Life in Lusaka

Zambians are early risers and on workdays I am typically awoken by the sounds of one of my  housemates taking a bath from 0600 hours onwards. By the time I drag my sleepy head on to the streets at 0715 or so, rush hour is well underway and the streets are filled with pristinely turned out school kids, women in their bright chitenges, NGO types whooshing past in white 4×4’s and everyone else crammed into small Toyota mini-vans belching out smoke to match their blue livery.

Both  home and  office are in the up market suburb of Kabulonga which means that I have the great luxury of walking less than a mile to work, passing a series of  nice homes and diplomatic missions (atleast I assume that the Saudi Ambassador has a nice place – his walls are very high and I haven’t dared to ask the guards if I can stop by for a cup of tea just yet).

Work is above a strip of shops run by Indian families and who seem to all sell the same things. This is a somewhat puzzling but common feature of Zambian commerce: wherever someone starts selling something – three or four identical vendors will set up shop just next door. It appears to be as true of the six ladies all selling tomatoes by the roadside as it is of the only shopping arcades (strip malls really), both of which are located within half a mile on the same road into town.

I am at my desk and slowly downloading the BBC news homepage by 0730 as the office breathes into life. Greeting is a very important part of Zambian culture and there is a serious ritual of handshakes and ‘good mornings’ all round as everyone makes their way in. The office is home to about 25 staff but numbers fluctuate as we make field visits to projects in different parts of the country. The day is a blizzard of meetings and appointments and by 1730 (always the 24 hour clock in Zambia) it’s time to head home.

I share my house with 8 or so others giving it the feel of an international hostel at times, but mostly it is a very fun and friendly place to be. We are a mix of muzungu (foreigner) and Zambians. Some are here for a couple of months to complete masters research courses, others  for longer periods working for NGO’s and of course the Zambians have proper jobs- a nurse and an entrepreneur. The house is an old Finnish aid mission – you still just make out the disused sauna in the back yard which has now become somebody’s home.

Usually I try to get a run in most evenings. Night falls very fast here and even though I head out in sunshine, I am typically weaving between cars and craters at the side of the road in the pitch dark by the time I return a mere hour later. Evenings are a mix of dinners with the housemates or friends and little trips out to the few amenities in town – the tennis club or the cinema (tragically the disco bowling alley shut its doors just before my arrival).

Weekends are a chance to enjoy the a bit more of Lusaka itself. It’s a sleepy town for a capital city with its 1 million (official figures – probably double that in reality) residents sprawled across quite a wide area.  Although in the tropics, at 4,000 feet there is usually have a cool wind blowing. At night there is small but decent range of places to eat and drink – the steaks (Zambeef) are incredible and the local brew (Mosi) is pretty decent. Oddly almost all the bars and most of the restaurants are located in shopping malls, which makes for the slightly surreal experience of stumbling  into the parking lot of the grocery store late at night. The absence of many street lights means that you can do some pretty incredible star gazing from the parking lot however.

Sundays are very firmly a day for worship in Zambia. The whole country dons its Sunday best and heads for the churches of all denominations dotted across the city. With a few friends, I try to take the opportunity to appreciate creation in my own way by heading out on the mountain bike trails which start just as soon as the tar of the city ends a block or two from the house.

All in all it’s a good life in a safe and pleasant city. Tragically not 500 metres from my door are some of the poorest shanty towns you can imagine but how life is on that side of the street will have to be the subject of some more investigation and another post.

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