Tuesday, May 12
Chipata - Lusaka, Zambia
I wake up suddenly with a huge gasp, having endured a particularly nasty Larium-induced nightmare. I have also managed to wake Bjorn up, who is unfortunate enough to be sharing the small double bed with me, cocooned from the rest of the hut by a huge mosquito net.
The nightmare leaves me feeling disturbed. I have ‘the fear’, lay in the dark, unable to get back to sleep and listening intently to every single noise and rustle of the bushes that emanates from the street outside. It is only midnight. I feel convinced somebody will try to break into our hut. My heart is pounding, while Bjorn is once again snoring.
The fear builds and builds, but by the time the umpteenth car engine, lone footstep and panting stray dog passes I no longer feel so scared. It is around 2am that I fall back to sleep, having mentally exhausted myself with my fears…
…and 4am that I wake up once again. A taxi driver (tried and trusted by SKZ) is due to pick us up at four and to take us to the bus station for our 5am departure to Lusaka. It is pitch black outside as we pile up our bags and ready our bikes for the taxi driver’s arrival. It is not safe enough to cycle to the station in the darkness. Ten minutes late, 20 minutes late…seems like a bad case of A.T.
When the driver does finally arrive (after four phone calls) we can smell booze on his breath and it is already 5am.
With every Tom, Dick and Emmanuel grabbing at our bags as we arrive at the bus station we manage to flag down and get on board the Lusaka-bound coach as it is departing the bus terminal. It is 600 kilometres to the Zambian capital. I once again drift off to sleep.
The scenery in eastern Zambia is some of the finest in the country. For many dozens of miles there isn't a single person in sight - only fabulous bush and mountain views.
Why are we on the bus instead of cycling? Because on our bikes it would take us 7-8 days instead of 7-8 hours to complete the journey from Chipata to Lusaka. We need to be in South Africa by May 22 and we have at least 2,500 kilometres left to travel.
The UNHCR greet us at Lusaka coach station.
When we reach the headquarters our truck is checked for car-bombs and the security staff salute us.
Together with UNHCR Kelvin we plan ahead for wednesday's Zambian press conference. Those invited include Reuters and the BBC.
We also get in touch with UNHCR South Africa. Many things need to be planned ahead including World Refugee Day and the press coverage of us crossing the border from Botswana later this month.
A very kind Belgian lady, who works for the UNHCR, puts us up for the night at her house in a pleasant suburb.
As if to prove that every day has an incident of some kind, one of the security guards working at her house collapses in the early evening with breathing problems. It is at least 30 minutes before help arrives, and that comes in the form of the security company's 'armed response team' driving a Benny Hill style comedy ambulance. I get the sense that the fallen man's well being isn't of vital importance to his secutiry firm colleagues.
The man is bundled in the back with his bare feet hanging out of the back as the van crawls off into the darkness. I hope the lad is ok.
With that drama over, we watch Gordon Brown resign as British Prime Minister while our friendly hosts treat us to a tasty Chinese takeaway meal and a couple of glasses of whiskey.
More latest news and photos here
Monday, May 10
As well as increasing awareness of the refugees, one of the great personal pleasures of this trip so far has been meeting and seeing the work, first hand, of small organisations that are trying to make a difference in Africa. A few weeks ago I got in contact with ‘Smiling Kids Zambia’. Today, we got the chance to spend some time with this small organisation.
Smiling Kids Zambia is based in the eastern Zambian town of Chipata (population 350,000). The organisation helps to take local kids off the streets and to give them a second chance in life. The children are housed, educated and given fresh hope and motivation for their futures.
Why do kids end up on the street in Chipata? There can be many reasons but the most common explanation is a lack of food at home and the decision by their parents to send them out on to the street begging. Others find their way into the forgotten shadows because of parental abuse or because they suddenly find themselves parentless.
Stephen and Jane from Smiling Kids showed us their kids refuge, where three ‘house mothers’ help look after all the kids there. They took us to see a brilliant drumming, dancing and drama production by one young group of the boys and girls at the recently erected cultural centre, built under the shadows of Chipata’s attractive tree-lined hillsides. One of the young boys, sporting a Man United football top, flared trousers and a trilby would have put Michael Jackson to shame in his prime, such was the brilliance of his dancing.
Next we were taken to the DK Stadium where a football match was quickly organised so that we could watch the under 15 boys play. Once again, football is used by this organisation to help unite the boys (and the girls) and as a way to promote, amongst other things, AIDS/HIV awareness.
It was quite an afternoon with Smiling Kids Zambia, which certainly lives up to its name. The project is successfully taking kids off the street and giving them a future. It is a project well worth supporting. Please take the time to check out their website and donate to the organisation if you wish to.
After getting a bite to eat with two SKZ members of staff in the evening, it already having turned dark, they warn us against flagging down a taxi in that particular area of the city as we think about getting home:
“A lot of the taxi drivers in this area are crooks. They pretend to be taxi drivers then take the people they pick up into the middle of nowhere.”
“Have they attacked any of those people?”
“Yes, there have been a spate of attacks. I think around five people have been killed by false taxi drivers this year. Of course, three or four genuine taxi drivers have also been killed by the people they pick up.”
These are shocking stories in a city the size of Chipata; particularly as this Zambian city is something of an African success story. Not only does it feel very safe in daylight hours but it is very apparent that Chipata is developing positively.
We didn’t need to hear stories like this just before going to bed. Particularly given the fact that the NGO is housing the two of us free-of-charge in a small residential ‘hut’, in an unlit side street, less than a kilometre from the dodgy area we were warned about.
I swig a couple of shots of vodka to help settle the nerves and get off to sleep. We need to get up at 4am to move on. The only two white men in this part of town are all alone in a small hut, our security a feeble padlock, having just been told awful stories of local murders.
Update: (I received this message from Daniel of SKZ):
Thanks a lot for this nice article about Smiling Kids Zambia. I hope you have enjoyed a better night in Lusaka;-)
Some pictures of the SKZ project "Running Streetkids Chipata" you can find under:
Wish you all the best and a safe trip to South Africa