Three Girls And A Combi

Last summer I went to Zambia and Botswana for an adventure trip with an Italian tour operator. Unfortunately after three days I was already fed up with my noisy and litigious fellow travellers. Plus, I really wanted to visit Okavango which had surprisingly been left out of our itinerary. With two other girls we decided to split from the group. We had just visited the wonderful Zambesi shore, so our south African driver left us at the Lusaka bus station. He recommended catching the “big bus” that would have taken us back to Livingstone, and from there to the Kissingolu border to Botswana. But when we arrived at the station, there was no big bus. Only a multitude of those small, rubbish minibuses called “combi”.

Doubtfully, we got on an almost empty combi going to Livingstone. Minutes were passing without any sign of departure. From time to time, someone got on the bus with their luggage (from carpets to a live hen in a plastic bag!) and patiently waited, without saying a word. Only when the bus was more than half full, we understood: it would have left only when it was *completely*full.

When we finally left Lusaka, the combi was totally packed and with luggage everywhere under and above us. My friends were sleeping or listening to their iPods most of the time. I took advantage of the situation to make new friends and to better know Zambian “way of life”. I took on my knees the bag
of the girl seated beside me; in return, she offered me a banana she bought from a street vendor at our first stop. The first of many.

I then started chatting with a nice guy seated behind me, Henry. He was an artist born in a small village near Livingstone. He tried to make a living with his paintings, but couldn’t manage it. So he had to work in Lusaka as an electrician, going back to his village every week. We had enough time to
talk about his life, religion (he was a former rastafarian converted to the Zion church, spreading God’s word of universal love in his chats), politics and international affairs. And he was asking why we were travelling on a combi. Good question.

The bus stopped several times. At least three of them, it was to change or fix a tyre. Other passengers looked at us with curiosity and perplexity – we were the only western people – but they were all very kind, except for two girls who got up along the road near Pemba, half the way to Livingstone. They stared at us making comments about us. Of course I couldn’t understand what they said, but it was clear enough they didn’t like us. They then started shouting and laughing with a guy who offered them a drink. At first, I though it was milk, as it had a similar packaging. Then I realized it was Chibuku, a cheap opaque beer brewed from sorghum.

When the two girls got off the bus after few kilometres, several passengers – mostly women – started to heavily criticize the man’s behaviour for drinking Chibuku and offering it to the girls. A strongly resolute lady kept saying he was not a good Christian, while the man – slightly drunk – answered that “beer” gave him all he needed, while God didn’t. At least, this is what I could figure out, as they were speaking in a strange mix of English and different Zambian dialects. Half an hour later the combi stopped at Choma, the last village before Livingstone. It was dark, as more than nine hours had passed since we had left Lusaka. The driver told us that the bus was stopping there and he couldn’t take us to Livingstone. He was however kind enough to buy the big bus ticket for us and told us to wait there. It was late and we were three girls, cold and tired, in a sort of fast food in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a bus we didn’t know when – and if – would have come. Nevertheless, I never felt in danger. The big bus arrived about two hours later, and in two more hours we finally got to Livingstone. It was 1 am. Everyone had told us it was a dangerous place after dark, but again I wasn’t
afraid. A nice, young taxi driver took us to our hostel. We got the keys and fell asleep, exhausted. Our real

L Squadrilli

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