In the blackness before dawn we each packed a small bag for our 2-day excursion into Zambia. Overnight, a band of sophisticated goats had claimed Chris's backyard, forming some kind of a "squattocracy." We shuffled past these suave goats, hopped in the Hilux, tossed Chris the keys. He turned the ignition and simultaneously triggered a sound with a Mario Brothers device on the keychain, like we had just begun level one. After the jumbo mushroom in Tsumeb, I think we all experienced a fair amount of personal growth, and now we were nothing less than super. Chris drove along the dimly lit road past some darkened buildings and rolled up to the gate, which was shut. And the gatekeeper was gone too, so Chris went on a search. He rang up a few numbers and rapped on a few doors until he found the "on duty" gatekeeper snoozing on a bench in the corner of a room in a nearby building. The gatekeeper opened the gate and we rumbled onward in the pink predawn light until we reached the dirt lot by the petrol station. This was the bus stop. The delay at the gate was minor. We were on time.
The bus was not on time. We waited at the stop for over an hour before it came. Chris, who had caught the Intercape (Africa's Greyhound) at this stop before, had warned us to expect considerable tardiness, but we kept on with our determined punctuality. The others rested in the car for a bit to pass the time while I took a look around. Cows and goats dotted the lot. A guard in uniform watched over the petrol pumps. Across the road there was a swarm of walking children. Each child wore a brightly colored t-shirt, each t-shirt much too large for its wearer. I knew the children weren't in school because it was the weekend, but at this early hour I really had no clue what they were up to. It sure was neat the way they stuck together.
Chris came out to join me. We found a crushed aluminum can, tried to play hacky-sack with it, then I got talking about Botswana.
"I've heard it's very expensive, but like they say, you get what you pay for. These guys staying at our hostel in Windhoek had just come back from Chobe National Park; they said they went on a three-hour safari and saw everything. They loved it. But one of the guys was all whiny about how a giant fly bit off a chunk of his face. He said it hurt real bad," I said.
"Hmm...that's interesting," Chris replied coolly, "Well, the only thing I've really heard about Botswana is how men in certain tribes have been known to come over here and abduct Namibian children. You see, a lot of these kids don't have a certificate or any official record of their birth so the Botswanans come take them away, kill them, and use their body parts to make voodoo dolls, and no one ever finds out about it. It's really fucked up," Chris said.
I was horrified, speechless for a full ten seconds before I talked again.
"You know, we were thinking about going to Botswana, but Nick would've had to notify the Peace Corps way in advance. And besides, we're only here for a couple weeks, and Botswana would be too much to fit in. Plus, I don't think we're allowed to take our rental car over into other countries. That's why we're leaving it with you. Thanks for looking after it, by the way."
"Yeah, no problem. Oh, I was meaning to ask you guys, when you're gone you don't mind if I drive into town to get groceries, do you?"
"Of course not, go ahead, do what ya gotta."
"Cool, I'll be careful with it."
The others were awake now. Nick and Karen stayed with the car and chatted with Chris. Rob wandered off with his camera to get a good angle for the imminent sunrise. I, too, observed the colorful progression of the new morning sky: Neon pink bloomed into tangerine, blonded, and blasted white light into the top of the tallest tree. And my eyes followed the edge of the light as it crept down, down, down until the whole tree was lit. The sun was done with its introduction; it was day.
And our bus was here. We checked in, tossed our bags into the little luggage caboose, and boarded. The people on the bus were mostly white with a few nicely dressed blacks. I suppose the cost of Intercape travel is considerably higher than the cost of hitch-hiking which explains the lack of native Africans opting to ride the bus. It was a double decker, and we sat on the top floor towards the rear. There was enough space for each of us have our own seat, so we closed the window curtains and sprawled out for some bus sleep. With the exception of a few stops and jostles, we slept all through the AIDS-stricken Caprivi strip, all the way to Katima.
As we rolled toward the border, our mammoth two-story beast of a bus did not deter the crowd of rambunctious Zambian hustlers. In fact, the bus had the opposite effect, a magnetic effect, for this was an ideal opportunity to rip off, rob, or harass unassuming travellers crossing into, or getting out of, Zambia. When we stepped off the bus the crowd kicked up a cloud of dust and smothered us. I clutched my subgarment money belt with one hand and deflected wads of Kwacha (Zambia's currency) with the other as I weaved closer to the dilapidated border patrol fence. An officer stood by in drab garb wielding a rifle, but did not make much of a move to quell the turbulence. I suppose, in these parts, this was normal, and intervention would've only made things worse. This was the kind of Africa I knew only because of films like "Blood Diamond" and "Hotel Rwanda." When we found refuge inside the one-room immigration shelter, we were sweaty, dusty, and flustered. "T.I.A." I muttered to myself, "This Is Africa." With jittery hands we fumbled for our passports and some American cash, plopped it down, pushed it across the wide table to the immigration officer. (For entry, American/European/wealthy tourists must pay a handsome surcharge to help stimulate Zambia's economy.) Half-grinning, he counted the cash before stamping us into Zambia. Together, we dashed and jockeyed our way back to the bus without too much trouble or interference, and started into Zambia.
It was still light out, there were four of us, and other Jollyboys patrons were roaming about, so we felt pretty safe walking around town. Olga's was located on a wide dirt sidestreet and, like every establishment in town, it was protected by a tall cement wall topped with coiled barbed wire. Since it was dinner hours, a gate was open, and we walked inside the restaurant. In the back annex, we got a table partially outdoors, under a roof. We immediately ordered tall sodas and two pizzas. Karen pegged us as "ravenous," which was more than accurate. We ordered a third pizza, scarfed it, paid, left. Livingstone was dark. We tripped up and down the crumbly curb, dodged people, minded the shadows in our periphery. Nick had coached us earlier about walking with intimidation, strutting, and we were doing that as best we could. I think my bandanna helped my strut. We got back to Jollyboys, and went straight to the bar. I tried a Mosi, the official beer of Zambia, and it sucked. We decided to call it a night and retired to our rooms. Rob passed out on the top bunk in a cocoon of white mesh. Before the trip, I'd helped him pick out the mesh for 33-cents-per-yard in the fabric section of Walmart. This part of Africa was fraught with malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The mesh was Rob's defense. Long sleeves and a bedsheet were mine. Our guard was up, and no mosquitoes would have our blood this night. Before bed, we had each assembled a day pack for the following day. We did not know then that the following day would be, perhaps, the greatest of our lives.