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On the road

I have had one or two interesting adventures since my arrival in Zambia – and I haven’t left Lusaka yet.

I managed to get quite hopelessly lost on my first trip out without my husband and guide.  Somehow we ended up on completely the opposite side of town, my sense of direction is NOT the best, and therefore getting back on track was a challenge.  The map we were using is somewhat out of date as well, but it wasn’t the real problem.

Nevertheless, I didn’t let that put me off – I’m an independent woman. My mother never waited for anyone to take her anywhere – she moved to England and almost immediately drove up to Liverpool from Surrey (that’s how I remember it!). Paradise Street Holiday Inn, I believe it was… it wasn’t what we were expecting. (This is my first memory of people familiar with their surroundings completely confusing a new-comer with their directions and descriptions “Take the Kingston By-Pass”. Where on the map does it say that? It doesn’t. It still doesn’t.  The ‘Mickelham Bends’… it’s a bendy bit of dual carriageway, not labeled on the map.  And in the Isle of Man they always say, “You go past where “XXXXX” used to be”.  I used to ask,  “Was it there yesterday?” “Oh, no, that was torn down 5 years ago.” “THEN I DON’T KNOW WHERE XXX USED TO BE, I JUST GOT OFF THE BOAT!!!”)

Ahem.   Anyway, moving on.  So – another trip out, this time to get passport photos taken for the bank (good question, no idea) – no photo booths exist so you have to go to an actual photographer and get one taken. No big deal. Went to the bank, sorted that out. On the way home, however – I was stopped for speeding.  There are no speed limit signs anywhere, apart from one that tells you when it goes up to 80 kph. Not one that tells you that it’s 65, from what I can tell.

Back to the story: I was allegedly ‘clocked’ doing 71 kph in a 65 kph zone and stopped by the police (the pollution-chugging bus in the outside lane was going faster than me and they ignored it…). More about the blue buses another time.   I knew that lack of speed limit signs was an issue here in Lusaka; it is apparently normally set at 65 kph, rising to 80 kph in places, but no one knows where it starts and ends!!!  I was trying to hover around the 65 kph mark, though realise now I may have been hovering around the 70 kph mark, as the speedometer is marked at 20kph intervals, at 60 and 80 with the 70 notch halfway between the two but unmarked.  I think I was under the impression the ‘notch’ was 65kph. A stupid mistake, which I do not intend to repeat.   I now do not exceed 65 kph, regardless of the impatient drivers behind me.

Regardless of apologies, my charms had surprisingly little effect on the traffic officer, who (also surprisingly) did not ask for driving licence or any ID.  I did feel bold enough to negotiate my ‘fine’, as I didn’t believe I was actually speeding.   I managed to get the price down from 180,000 kwacha to 100,000. No receipt, no record of it every having happened except for the weight of my wallet.  The exchange rate I’ve been working with is 5,000 kwacha to the dollar, or 7,000 to the British pound.  So my ‘on-the-spot cash fine’ was $20 or £14.  But still.

You would think that was enough adventure for one week, wouldn’t you? Oh, no. That’s just the beginning.  I decided that I would try to join the Taekwondo Association, which meets on two weekday evenings (not ideal for me) and Saturdays and Sundays at ‘Municipal Sports Club’.   There was an advert in The Lowdown, which is a bit like Manx Tails in the Isle of Man.  No one answered the phone, but I didn’t let that stop me.  I set off on Sunday morning to resume my Taekwondo training after a four-year break.

It turns out that the Municipal Sports Club is not as easy to find as you would think.  I found the ‘Olympic Swimming Pool’ (more on that later), then the road sort of petered out into dirt potholes. But people were driving on it, and my homing pigeon instincts (!) told me that a left turn would bring me back out onto the road I had come in on, so I dutifully and painstakingly crawled along back to (hooray!) the paved road.  Except that in my excitement  (on getting back to a real road, and spotting a policeman directing traffic there, someone I could ask for directions), I indicated to turn left, thinking I would roll down the window and ask as I pulled onto the road.  The Chevrolet I was driving has a huge bonnet, and in the confusion and angst I missed the gaping ditch to my left and promptly steered the company car into it with a horrendous grinding sound.

Mortified, I got out.  The policeman looked at me with bewilderment as if to ask why I had just driven into the ditch.  As if I had done it on purpose.  The car was firmly wedged with the front left wheel in a HUGE ditch, the right front wheel completely off the ground.

I can only think that I must have a guardian angel, because a Toyota Hilux pulls into the dirt road beside me, and a local man gets out and directs how to extract the car from the great canyon I’d managed to drop it into.  He didn’t get dirty himself mind you – he had guys for that. But they stacked rocks beneath the front tyres,  jacked the side up, and then he offered to reverse it out for me. Now, I must say it did cross my mind that he could just drive off in it once he got it out. The original police officer had disappeared by this point, and a rather large crowd of locals were pushing the car out from the front while he manoeuvred it out of the ditch for me.  In the car was my only form of ID, the little money I had brought with me, and my phone.  But by this point, I figured, “In for a penny, in for a pound”; and I handed him the key.

Not only did he not drive off, when the locals started asking me for ‘a little something for a drink’, he told me that he would pay them, and I should go.  Not before telling me to take the car for a check up to make sure nothing was damaged.

So, whoever you are, thank you for rescuing me.   I would have been well and truly stuck without your help.

I never did find out where the Taekwondo should have been.  I wonder what trouble I can get into this week?

My new wheels – which I will try not to put in the ditch.
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2 thoughts on “On the road

  1. You are so so brave, If that was me I would never get inside that car again! Keep on writing about your adventures I am sure that someone somewhere will make a film about them. Lets see what next months brings!

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