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Class to Lusaka (Part 1)
October 25, 2010
We were not
to travel by air. We had decided to cut costs and go by road. But,
knowing road travel in our part of the world, we did want to avoid
as much discomfort as possible. So Charmaine, the young auditing
student, doubling up as Assistant Director, having done her research,
reported that there was a coach of superior quality from Harare
to Lusaka. We would have to pay a little extra but we thought that
would be worth it. The coach company was called 'First Class'. Well,
this was such an obvious piece of advertising bamboozlement that
we should have smelt a rat from the start. When they sold us vouchers
and not tickets and said we should get the tickets and seat numbers
from the driver on the day and, what is more, we could not book
or pay for our return journey, all of which we accepted, perhaps
it would be true to say that we deserved what we got. Well, the
day came. As we had to be at the Road Port in Harare at 7.30am and
as the CHIPAWO truck was still not on the road, the redoubtable
Nzou was called on yet again to bear the brunt. Nzou you might remember
from other adventures, means 'Elephant' and refers to my 1983 Ford
Cortina Station Wagon.
At about 5.30am
I and Tinevimbo, the young man who was playing Tongoona, the Zimbabweanisation
of Torvald in Henrik Ibsen's "A
Doll's House" and who had been asked to sleep over at my
place owing to his tendency to come late, set off for the Road Port
in Nzou, laden with a table, three green boxes, a clothes horse,
a trunk containing four Fresnel theatre lanterns, a large suitcase,
containing costumes and props, and a mop. These were duly dropped
off - with Tinevimbo posted on guard as I sped back to my house
to park Nzou, pick up Charmaine and be driven off again to the Road
Port by a friend. When we got there we found the other two, Steve,
the dramaturge, and Memory (Norah), already there. Also there was
our luxury coach, "First Class"!
Now in Zimbabwean public road travel there are what
are called 'chicken buses' and 'coaches'. We did see one or two
coaches at the Road Port. One was even a 'First Class' coach. But
these were all going to South Africa or pronounced to be unreliable
by other passengers as they broke down regularly and were driven
too fast and recklessly. Later on we saw that this last was a serious
consideration and not to be taken lightly by any means. Ours was,
whatever the owners might wish to call it, a 'chicken bus' - but
lacking even some of the conveniences that the average chicken bus
normally boasts. For instance, most 'chicken buses' will have luggage
racks inside the bus and a large roof rack. 'First Class' had neither.
We had also been told that they had loads of luggage space. This
too turned out to be untrue. This was not too much of problem on
our way to Zambia but as I shall relate, was the main cause of the
nightmare our return journey turned out to be.
I was told that Steve was already in the bus. I
saw him sitting towards the back and went down the aisle towards
him. He was sitting on what turned out to be two seats, so narrow
that put together they made up a relatively comfortable seat for
one. He moved up and I tried to sit down. This I could by no means
do as my knees would not fit into the extremely restricted space
set aside for them between my seat and the seat of the person in
front. I immediately got up and sat on the middle seat in the back
row where the aisle afforded my legs some room. And that is where
I sat all the way to Lusaka - with three people sitting on seats
wide enough for two to my right and two people sitting on seats
wider enough for one on my left. I felt like the filling in a sandwich
- definitely a slice of polony had it been a CHIPAWO rehearsal.
Two details concerning our journey to Lusaka need
to be touched on before explaining to you what this journey was
all about. The first was the descent from the Zambezi Escarpment
into the Zambezi Valley and then up again on the Zambian side of
the river on a new road built by the Chinese. The second is the
fact that the border crossing at Chirundu boasts of the first 'One-Stop'
border post in the region.
The descent and then ascent on the other side is
worth mentioning as it soon became obvious that the road is extremely
dangerous for large vehicles, including coaches and chicken buses'
like ours. In South Africa there are compulsory stops for heavy
vehicles and emergency off-ramps filled with sand for any vehicle
that might be out of control. Here there is none of that.
The problem is that such vehicles cannot rely on
their brakes as they will become so hot as to malfunction yet even
proceeding slowly in low gear may pose a problem to the gear box,
which can likewise get too hot. So negotiating such terrain really
requires a careful and experienced driver and a vehicle that is
in good mechanical condition.
I had already
seen our bus constantly veering off towards the left and smelt the
telltale small of binding brakes. Our bus was not in good mechanical
condition. The price of driver error or mechanical failure was there
for all to see as the road was literally littered on either side
with the hulks of burnt out or capsized trucks, buses and trailers.
Fortunately, our driver turned out to be a real pro and he knew
the road like the back of his hand - that was obvious. He safely
negotiated the bends and descents both going there and returning.
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