Driving north once again to fetch my daughter back from school, I left the farm in the early morning dark. When the sun came up, near the village of Chisekesi, it was spectacular! I had to stop. (And yes I found a good spot to pull well over.) As I watched the dawn come up, now pink, now orange and finally yellow to white, I thought for a moment how the sun would be going down on the other side of the world, just then.
As I set off again, I was struck anew, by the fact that as a passenger, your observations are quite different from those of a driver. A passenger can look out and enjoy the passing scenery of life; as a driver you need to be more concerned about that truck, two vehicles in front of you, which has decided to overtake another truck on the blind rise ahead. These kinds of incidents are fairly common and I expect wherever you live, you experience this kind of foolishness on the road too.
But regular readers of my blog will know I’d rather put a smile on your face or tug at your heart strings (just a little one, now and then) than make commentaries on the negative aspects of life. Although, of course I do love a rant…..particularly when driving over those nasty, close-together bumps intended to slow vehicles down or keep drivers awake; I call them grumble strips.
Along with fairly sharp speed humps, they are pretty common on the road here because there is apparently no law about not building on the servitude. People’s houses, shops and general habitations are right on the side of the road, with the resultant need to slow vehicles down to almost walking speed, through every town and village. And this in spite of the fact that you are actually driving on the main highway through Zambia, once called the Mpika Highway and now referred to as the Great North Road since it will take you North all the way through Zambia to Tanzania.
Zambia is an enormous country. So undertaking car journeys here, is no mean feat. We live in the Southern Province and Lusaka, the capital city, is in the Central Province. From here it is only 290km away (although the trip can take you 5 hours for reasons I mentioned earlier). But from Lusaka to the borders of our neighbouring countries tells its own story, in terms of distance. For example, the border with Tanzania in the north east is 1498km and to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the north, 2270km. To Angola, in the north east, the distance is 1372km while to Malawi in the East, 1097km and Botswana in the south west, 1490km. Our closest border is with Zimbabwe – from Lusaka, a mere 145km.
The road to Lusaka was extra busy when I travelled. Many people were going to collect their children from schools which were closing and there were also more than the usual number of trucks because of the possibility of the borders closing. Indeed some of our neighbouring countries had already done so and this may have an enormous effect on Zambia for we are a land-locked country and rely heavily on road-bound cargoes. Here the borders are closed to buses, but food and essential items will be allowed through for the time being. And yet in spite of the traffic and a certain sense of urgency, there were things to enjoy on the way.
The towns were slowly waking up as I drove along and this being a week or so ago, it was still mostly business as usual. In some places roadside food stalls were open for business; dough cakes fried in hot oil or maize cobs roasting on small open fires. The countryside is green now and wet in places. Cattle could be seen grazing on the grassy verges, some of them unattended, others under the watchful eye of a herder. On the road itself, laden motorbikes and cycles piled high with charcoal or goods for the markets had to be kept an eye on, for in some places the road is narrow and the cyclists especially, apparently unaware of the danger they are in from passing traffic, sometimes travel two or three abreast. Insert your own rude word just here! Meanwhile many trucks carrying livestock, fuel, chemicals, mining equipment or who knew what, under cover of tarpaulins, were on the move and I suspect had been, all night. Near the town of Monze I came up behind a truck loaded with a container that still had labels on it from where it had once been; in this case, Bridgetown, Barbados, which gave me pause. It seemed incredible to see it on a road here in Zambia.
Drawing near to Mazabuka – self-styled the Sweetest Place in the Nation – because of all the sugar cane grown and processed there, I navigated the worst of the speed grumps and grumble strips. At the green and restful roadside Coffeeberry Restaurant I stopped to stretch my legs and fill up on coffee, also grown locally. I stocked up on biscuits and fudge for the man and the girl and set off again. The busiest part of the road was still to come. There would be roadworks for they are busy working on this road – happy day – small diversions and that one piece of road where you inevitably get stuck behind a big truck crawling over the Munali hills. Mostly they seem to make it, but every now and then one breaks down, just as the incline starts. You have notice of it by the shrubbery that is wrenched from the roadside bushes and placed strategically behind the truck to warn oncoming traffic of the obstacle.
This time, I was grateful that there was no breakdown vehicle to try and navigate. And that was not all; I had music to listen to and a beloved daughter to fetch from school. I thought how glad I was to be alive and how very grateful for that morning sky. And for the earth that turns, in spite of everything; including heavy traffic, schools and borders closing, and even viruses.
Next time – On the Great North Road continues.
That incredible American rock band The Eagles, were formed in Los Angeles, California, in 1971. Since then they have had more than 18 songs in the charts, including number one spot for a number of them. The band broke up in 1980 but reformed, much to the joy of fans worldwide, in 1994. “Take It Easy, don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy – words to drive to!
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