Chapter 4 – It’s a whole new world

Chapter 4 – It’s a whole new world

Summary:

The road from Ndola to Kitwe is not as wide as I am used to. There are large potholes that get worse with continual traffic and repeated rainfall.

(Psst! If you haven’t read Chapters 1-3, this is going to be super confusing. Catch up here.)

Amy led me to the very small lot in front of the airport where she had parked the van. We loaded my bag in the back, and I automatically went to the right side of the vehicle to get in. Amy countered by going to the left side.

“Wait a minute – I’m not driving!” I exclaimed when I noticed the steering wheel on my side.

We laughed at each other while we corrected our mistake. “I’m not used to the steering wheel on the right side – what’s your excuse?” I challenged her.

“Ben usually drives, so I’m used to getting in on the left side.” Amy explained as she belted in and started the van.

“Ok, I’ll give you that one.”

We had to stop again at a security checkpoint as we left. I was definitely not used to this level of security. Amy explained that the new airport was a source of great pride for the people who worked there. The security guards take their job, and themselves, especially seriously, so they stop you at every point they can – entering the property, entering the airport, leaving the airport, and leaving the parking lot. It’s tedious to have to explain yourself every few minutes to every guard you come across, but it’s easier to just go along with it.

The road from Ndola to Kitwe is not as wide as I am used to. There are large potholes that get worse with continual traffic and repeated rainfall. There are no shoulders on the roads and vehicles break down with alarming regularity, stopping wherever the engine dies. Amy explained that there are many roadside collisions and even fatalities from people running into stalled vehicles, particularly at night when it’s pitch black, because there are no street lights.

There are no sidewalks, so pedestrians walk wherever they can find a clear path. Like the vehicles avoiding potholes, they also sometimes veer into the middle of the road without warning. It is common to see small children walking on the road unaccompanied.

We passed a police checkpoint that checks for vehicle documentation, in the form of tabs on the right side of the windshield.

Depending on the mood of the officer running the checkpoint on any given day, you can be pulled over for any reason, or for no reason whatsoever. They have the authority to make you unpack your vehicle and show them everything you are transporting. They can search every bag, look under the seats, open every box. They can leave you sitting on the side of the road with no explanation until you bribe them, or until they decide to let you repack your vehicle and continue on your way.

This is common practice, and traumatizing. Amy’s kids are justifiably afraid of the police, after being forced to sit on the side of the road in the blazing African sun, waiting to be allowed to go. Thankfully we weren’t pulled over that day – the officer only checked the tabs on the windshield and let us pass – but the anxiety is very real every time they drive through one of these checkpoints.

There are many pop-up shops along the roadside, often just a small folding table with an umbrella and a chair or two, with a woman selling produce from her garden. Other pop ups might be selling coal, clothing, or offer money transfers.

After a 45 minute drive we arrived at Ben & Amy’s house in Kitwe. Amy pulled off the road into the short driveway and clicked the remote control that operates the security gate that grants access onto the property, which is completely surrounded by a tall concrete fence, topped with razor wire and an electric fence. This is a standard security measure. Driving down the street in most North American neighbourhoods, you see front yards and homes. Driving down the street in Kitwe, you see walls.

Tank and the kids in the front yard, surrounded by their security wall.

Dogs are another standard security measure in Zambia. In Calgary, our dogs are pets. We take them for walks and to play at off leash parks. They are members of the family, usually with more rights and privileges than humans. In Zambia, most properties have at least one guard dog. A big dog is the best security measure because Zambians are typically afraid of dogs. Unfortunately many of them are abused to make them mean, believing this will make them more of a deterrent.

Zambia has a low violent crime rate, but a very high theft crime rate. Amy and Ben had a break in a few months previous, just after their last dog died, so Tank is there to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Tank is a a Boerboel/Pitbull cross and he’s a great guard dog. Interacting with him, it is easy to see Tank had some training, but it is also obvious he spent significant time on the street fending for himself. If he was subjected to abuse, you couldn’t tell now. He is very sweet and affectionate, as long as you don’t pose a threat to the people he loves. He never barks without a good reason. Once Amy told him I was family, he gave me a proper sniff and offered affectionate doggy kisses.

Tank

Ben finished cooking dinner and we all sat down together for my first meal in Zambia – a delicious chicken and vegetable skillet dinner served with rice. Amy started it in the slow cooker earlier in the day, but the power went out as it often does, so Ben took over and finished it on the gas stovetop.

I was feeling quite fatigued after two redeye flights crossing a good portion of the globe. I went to bed the same time the kids did, with a promise to open the goodie suitcase after school the next day.

I hoped for a good night’s sleep, because I only had two days with Amy before she and Ben left for their conference in Turkey, leaving me alone with all four kids. Well, not exactly alone…

Aunt Sheila the house helper and Uncle Ezra the groundskeeper would be around as well to keep things running smoothly, thank the Good Lord!

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