Thursday, 24 October 2013

If It Had Wheels, I Travelled On It!

Emma Chase works for the micro-finance institution MicroLoan Foundation and is currently spending three months volunteering in Zambia, where she is helping to set up the partnership between MicroLoan Foundation and Lendwithcare. She has been writing about her time in Zambia in two previous blog posts ("Home away from home" and "Muddy bricks and trainers") and here is her third installment.

A few weeks ago I spent a day traveling to the rest of MicroLoan Zambia’s branches. Initially I was to spend a few days at each branch, but last minute training would see everyone in Chipata the following week. I travelled to Nyimba, Petauke and Katete to meet with each branch manager and brief them on the proposed procedures for Lendwithcare. My day started bright and early and by 4 a.m I was in a taxi, en route to the coach station. Little did I know that come nightfall, I would have travelled on pretty much anything that had wheels.
The coach set off to Nyimba at 5 a.m and in the 3 hours the journey took, the sun woke up and said a very impressive good morning; casting a warm orange glow over the undulating landscape until it reached its peak to settle itself high in the sky, watching over eastern Zambia.

Welcome to Nyimba, the banana district! I arrived and was met by big smiles - John and lots of banana sellers. He took me to the office where we had a very productive meeting, and I successfully used the toilet without losing anything! John was sent to Nyimba to set up the MLF branch all by himself. Two years on and he works tirelessly with a client base of 500 women. We visited Nyimba’s market where lots of these women work. The market is quite large (larger than London’s Borough Market, with about twenty times the number of sellers) and almost all the women there are MicroLoan clients. From bakers (the smell was amazing!), to hairdressers - whatever you could imagine or you would want they sell it, and throw in huge smiles and lots of laughter to go with it.

Now, people drive at two speeds here – fast, and snail’s pace. The former using their car horns to let everyone know they were coming, and would not be slowing down to get out of the way; the calm of the mornings are perforated with honk, honk, honk; the latter when something interesting, like a “mzungu” walking by, is happening. This was how I travelled from Nyimba to Petauke for my second meeting: An hour in a taxi-car, with three men in the back gossiping about the Zimbabwe election. I was given the honoured passengers front seat and within five minutes wished I were squashed between the men in the back. For an hour we drove at lightning speed, catapulting ourselves over giant potholes, listening to loud Christian music that would jump every ten seconds, for company.

I reached Petauke safely. Petauke is smaller than Chipata and I didn’t get such a good vibe from it. I tried to keep my time here brief and after my meeting quickly found a taxi to take me to Katete; an African taxi! Some of you will understand my exclamations. Now when I was visiting Jo-burg years ago I was told never to get in the way of an African taxi… Treasure this advice. A vehicle similar to a serena packed with passengers and their household items – think of the circus trick with clowns fitting into a mini car – driving at faster than light speed, honk, honk, honk, breaking suddenly to pick up travellers on the side of the road, accompanied by Christian music played as though we were in a nightclub. Again, I was given the front seat. Pro: Quick escape. Con: Deafened by the music. I sat in this taxi for 90 minutes before we eventually set off. In the initial bargaining for my business I had told them I needed to leave ASAP, I needed to get to Katete for a meeting. After about 15 minutes of waiting I asked when we were leaving: “Any minute now”.

Arriving in Katete and taking a short motorbike ride to the office I had my meeting and quickly found another taxi to take me home - I traveled in the back this time – sweaty, dusty and greasy. A coach, three cars, van and motorbike later, my bed never looked so good.  

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