Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
Author of the Internationally Acclaimed Romantic Adventure Novel: “The Bridge”
On my long bus journey from Chipata to Lusaka to see the train for the first time, we left Kacholola on the Great East Road and now entered the treacherous Muchinga Escarpment hills leading to the Luangwa Bridge. It was hot, dusty, and pitch dark outside except for the two bright beams of the Fiat bus that cut and sharply lit the darkness ahead to reveal the narrow gravel road. Suddenly there were dark hills on both sides of the road as the bus rumbled, vibrated and rattled picking up speed.
There was sign after sign of steep slopes and dangerous sharp bends ahead. The carcasses and skeletons of trucks, lorries, and cars that had crashed, over turned and sometimes burned were visible on the side of the road just as we navigated sharp bend after sharp bend. The bus would lean to one side as the driver carefully navigated as we took each sharp bend. The repeated sounds of Tsa-shaaaaaa!!! Tsa—shaaaa!!! could be heard from underneath the bus as the driver repeatedly hit the hydraulic brakes. The danger and risk that the bus could overturn while navigating sharp bends if the driver was not careful and experienced was real. I was tense and scared. The bus was quiet.
When the bus was bumping and vibrating violently, you could not hear the sound of the engine. Then suddenly the sound of the Fiat bus engine would be heard again reemerging as if it was a phoenix that had risen from the ashes.
There were small and large leaping flames of fires along the dark hills on both sides of the road. It was eerie. These are lupya seasonal dry season fires rural people deliberately set in rural Zambia. We could see many approaching vehicles 3Kms away in the valley as their beams meandered and zig-zagged toward us. When we finally met the oncoming vehicles, the bus pulled aside and waited as the gravel road was too narrow for both vehicles to safely pass each other.
After sometime, there was a road sign that we were approaching the bridge. The bus came to a stop and then drove slowly into the Luangwa Bridge. The driver switched on the bus inside lights. We drove really slowly. We could barely see the water of the mighty Luangwa River flowing under the bridge. Once we crossed the bridge, the bus conductor announced that the next two significant places on the road to Lusaka were Manenekera and Rufunsa.
After driving for some time, the ominous road signs were visible. First it was a sign of sharp bends ahead with was an image of a long wriggling snake. There was a sign of a long sharp gradient ahead. And most ominous was “Sharp bends and narrow road next 10 miles. Buses and trucks engage lowest gear”. I had a knot of apprehension and fear in my stomach. The driver stopped and made big movements and loud gear changing sounds of apparently engaging the lowest gear. The bus began inching along really slowly down Manenekara. He switched on the lights inside the bus. Two elderly women moved from their seats and sat on the floor in the isle of the bus. They were too afraid to look outside the windows. They were weeping with tears rolling down their cheeks. They were afraid of Manenekera.
Half way down the long steep slope, I could see that the very narrow gravel road had been carved out of a tall mountain. There was a tall mountain on the left of the bus and a deep dark bottomless chasm on the right. As I peeked through the bus window, the gravel road was so narrow it appeared inside the bus as though part of the body of the bus on my side was leaning over the edge of the deep chasm. The wheels of the bus looked like they were barely twelve inches or 30cms from the edge of the deep dark scary bottomless chasm. If the bee stung the driver or if he sneezed uncontrollably and lost control of the steering wheel, the bus could plunge down the bottomless chasm. Passengers were very quiet. I was sweating and scared to death.
Once we safely passed Manenekera, we arrived at Rufunsa where the bus stopped and we ate nshima. I knew the next step would be Lusaka and my seeing the train for the first time. I was so excited that I began to think and quietly ham the old traditional song from the Nsenga people of Petauke.
Leader: Kalindawaro ni mfumu (Kalindawaro is the Chief)
Response: Chaipirako ni chimo chikomo chotaya mbumba (One bad thing is ignoring his sister)
Leader: Naima naima nebo!!!!!! (I am going on a journey)
Response: Naima!!!! Naima nikaone njanji ningafe wosayiwona (I want to go and see the train
before I die)
After riding the bus for a while, suddenly the ride was quiet and smooth. We had hit the tarmac of the outskirts of Lusaka. A passenger said on the left were the bright lights of the Lusaka International Airport. I had never before seen so many streets, houses, and street lights of the big capital city. We finally arrived at the Kamwala Intercity Bus Station.
A few passengers said they wanted to catch a train to go to Kitwe or Livingstone. About fifteen passengers decided to proceed and walk to the Lusaka railway station. My father carried our big suitcase on his shoulder as we walked through the Kamwala Shops what was called the second class shopping center for black Zambians during the racial segregation of British Northern Rhodesia colonial days. The first class which was for Europeans was Cairo Road where there were glitzy shopping stores.
In the wee hours, we arrived at the Lusaka Railway station concrete platform. We were to catch the train to Kitwe. My dad and I laid our blankets on the concrete platform and laid down. I saw big red flashing lights which had the word: “MobilOil.” This I was to learn later was along Cairo Road. I waited for the first time I would see the train.