Sunday, April 29, 2007

Back in Zam!!!

Note: You’ll see that I’ve added a few more links to the right side of the page. These are the blog sites of some other EWB volunteers who are currently overseas. If you’ve got some time, check them out, there are some amazing stories to be read!! A particular recommendation for Chad’s blog (not to take away from anyone else’s blog, but I made Chad a promise for special mention!!). Also, sorry for the lack of pictures in this post, I was busy all week and my camera never made it out of my bag!! I’ll be more diligent with pictures from now on, I promise!

Well I figure it’s about time I give everyone an update on what I’ve been doing over the past little while. I left Malawi a little over a week ago. You may remember from my journey to Malawi that the trip between Lusaka to Lilongwe is a long one. Due to the bus schedules, it’s even longer going the other way!! I was up before 5am the day I left, in order to pack and make it to the bus station on time. Normally getting up so early would be awful, and while I still wasn’t thrilled to be rolling out of bed at such an hour, it is extremely peaceful at that time. 5:00am is when the first call to prayer is played from the local mosque. This is something that I had never heard before coming to Africa. The call to prayer is broadcast 5 times a day, everyday, over loudspeakers from the mosque, and can generally be heard anywhere in the city. Most of the time I don’t really even notice it, but certain times, especially early in the morning and late at night, when all else is quiet, it is very relaxing to sit and just listen to the imam’s voice over the speaker. It is a mournful tune. Especially this morning, as I am gathering my things, I enjoy the call to prayer.

I walk to the bus station and make it a few minutes early to get on the first mini-bus to the border, which begins filling at 6:00am. The bus will leave as soon as it’s full. My goal is to cross the border and make it to Chipata, the border town in Zambia, by 10:00am in order to catch the early bus to Lusaka. For this to happen the mini-bus needs to leave Lilongwe no later than 7:30am, and even that is pushing it. Today however the bus takes a long time to fill – a very long time! I sit on the bus with about 8 other people from just after 6 until after 8:00am. When we finally pull out of the chaos that is the bus yard, I have given up hope of making the 10:00 bus. The drive to the border is about 2 hours, and can be longer, depending on how many stops the driver makes, and how friendly the police/soldiers are at the check points.

The roads in Malawi are dotted with police checkpoints, manned by armed soldiers. Often vehicles are just waved through, especially private cars or NGO trucks. However mini-buses are often stopped and searched. I’m not exactly sure what they are looking for, and they won’t tell you, but they know and that’s all that matters. On this trip we are only searched at one of the checkpoints. The entire bus must empty and wait while the soldier goes through the bus and looks in some of the luggage. I use the opportunity to stretch my legs (mini-busses are extremely cramped!!) and buy some food from a small boy selling boiled eggs and buns. When the soldier is satisfied that we aren’t smuggling any contraband, we load back up and are on the road.

We reach Mchingi, the Malawian border town, and the taxi drivers mob the bus. They see a Muzungu with a backpack and they know I am headed for the border. I make sure I keep my hand on my bag, as 5 drivers instantly fight over who will carry it to their cab. I pick the closest one, which already has some passengers in it. Cabs to the border are shared, so unless you want to buy the whole thing, it won’t leave until it is full. I am lucky to find one that is only waiting for two more people, and I climb in along with another woman. With 8 of us crammed in a small Toyota passenger car, we set out.

All of the other passengers are deposited along the 15 minute drive to the border, and by the time we arrive I am the only one left in the cab. I get out and go through two sets of customs. First is the Malawi exit customs. It is a small building with 5 or 6 armed soldiers lounging outside. There is nobody else waiting to cross, so as soon as I fill out the necessary forms, answer a few questions from the customs officer about my time in Malawi, and get my passport stamped, I am free to go. I walk 100m to the actual border, and enter the Zambian customs building. It is similar to the Malawian one, and also empty. Again there are forms to fill out, questions to answer, and the entry fee to pay, but without too much hassle, I am free to go. I step through the rusted gate on the chain link fence and I’m back in Zambia. I walk another 100m and am again swarmed by both taxi drivers and money changers, asking me to convert my Malawian Kwacha to Zambian Kwacha. Luckily I still have enough Zambian Kwacha on me from my first week to get me to Lusaka. The exchange rates from the border money changers are terrible, and they are known to use some interesting math to convert your money as well. I use my Chichewa/Chinyanja (we’re back in Zambia now, so the language is Chinyanja again. It is almost identical to Chichewa though, so I can still use what I’ve learned) to decline their requests and search for a cab that is close to full. All of the cabs are empty and there is nobody behind me going through customs, so I know it will be a long wait. It is already 10:30am, so I have no hope of catching the early bus anyway, so I sit down and wait, chatting with the taxi driver.

It takes about 45 minutes to fill and we are off to Chipata, about a 10 minute drive from the border. The taxi driver has told me that there is another bus company with a bus leaving at 11:30am, so I tell him to take me directly to the bus station, hoping to catch this bus. I am in luck, and we arrive while they are still loading. I hop out of the taxi and rush to the bus, throw my bag underneath, pay the conductor and climb aboard. The bus is brand new and extremely nice. The little TV’s even work. Unfortunately the bus is only a quarter full, and I know, like every other bus, it won’t leave until it is full. So I sit down to wait. Finally, at 1:30pm, the bus is full and we hit the road.

