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Travelling to Zimbabwe

  Every five years, MCC sponsors a review of each country program.  For Southern Africa, last year was Zambia and this year is Zimbabwe.  I was asked to be part of the review team and after talking it over with Cynthia, I accepted.  The review itself required two full weeks and travel would add two days on each end so it was a big commitment of time (especially for Cynthia as she would have to manage everything alone).  I will post several entries on my trip but wanted to start with my experience catching the first bus.

  Ideally, it would have been nice to fly to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe’s second largest city and where MCC has its office).  A flight would have cost $1200 to $1500 but a bus trip (with food and lodging) is about $250.  I had done it before and it was an easy trip and saved lots of money so I opted for the bus.  There are buses that go straight from Lusaka to Bulawayo (passing through Harare) but those involve older, poorly maintained buses and travelling at night.  The best option is to get a bus from Lusaka to Livingstone (about 7 hours) then get a taxi in Livingstone to take you to the border, walk across the border (with a view of Victoria Falls) and then walk or taxi to a hotel on the Zimbabwe side.  One would then spend the night in Zimbabwe and catch another bus in the morning to Bulawayo (5 1/2 hours).  It sounds a bit grueling but for a little extra money, you can get nice buses and it is actually fairly relaxing.

  To start my trip, Kathy and Eric dropped me at the bus stop on Saturday morning around 7:20.  I proceeded to the ticketing booth for my preferred bus line and they said they didn’t have any seats until 2:30pm.  I opted to try my second choice and they were full until 12:30.  It is possible to purchase your ticket in advance but there are lots of buses going to Livingstone and it normally isn’t a problem purchasing the tickets on the same day of travel.  Normally, it isn’t a problem but this particular weekend happened to be the weekend before the new school term began and there are lots of kids who attend boarding schools so the buses were full taking kids back to school.  I wasn’t too keen on taking such a late bus because that would involve me waiting for hours at the bus station or getting a taxi back home AND it would also get me into Livingstone after dark and I didn’t really want to be walking in the dark due to the possibility of thieves but the greater possibility of running into elephants).  I also didn’t know how long customs and immigration were open and I needed to sleep in Zimbabwe that night in order to catch the bus at 7am the next morning.

  Seeing little option, I purchased a ticket for the 12:30 bus to Livingstone for 90,000 (~$18).  When I turned around, my suitcase was gone and I had a moment of panic.  I had left with with an employee of the bus line and both he and suitcase were gone.  I soon found that he had already marked and stored my bag for the later bus.  I then began to consider how late I was getting into Livingstone and had the brilliant idea of finding another passenger on an earlier bus who would be willing to swap tickets with me.  I thought, I would be willing to pay their entire ticket so they would travel free and I would arrive in time to make it to Zimbabwe.  I was sure someone would be willing to make the trade.

  I found one of the guys for the bus line and said “I really need to get a seat on an earlier bus, do you think someone would be willing to trade tickets with me in exchange for 50,000 ($10)?”  He replied “You need to be on an earlier bus and you will pay an extra 50,000?”  I told him that I needed to get across the boarder as early as possible.  He told me to wait and he would see what he could do.  He walked over to the ticket booth and soon returned telling me that he thinks he can get me on.  At this point, I thought they must have had some extra seats or he knew a passenger willing to exchange.  I began to get my heart set upon getting on an earlier bus.

  He came back and said that I was all set to get the 9am bus.  I thanked him and handed him the 50,000 note, he handed it back and told me to pay later.  He then directed me to get on the bus even though it was nearly an hour until the bus was leaving.  I asked him if I was going to get a new ticket as my ticket was for the later bus and he said that he had already talked to the guy handling the tickets and I can just use the one I already had.  So I got on the bus which felt a bit strange since all other passengers were waiting outside the bus.  There was an older gentleman sleeping and a young man from the bus line on the bus and myself, so I picked a seat and sat down.  A few minutes later, the same guy came back and told me to come with him… so I went.  He asked me to follow him and I did and we walked through the bus station and as we walked, I asked him about the 50,000 again and he said “I could get fired for this so don’t give me the money in public”.   What?!?!?  We walked out of the bus station and to a shack next to the station where he introduced me to his friends…  Several young men who were setting up a braai (grill) to roast goat which I assume they sell to travellers or workers at the bus station.  Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be ready before I was going to leave because I like goat.  I wasn’t sure what was going on but I offered the 50,000 again and he said “pay me on the bus”.  So we walked back to the bus and he told me I should get on.

   Now others began to get on the bus and I was just sitting in a random seat and I was afraid someone was going to tell me that I was in their seat.  As it filled, a man came along wanting to see everyone’s ticket and he didn’t say anything to me about being in the right or wrong seat, so I sat wondering what was going on.  It now seems that my seat was not legit but he wasn’t anxious for the money either.  By this time, I had figured out that the situation was not right but I didn’t know how to make it right.  I hadn’t given him any money.  I was on the bus and my ticket “approved”.  Just then the man got on and asked for the money in front of everyone.  I nervously gave it to him and nobody seemed to care.  As the man got off, the driver kicked the foot of a sleeping man who got up and started to preach.

   Bus preachers are common and I was prepared this time so I got out my phone and started recording.  His “sermon” lasted 25 minutes and it started out pretty good but then took a turn straight for the prosperity gospel (also common in Zambia).  He ended with a request for money which I wasn’t interested in providing.  All this time the bus is moving and when he is finished, the bus just drops him off. 

  There is always something interesting to see and/or experience in Zambia…

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. kathy fast
    May 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Well, now THAT is a story worth waiting for! life in Zambia is indeed full of twists and turns! Glad you made it across the border without elephant chases – or warthogs, or buffalo, or thieves for that matter!
    kfast

  2. Joan
    May 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I was going to say “it’s unbeleiveable”, but since I have been there, I understand. What an undertaking. God be with you. Enjoy your adventers

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