By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Emeritus Professor of Sociology
After washing our faces early in the morning, my dad and I went to the Kapata Tea Rooms at the market. A cup of plain hot black tea was 2 pence and with milk was three pence or ticky. The buns were one penny for two buns. We drunk one cup of tea with milk with three buns each for breakfast. This was the time of transition from the Northern Rhodesia British colonial currency of Pounds, Shillings and Pence to independent Zambia Kwacha and Ngwee. Chipata was somewhat still called Fort Jameson.
When we got to the Kapata Bus Station, the relatively brand new 50 passenger Lusaka-Chipata Fiat bus was waiting. It was a long bus with bright United Bus Company (UBZ) logos along the sides and two silver round long small metal rodes along the sliding windows. Soon my dad bought the tickets. I stepped on the first step into the bus and I could feel and hear the bus trembling and rattling. The smell of burning diesel hit my nose and the excitement and anxiety of the starting of the big journey suddenly gripped me.
My dad and I sat on the two- passenger seat and I sat next to the window so that I could see everything. People were noisily hastily bidding each other good bye and to tell the relatives in Lusaka everybody was fine back home. Soom the bus was filled up and every seat was occupied. I saw the young bus driver remove his UBZ Khaki jacket and toss it on the back of his seat as he jumped into the driver’s seat and immediately hit the accelerator and the hooter.
Gyeeem!!! Gyeeem!!! Peeep!!!!! Peep!!! Peeeeep!!! Gyeeeeeem!!!!!
Many passengers were feverishly shouting good byes through the windows to relatives and friends standing outside waving goodbye.
“Tizafika ku Lusaka mailo! (We will arrive in Lusaka tomorrow )” “Nizapita ku Matero pa Sabata kukaona amai banu! (I will go to Matero to visit your mother on Sunday!!!)” I heard one woman shout through the window to a waving relative. The bus took off and we were off for the 372 miles or 600 Kms to Lusaka; ku walale, the City, and the line of rail.
One of my teacher Mr. Banda’s many Grade Six Social Studies lessons at Tamanda Boys Dutch Boarding School in 1965 went like this:
“Pupils!! In todays’ social studies class, we will travel from Chipata to Lusaka. We will learn about major towns, what tribes live in the areas along the road, what type farming they practice, transportation, and the types foods and trades they practice.”
Among many of those lessons, I would now get to see the places, listen to some different languages, and different types of foods. Mr. Banda’s social studies lessons would be from Mpulungu to Lusaka, Lusaka to Livingstone, Solwezi to Chingola, Lusaka to Mongu and many other major roads in Zambia. I was familiar with and had heard about the many major places and towns from Chipata to Lusaka.
The Fiat bus hummed quietly on the smooth tarmac road until after St. Monicas Girls Secondary School turn off just outside Chipata when suddenly without warning all hell broke loose. The bus bumped, shook, rattled and vibrated loudly as it bounced around on the gravel road. The driver swung the steering wheel from side to side while switching gears and searching for a smoother part of the road. There was no smooth part. Once he accelerated, the bumps were a little smoother. Some dust seeped into the windows as some passengers closed the windows to keep out some of the dust. This was to happen throughout the long trip.
Soon we passed Msandile River and stopped at Mtenguleni. My dad and I looked at each on other and we said we were in for a long journey if we stopped everywhere at the numerous bus stations and bus stops to drop off passengers and pick up new ones. Passengers began to talk and make commentaries on the journey, the many places and speculated about when we would arrive in Lusaka. The passengers talked about the legendary scary places during the journey. The worst was the dangerous and risky was driving through Manenekera narrow mountain edge in the dark at night in the treacherous steep hills of the Muchinga Escarpment along the Luangwa River.
We were driving all day. We passed through Katete, Sinda, Patauke, Minga, and stopped at Nyimba where we ate nshima. It was dark by the time we arrived at Kacholola before entering the treacherous Muchinga Escarpment. Something happened that was significant. It was hot, dusty, and the smell of burning diesel was strong.
At Kacholola the bus lights from the inside the bus lit the outside such that we passengers were able to see and to buy snacks from traders who were walking displaying their merchandise in baskets on their heads. Guavas, soft drinks, boiled eggs, buns with margarine or sweet red jam spread on them, vitumbuwa, and bananas.
My dad leaned over me to the window and asked a boy for six bananas which were costing one ngwee or one penny for two bananas. My dad gave the boy the susu or six pence coin and the boy handed my dad the six bananas. The boy reached in his pocket as if to reach for change. The boy slowly backed off and quickly disappeared into the dark and the milling crowd of traders.
“Young boy!!! Iwe!!!” my dad shouted through the window. “Give me my ticky change!!!! Give me back my change!!!!”
“Aka kamwana kanibira chenji yane!!! (This child has stolen my change!!!) ” my dad shouted dejectedly after a while of waiting for the boy to bring his change. My dad sat down and gave up. I looked out away facing the window capping and covering my mouth so that my dad did not see my face. “A young boy has just robbed my father!” I quietly laughed rocking my shoulders.