bowl in the dry season. There were a few 'membas' lounging at the bar and on the outside verandah sipping their gin & tonics. Or perhaps 'Chibuku', a traditional opaque and glutinous  brew made from maize and/or sorghum. I never plucked up enough courage to try it. 
The friend I was to stay with in Lusaka for three days owns a couple of aircraft. He generously came up to Ndola to collect me in his 'all singing and dancing' Cessna 210 which is marvellously equipped with all sorts of 'glass screen' navigation aids. These sort of aircraft are the real work-horses in this part of the world and are used to land on some pretty rugged and challenging country airstrips. 

We took the opportunity to do a sedate ( i.e. not low-level because he is a conscientious pilot ) pass over the banana plantation at Battledore Farm. Farm buildings top centre and the farmhouse to the right.
The countryside to the south was relatively flat before a series of rifts climbing up to Lusaka ( which is on a plateau at about 3000ft ). Lots of the land is a patchwork of tiny agricultural plots ( right ), mostly growing maize.
This being the rainy season it is all quite green. In the dry season I am told it is just brown dust. The photo, left, shows one of many of the kilometre wide circular irrigation systems. A single diameter wide irrigation pipe revolves, on wheels, around the hub. I was informed that this system is not good for the general eco-system. Can't remember why not.

Lusaka airport is fairly basic ( no radar because of various 'misallocation' of funds and additional financial demands by local air traffic controllers not being met ), but is not very busy and hassle free. It is about 25kms to the east of the city.
Right: On final approach. Runway just visible at the top.

I was to stay in great comfort at my host and his family's 'estancia' near the city. I was taken on tour of the city over a couple of days.

On New Year's Eve we all went to a splendid party at a sort of entertainments venue just out of town. Many local ex-pats and the wealthier locals were present. This involved a normal alcohol intake ( a mere trickle compared to Battledore Farm proportions ), a very good South African band and dancing. I was dragged onto the dance floor more than I wished. My shoulder stood up to the strain but one of my knees went a bit wobbly. A most entertaining NYE celebration.

The city of Lusaka is a sprawling low-rise conurbation with a terrible traffic problem. I never understand why more people don't use scooters in places like this, as per Vietnam. The roads are just not designed for many cars or large vehicles. Saigon is similar but the locals ( and ex-pats ) there all get around more efficiently, and amusingly, on scooters. There are some smart hotels and shopping 'malls', modern buildings and undoubtedly some extremely grotty and probably very dodgy areas. Beautiful architecture, with the exception of a few colonial remnants, there is not. The big shopping malls and chain shops throughout the country are mostly South African enterprises. The Chinese seem to control mineral extraction and South Africans the consumer goods and new buildings.

Not to be outdone by 90% of the rest of the world's major cities there is an 'Oirish Bear', O'Hagan's, in which we had a drink. It is remarkably similar to all other global brand Irish pubs; spacious, walls cluttered with 'humorous and quirky' Irish decoration and selling ( tinned ) Guiness, Irish stew, sausage with concannon, and , of course, that old Irish staple, curried chicken wings.

This place becomes very crowded, and raucous, on occasions so they have extra annex bars which open to cater for a sudden inrush. 

Right: Some of the traditional witty decorations. So amusing if you haven't seen them many times before.

We passed the large UN compound ( left ) which houses no less than 25 different UN agencies, all no doubt employing vast numbers of well paid tax-payer funded people doing often irrelevant jobs with great inefficiency. I know; I worked for the UN once. A nice little earner if you can get it. 

Right: The modernistic HQ of the Energy Regulation Board. My guide told me it contains a lot of wasted space. This organisation sets the prices for electricity, although I am led to believe local prices vary wildly depending on who pays whom what.

Left: The HQ of what was the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines, now the Mubuka Pensions Building. One wall, to the left, is made entirely of copper. 
The statue in front, a copper miner, is interesting. I'm not sure whether it is intended to be serious or a  jokey cartoon character. I fear it is the former. Statuary in this country is not notable for it's aesthetic or artistic qualities.

 per this one outside the National History Museum. Looks like whatever it is meant to represent is suffering from severe metal fatigue, or scrap metal thieves. Or both.

It costs 25 Kwatcha ( $5 ) to enter. The ground floor is given  over to a large exhibition of local paintings and drawings which mostly look as if there were done by the local primary school.

Upstairs is the usual 'how humans have developed from the stone age' display. It would be too politically incorrect of me to indicate how far some of Africa has evolved along this scale.

Left: The ( replica ) skull of Broken Hill Man. The original, and I don't know where it is, was discovered at the Broken Hill mine near Kabwe about 100 miles north of Lusaka in 1921. It is supposedly 200,000 years old.

Right: There is a good series of dioramas showing village life. Whether contemporary or historical is difficult to tell. I suspect it is contemporary due to one of the characters wearing what looked suspiciously like an Arsenal football shirt.

Another rather gruesome display ( not suitable for children or those with a nervous disposition it explained ) was of a gang of three murderous bandits, the Mallon brothers, who were eventually shot dead, this year, after 10 years of evading capture in the Luimba Valley, north-east of Lusaka.

