Thursday, April 18, 2024

Plane Vs Bus


By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D. Emeritus Professor of Sociology

Compare travelling by bus and plane. The plane has an obvious technological advantage of speed. You can travel long distances even between continents by plane. The bus is limited to travel within certain geographical distances over land. Recently I had an opportunity to travel by plane and by bus. I came to different conclusions about the bus compared to travelling by plane forty thousand feet or twelve thousand meters above the ground.

I had just successfully completed a short visit to see my 98-year-old father in my home village in the remote Lundazi district in the Eastern Province of rural Zambia in Southern Africa. I had been braced for and overcame so many challenges and obstacles. I was very happy and on cloud nine as I boarded the fully packed 50 passenger bus to return to Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia in the wee hours of the morning. At 4:00am promptly, the bus took off for the 750kms or 466 miles to Lusaka.

Our trip had 3 legs; the first was the grueling 185kms or 114 miles to Chipata. The paved road had been in great shape until in 2012 when some parts of the road were repaved. But most of the road had huge potholes during this rainy season. The second leg was from Chipata to Luangwa which had a perfectly paved road of 340kms or 211 miles. The third leg from Luangwa had pot holes after the 315kms or 195miles of paved road had been good for ten years.

We had been driving for half an hour as the bus was slowly dodging numerous huge water-filled potholes when the bus first came to a complete stop. It began moving again, swaying around and through a massive deep pothole. It shook and leaned side to side as it pulled out and the driver hit the gas as he swung the steering wheel from side to side. There was a massive and loud “thump! thump!” screech and creaking sounds. The bus moved forward and stopped as the driver yelled: “the steering wheel is not working!”. The bus staff walked out of the bus to the driver’s side of the front wheel. They peeked underneath in the darkness with cell phone lights. “It’s broken!! It’s broken!!” The driver’s side of the front of the bus was resting on the front tire. This was a serious breakdown that may take hours, probably days to repair. The bus staff called the mechanic in Lundazi to bring the spare part and his tool box to fix the serious mechanical breakdown.

It was still dark outside at 5:00am. My fear was we had broken down in the middle of nowhere. We were going to starve. How would we get water and any food? At 6:00am we found out there was a farm field garden and Harawa village nearby. Some villagers wandered to the bus and were asked to bring food, water, and anything to help us. Soon they brought tons of guava fruits, oranges, nshima maize flour cooked food, sweet cooked fresh dobe maize, fresh mushrooms, and sweet cooked cassava that I enjoyed. I must have gorged on 20 delicious fresh off the tree ripe guava fruits. All the food of course was for sale.

The bus was repaired at 2:00pm. The challenge was to drive through the potholed road and the rest of the trip of 687kms or 426 miles to the capital city. We would arrive in the city at ungodly time of 2:00am. The driver and the conductor decided we would spend the night at Sinda and resume the rest of the 444km or 275mile journey to Lusaka at 4:00am. We slept on the bus.

We ate good meals at the restaurants. I ate goat meat with nshima. Some of us gathered around an amber charcoal burning brazier mbaula and swapped great stories. What I love about being a Zambian is that we can be in one place speaking any different of the 72 languages and we can understand each other. It was a great heart-warming night. The Tumbuka speakers spoke their language. There was a Bemba guy who spoke Bemba and clearly could not speak another language. There was teasing back and forth and laughter and brief warm-hearted arguments. I wished the night would never end. We were all friends.

I went inside the bus at 2:00am to catch some Zzzz. That’s when the similarities between riding the economy class in the plane and the bus suddenly hit me. There was not enough room for my knees. The seats were too close. I tried to twist and wiggle to find a good position to sleep but my elbow was hitting the passenger who was next to me. The metal arm rest seat divider was digging into my ribs. I could not sleep at 90 degrees angle. I tried to stick my right leg into the aisle to stretch it. The passengers who were walking by were constantly hitting my leg waking me up.

We left for Lusaka at 4:00am. By the time we arrived in Lusaka, I was stiff, achy, and very tired. and sleepy. When I reached home, I slept through the night from 20:00 hours or 8pm. That’s the same way I feel when I have had 18 hours of being on a plane.

Portholes on the road

Portholes on the road

Food Vendors

Food Vendors
Food Vendors


  1. I like the story, it’s just that the standards of some of the buses if not all are just in a deplorable state no doubt about it, as customers we’re not treated to a standard value for our money journey wealth!!! sometimes the operators of these business bus owners don’t have a contingency plan when all these problems occurs! I hope the standards will improve in future us we keep on an open discusions about this foundamental issues!!! God bless zambia.

  2. There is a big difference between the roads that MMD didn’t since 1991 (Phoenix contractors) and the PF roads by Chinese contractor . Chingola to Kapiri was done in 1992 and started to deteriorate around 2020. Ndola kitwe repaved by Chinese around 2017 started developing potholes and waves on the road the following Year. Which agency is tasked to maintain these roads anyway. Whoever they are, they are doing a very bad job. Actually no Job at all.

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