I spend the trip alternately reading, sleeping, watching the gospel music videos or Nigerian movies on the TVs, or just staring out the window at the beautiful scenery. We stop at small towns along the way to let people off or pick new people up. I buy some fruit from a woman at one stop. An entire bunch of bananas for only 5000 K, which is about $1.50 CND. I chat for a while with the people next to me, two men who are brothers, and the granddaughter of one of them. They are returning from a funeral in Chipata. The sun goes down and we continue driving in the dark. We finally reach the outskirts of Lusaka at about 9:00pm. It has been a very long day. I call my friends who meet me at the bus station, and we grab some supper before heading back to their apartment where I crash for some much needed sleep!
In Lusaka I spend two days at WaterAid head office, doing lots of reading, talking to some of the other workers, and then I’m on a bus bound for Monze. Monze is about 3 hours south west of Lusaka, and is where Jenn Dysart lives and works. Jenn is another EWB volunteer who has been in Zambia with WaterAid for the past two years. Jenn was in the same position two years ago that I’m in now: a brand new volunteer starting with WaterAid. I will spend the week with Jenn, shadowing her as she works, so as to learn a little bit about WaterAid, about the wat-san sector, and about life as a volunteer in Zambia.

It is a great week that flies by. I really enjoyed being able to work and do something after so much time being idle in Malawi. Jenn’s role with WaterAid is to manage one of WaterAid’s partner organisations who implement the wat-san projects. I won’t go into too much detail right now about how WaterAid works, I’ll save that for another post. While working with Jenn I spent two days in the field. One day was spent in the peri-urban areas of Monze where WaterAid has one partner working. There we looked at latrine construction and talked to some of the beneficiaries. It was a great learning experience for me. The people we talked to told us about some of the concerns they had about the latrines, and the amount of materials they received to build them. I learned about some of the challenges with latrine construction and maintenance, and was able to get an idea of what the users of these latrines felt about working with WaterAid. The next day we spent in the rural areas, which is the kind of work I’ll be doing. We inspected two borehole sites, checking that the hand pumps were working and checking for proper construction. We also talked to some of the users of the borehole. For each water point there is a committee who is in charge of maintaining the water point. This includes determining a method of keeping the water point and surrounding area clean, collecting money from the users to create a maintenance fund, and proper upkeep of the pump, including greasing the necessary parts. Again, this was a great opportunity to learn about some of the technical issues involving boreholes, as well as some of the social aspects to a water point. I think I am really going to enjoy the field aspect of my job. Partly because I’ll get to drive a motorcycle around some beautiful country, but mostly because I really enjoy talking to the beneficiaries, learning a little more about some of the challenges they face on a daily basis, and learning about how they deal with those challenges. The determination and ingenuity of people continues to amaze me. The users of one borehole that we inspected had organised a cleaning schedule, a maintenance schedule, and had begun collecting money for maintenance and training community members to care for the pump.

After a great week full of learning and fun, I traveled back to Lusaka on Saturday. I’m here until Monday morning when I’ll head up to Mansa, in the Luapula province where my placement will be. I’m extremely excited to finally be starting. I can’t wait to meet my coworkers, to find a place to live, and to get settled. I can’t wait to actually unpack my bag finally, and stop living out of a backpack!! (Life has been a little wrinkly for the last two months!) I have no doubt that the next number of months will be full of both incredible experiences and tough challenges, but I’m up for both. It will be a period of intense learning and I’m excited for that. I will be sure to keep everyone updated as much as I can, but my internet situation is pretty up in the air right now. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and prayers as I finally get down to business!!


jen.daley said...

Thanks for the update! I've been thinking about you and how the trip back to Zambia was! Glad to hear everything went okay at customs (besides the lengthy 16 trip back!) and you are officially "Back in Zam!!" Sounds like you really learned alot shadowing Jenn for a week!! Monday will be a pretty exciting and intense beginning..I'm so happy for you!!

All the best!!

Justin said...


Great to hear that started work. I'm sure it will be great to finally unpack your. Hope to hear from you soon.


Genevieve said...

Hey Trevor,

Glad to hear your back in Zambia! Good luck with starting work (you'll be awesome) and I can't wait to hear more.


Chris said...

I am glad that you are back in Zambia. Those long bus rides must be a bit to take. i am also glad to hear that you had another chance to get out into the field.

Take care of yourself and we'll talk soon.

later brotherc

Sue Titcombe said...

Hey Trevor,

Glad to hear you're hard at work in Zambia. We'll look forward to the updates whenever you can post them.


Paolo Bomben said...

Trevor, you da man! What you're doing in Zambia sounds awesome! Thanks for filling us in with the updates.


Dana Salvador said...

I was away for a few weeks, so I didn't get a chance to read your updates til now. Congratulations, "Uncle Trevor". I am very glad to see you have made progress in getting to your destination. Thankyou,for sharing & I will continue to keep you in my prayers.
Your mom's work bud-Dana S.

brock and steph said...

Holy, that sounds scary. You're very brave to go through all that by yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trevor,

I just thought I'd drop you a line to let you know that we're praying for you.

Jeff & Melissa

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