Left: This display ( artwork ) is representative of one of the miriad battered and overloaded blue and white mini-bus 'taxis' which proliferate in all the towns and cities. They all look as if they have been involved in near death , if not fatal, collisions at some point. They often have slogans written on their rear windscreens, if there is a rear windscreen that is, such as 'Travel With God', 'Praise Jesus to Live', God on Bold ( not a misprint ) or 'Jesus Saves' ( though sadly misses the old punch-line 'but Mboko Scores on the Rebound' ), and with good cause I fear. One would need to believe in some supernatural protection to risk boarding one. Actually this one pictured would not look out of place amongst the  only slightly more roadworthy ones.

Talking of religion, did you know that the official title of this country is 'The Christian Republic of Zambia'? It is the only officially named 'Christian' country I believe ( as opposed to all those 'Islamic' ones ). The sort of Christianity that they practice, and there are hundreds of different branches,  is generally of the wacky happy-clappy variety involving much 'Praise the Lord!', cheering, applauding and raucous singing conducted by a manic, screaming swivel-eyed priest who whips his congregation up into a wild frenzy. They seem to enjoy this and no doubt the Sunday 'chuch suvisses' provide the poorer population with much needed entertainment and are the major social occasions of an otherwise boring week.

Right: The Lusaka Roman Catholic Cathedral. A strange edifice with the entire roof constructed from an enormous single sheet of corrugated iron. I expect the vicar has to do a bit of screaming to make himself heard during one of the tropical downpours.

There are one or two mosques springing up in the city, however I didn't see any 'daleks' floating around.

Left: One of the few monuments. This one is in front of the main government offices building on Independence Avenue from where the President ( currently Mr Sata ) takes the salute at the annual 'out of step' military parade. Above the word 'Freedom' it depicts a Zambian 'breaking the chains of oppression'. Once some wag graffitied on the plinth 'Just goes to show that an African can break anything'. This did not go down too well, as you can possibly imagine.

As mentioned, there are some smart hotels, the smartest being the Taj Pamodzi. We called in there for a gin & tonic. Most civilised, excellent service and presumably very expensive. Much of the eating, drinking and accommodation at the higher end of the market is very expensive because of taxes and the fact that everything worthwhile has to be imported.
Right: The doorman who has collected an impressive array of foreign badges. I noticed one from the Longwithy Darts Team!? Apparently his predecessor had even more and presumably retired when he could no longer stand up.

I took some photos of a few of the ex-colonial buildings still standing. This one, left, is the Supreme Court.
It was while photographing another that a car stopped beside me and I was told by a magnificently uniformed rear seat passenger that 'This is a restricted area. No photographs'. I then found myself surrounded by four threatening looking heavies ( well one was rather skinny and mean looking ) wearing the customary dark glasses and scowls. In the words of that irrepressible African icon, Lovemore Sibanda, I had been well and truly "kapchad". They demanded to know what I was doing and did I know what this building was? "No" I said, " perhaps you can tell me". They told me I was acting illegally, or some such. They began to give me quite an interrogation and I had visions of being bundled into their car and driven off to the local clink. Under these circumstances I adopt my rather convincing Mr Bean impersonation ( not difficult ). It seemed to work, fortunately. After a tense few minutes they began to realise I might be more trouble than it was worth, especially after being asked for my telephone number and address which I gave London. They didn't get round to asking where I was staying in Lusaka. I think I remember wishing them a Happy New Year but resisted the temptation to ask them if they would pose for a photo. They did not smile, or reciprocate. After deleting the photo of the building they told me, not altogether politely, that I was 'released' and ''go away'. Phew! ( apparently it was the Ministry of Defence ). I was surprised they didn't ask me for a bit of 'income support'.
OK, I had a bit of a laugh about it afterwards but it demonstrates the volatility of some of the rather paranoid 'officials' one can inadvertently fall foul of in these places, even when not knowingly doing anything wrong; but there is a more insidious implication, not for me but for my host. If I had been taken away it would have been difficult not to admit where I was staying ( although I had conveniently forgotten the address anyway ) and that might have had serious consequences for both him and his family and their hard won business, reputation and even residency in the country.
You may have noticed that I have been reluctant to identify my enormously generous hosts. That is the reason why.
By the way, unlike many other Third World countries, Mr Bean does not seem to have made an impact here...yet.

Right: Nearby, the mausoleum for past, deceased, Presidents. At present it has only two incumbents. The redoubtable Kenneth Kaunda, KK, the first, is still alive and well and living in gracious  retirement in the country.

I think I was safe in taking this pic ( left ), the HQ of the Zambian Football Association. Zambia, until last year, was the top football nation in Africa ( beating South Africa and Nigeria ). This is quite an achievement considering the population is under 13 million people. They would probably beat England.

Right: A typical block of flats for the less well off. Architecture, and maintenance thereof, is not a Zambian strongpoint.

Left: The railway line through Lusaka with the main station in distance. I am normally keen on travelling by rail, but resisted the temptation here. The tracks are what you might describe as 'severely wonky', the rolling stock has seen much better days and breakdowns are frequent. Timetables ( for want of a better word ) are erratic; more a case of hope over expectation. I believe in most cases it is quicker, less painful and more reliable, to walk. On the plus side, it is cheap.

If this hasn't bored you enough there is more to follow from the great city of Lusaka!

1 comment:

  1. Amused, intrigued, fascinated, surprised, dumbfounded, delighted, bemused, enthused, non-plussed, mystified, quizzical, stupefied, tickled - never bored with your posts Matt.