Up close and personal

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Whenever new personnel join the Flying Mission Zambia Team, they are guided through a series of experiences that will help them adjust to life in a foreign country. Come with Nina and Timo now and see through their eyes how local people 'do' travel....

The goal: take the minibus and try to get to the National Museum in Lusaka. Then find your way home, with the minibus, of course. A minibus corresponds roughly to the public transportation you may know…that is, it takes you from point A to point B! It's the “how” that turns out to be slightly different!

The two of us are full of enthusiasm and the thrill of anticipation. Let's go places!

Close to our place there is a bus stop which works on its own schedule, different from those we are used to. It is based on how many passengers are waiting to be carried. It looks like the minibus appears out of thin air. Get into the bus and you are lucky if the bus pulls out soon. If you are not so lucky it can take hours before the bus leaves! Thank God – our bus pulls out right after we get in.

The bus - how can we describe it? It is made to carry 14-15 people, but in Africa it is 'tuned' to carry more than 20, despite dubious brakes and anti-shock pads, and a very strange manner of driving!

(In Kenya the buses are called matatus, which means, just 3 more - passengers, that is. ed.)

The buses are themed: same colour, but decorated with some very odd slogans. They want to transport as many people as quickly as they can to the city so they can repeat the process many times.They often race each other to the next stop to be first to get the custom. It doesn`t matter the condition of the tarmac or who else is on that road.

The driver draws attention by honking the horn constantly to get more passengers. But he is not the only one tasked to fill his bus. In every bus you'll find a conductor, a second man sitting next to the side door. His method of attracting people consists of hanging out of the doorway whistling and waving to people. He is also in charge of packing everyone into the vehicle, of opening/closing the side door and loading/unloading the bus. As you can guess, there are not just people in the bus - you also have their carry-on luggage which means everything they bought that day at the market, or plan to sell at market. Some of it rides on top, the rest inside. Sometimes it is alive! You pay cash during the ride, if you have room to get your hand into your pocket to get it out, that is!

So, after being 'squeezed' in the middle of the minibus, we arrived at the museum on this particular day, safe and sound. After learning about the history of Zambia – very interesting - we searched for our 'bus stop' to get home. At first we went to the wrong stop but after we asked the way from courteous Zambians we found the place: the bus station. 

To our untrained eyes it looked absolutely chaotic: loud, and packed with people and buses - quite new to us as Europeans who are used to order, punctuality and organised structures! But no problem. We found our minibus and completed the return journey, arriving at our home quite thrilled and happy - and with plenty of new impressions. 

We have decided that all our visitors to Zambia must have this experience too, but we should warn them: riding a roller coaster is easier!