After spending some ten days in a deep rural Zambia at Chisutu Health centre, witnessing immusation campaign and all sorts of health interventions by two health workers whose work shift is simply 24 hours, I returned to Chipata my base on Tuesday morning to replenish my cash coffers. Of course, credit cards, ATM or whatever mode of money technology doesn’t work in area where the basic needs include portable and clean water, treated bed nets and food. Chipata is mountainous though surrounding areas have good farm lands and Luangwa area some 2 hours drive has fish in abundance thanks to the river there. Health wise, as a provincial headquarters’ for the Eastern province Chipata has a lot to offer, lots of NGO’s, local and international, the Adventist run Mwami Hospital on the border with Malawi with a lot of specialists treatment. The hospital is famous for its eye specialists. I have also been talking to Health workers local and community based health assistants on how the needs of the people they serve are reconciled with the policy directions they receive. Amid frustration of poor remuneration, most of them work hard because, “these are my people and my relatives, if I don’t assist them who else will,” says Davies Mambo, a 31 year health worker with the District Hospital.
My return to Chipata is eventful. I have an appointment at 4pm in my new home before I complete my two weeks to speak on the issues that I have observed and worked on. This weekend is my final weekend.
When I was traveling to the area, there was a local NGO that was conducting a programme in the area and I traveled comfortably in a $x land cruiser. Now as a Journalist, Global Health fellow or whatever accolade, I have to make it back a distance of 5 hours in dusty paved road and return before 4pm.
I managed to reach Chipata by 7 am after starting off at 4 am, I was lucky, Harvard had paid my stipend in time and the Barclays Bank ATM were in working order.
I rarely think of electricity after using lamps for two weeks, but am mindful of my Malawi experience where everyone jokes using a transport company slogan. Siku is the largest transporting company in Malawi and their slogan is “Here tonight, there tomorrow!” something we grew up with.
On my return to Malawi early June, I found out that due to the increasing frequent blackouts, there is a national joke that the Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi was in discussing with Siku Transport to borrow the slogan, “Electricity: Here tonight, there tomorrow!”
Back to Chipata. I finished my transactions, visited Shoprite for some groceries and rushed back to Katete bus statation to catch a 3 tonner pick up truck for my journey back. I smiled when I found it empty which meant I would get the front seat.
I put my groceries and asked the driver what time we would start off, “Around 15hours (3pm)” came the reply. I was shocked it was only 10am. I asked why, he explained that the tradition is for passengers to leave he luggage and go and do more shopping before the lorry returns in the evening.
I almost fainted the Chief would kill me.
I reluctantly followed his advice and went to look for a place for lunch. Despite many Indian shops, resturants are not readily available at the station, I needed to go 20 minute by foot to find a restaurant. It was only 11 am.
I asked for Nsima with Chicken (Grits) which is a traditional meal. I was told both beef and chicken will be ready in an hour but they had sausage’s which were left over during breakfast and were now turned into lunch.
I got my nsima with over curried sausage, no vegetables which I was told were being bought at the market. It was 11.30 and the restaurant was supposed to be busy. I smiled, thinking Harro and David my two other Global fellows experiencing the same. I ate my nsima curry with sausage and paid the four thousand kwacha bill (roughly a dollar).
I went wandering around, making calls, a brief call to an internet café and a meeting with an old youth worker friend. It was one o’clock I decided to try my luck again at the station.
The driver smiled and said again, “Tichali ngako”(we are still around).
I went around, found a bar and started testing a local brew Mosi and later ordered some goat meat. I engaged someone into conversation and soon I was at home, making noise and laughing from football to local politics. Malawi and Zambia share a lot including political trends.
Chipata is an opposition stronghold and a Zambian opposition leader had been deported from Malawi recently, I had to sound politically right to ensure that I stayed on the right side with my new found friends.
I went to the truck at 3pm, the driver told me to come back at 4pm.
I came at 4pm; he packed us until 5 pm that’s when we started off. I know the road very well but we didn’t go towards Lusaka tarmac road but branched into a dusty road with enough bumps that could cause a premature delivery in a pregnant woman.
Perhaps I was the only one who was looking, the rest of my colleagues (the passengers) were happily talking and sharing stories, from loans to what the new hair wigs were costing on the market.
We traveled for 20 minutes in the bumpy road then came into the tarmac road, I sighed for relief, it was too soon.
I heard everyone saying, “kapopola” (police).
Immediately the driver braked and branched into the next dusty road, where he parked behind an ant-hill. It was 5.37pm, my home for the next one and half hours. No one again seemed surprised or to mind that dusk was settling and that we were parked at a bush.
I smiled remembering my sweet home that this is a daily occurrence and these people are very much used to this type of running away from the Police for hours end.
I smiled more, as I recall how furious everyone would be with Jetblue for a 30-minute delay that the poor company would issue some complimentary discounts.
I joined the conversation on how Police were unreasonable to pounce on the lorries when they are the only means of transport to the deep rural areas, and came to conclusion that they needed to be taken to task.
I have visited local Chipata station Breeze FM, my own radio station MBC is well listened in this area, may be I could start a debate on transportation and regulations.
I arrived my destination 6 hours later, tired but with a happy team of villagers and of course the Chief told me he understood and we could talk later.
As I used my last hour in my laptop battery to write health stories, I mused how a united African state would work, with so many challenges.
I drifted into sleep at the rest house still remembering that time doesn’t really move in my country and continent, I have adopted a new phrase from my trip to Chipata, “tichalipo ngako.”