Thursday, December 20, 2012

Zambia diary – Part 1

So… this time around, I had the chance of visiting Zambia on an extended project. People kept on asking about my connection with Africa. And I didn’t know what to answer.

Anyhow, this time, I was headed towards the commercial capital of Zambia, Chingola for a copper mining project.

I was going to this project with my colleague, Sandeep though South African Airways. Unfortunately due to our travel team, we had to follow different routes. So we had a common route From Delhi – Mumbai – Johannesburg. From Jo’burg, my flight was directly to Ndola airport; whereas my colleague had to go to Lusaka and then follow another flight to Ndola.

The capital city of Zambia is Lusaka. Chingola is about hundred minutes’ drive from Ndola airport which in itself is about an hour flight from Lusaka via those teeny tiny 30 odd seater charter planes, of the utmost dubious quality; which convulse every time winds even displays the slightest signs of a movement.

So anyhow, I got off at the Ndola airport. And I swear to god that the closets of a two timer illegal immigrant in any country would still be bigger than the “Arrival Hall”. The “Arrival Hall” had the passport stamping, baggage, security check and visitor lounge – All in a 3000 sq. ft. area. I started having my share of doubts about the country.

The journey was still not complete as I still had an hour and a half journey with my cabbie for the day, ‘Cox’. Fortunately for me, Cox turned out to be a jovial fellow with a vocabulary of 4 – 5 hindi words, seeing as a lot of Indians were working in the company where I was heading to.

Cox assisted me in withdrawing a cool million from my account (Did I just see your jaw drop? Don’t! A million Kwacha is like ten thousand rupees); get a decent vegetarian lunch and a nice SIM card for my phone. My priority was of course to get a SIM card at the earliest, seeing that I wanted to call home before anything else. And I was surprised to see that there was no need for an ID proof. So I got my SIM card and it was “happy calling home” time for me.

Now… did you read that Cox help me get a decent vegetarian food? Not only was it vegetarian, but Indian food. Imagine my surprise when the guy took me to a restaurant which had “Kadi Pakora” and “Sabji Haandi”. I was just not expecting THIS, in Zambia of all places; and that too in a town which is a 100 minutes’ drive from the nearest airport, an hour’s flight further away from the capital city.

The journey from the airport to the flats was uneventful. Like most of the Africa, the drive consisted of going via a “highway”, a two lane two way road. The sides of the roads were majorly devoid of any population of any kind, dotted intermittently with people selling local art, grocery or sofa sets. YES! You read it correctly… sofa sets. I found it equally perplexing but that’s the truth. On and off, there would be spots where sets of sofas would be placed for sale. Other than that, most of the road side was lined with scraggy bushes, wide fields and tall trees.

With the lunch packed, I went with Cox to the company flats in Chingola. I had been allotted a bachelor accommodation for the next fifteen days. I went into the flat, unpacked and checked out the facilities. The flat was a modest enough accommodation with a front lobby, a bed room with TV and AC and refrigerator and decent amenities. I decided to lie down while I waited for my colleague to arrive, as I had no means of communication with him because of him not being able to get a local number by then. That was at 5 PM. And I didn’t realize how and when I fell asleep – Fully dressed, with my legs hanging off the bed and still wearing glasses. I woke up with a start when I heard loud knocking on the window and somebody calling my name. Still groggy from the travel, it took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t a dream but somebody actually calling me out. I woke and opened the drapes to seen my colleagues frantically trying to get me to wake up in time for dinner. That was at 9 PM.

Since I had Sandeep’s room keys with me, even he couldn’t go to his room and was parked temporarily with the colleagues who were here before us and were now to begin the handover to us.

So the four of us went to the company canteen in the flats; had a nice dinner and then went to their flat – a two bed room, hall and kitchen setup. We chatted for some time, caught up with each other, and shared our tales of the journey while they told different tales from the project. We took our leave at around midnight for our respective rooms and crashed on the bed for, what I anticipated to be, a sound sleep.


Thus ended the first day in Zambia; with us looking forward to the joining formalities the next day, ID creation and gate pass access etc.

More in the next one!!!

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