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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Trial by Fire



We have a new car! Now that the road is repaired (hooray! Also, more about this later), we can drive a smaller vehicle.

In May, the government of Zambia removed the fuel subsidies that they used to provide, which caused a 22% increase in gasoline prices. We now pay over $7 a gallon (just under $2 a liter), and driving a large vehicle no longer seemed practical.

Another nice bonus is that our new little Toyota is an automatic. Despite my very great desire, I still haven’t learned how to drive a manual car. 

Now that we have an automatic, I can help with the driving. I drove halfway home from Mansa last week, and then I drove for a couple hours on our way down to Lusaka. Aside from all the people and goats and chickens on the side of the road, the roads I’ve driven on were mostly empty with very few other vehicles.

This week though, we were down in Lusaka to collect a volunteer from the airport. As is normal for our Lusaka trips, we ended up with a huge to-do list. As I waited for an alarm to be installed on the car (Toyotas are frequently stolen and used as taxis), Tom jumped into a rented pickup truck to take care of some other errands. The plan was that he would meet up with me later, but if time ran out I would head to the airport with Troy. It was a straight shot, and though traffic in Lusaka is horrendous, the airport route wouldn’t be too bad.

This all changed though when Tom called and said he needed extra money and would I please hit up an ATM quickly before going to the airport. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah.

Getting to an ATM near where we both were meant driving down the absolute worst section of town--Cairo Road. Lusaka was designed for 100,000 people way back in the time of British rule. Now it is home to 3 million people with no real road changes. 

Cairo is the main business section and is often just a mass of cars vying for the few parking places and pulling in and out of various businesses. Pedestrians flow across the road, frequently using any gap in traffic rather than marked crosswalks. Even the crosswalks are barely marked and there are few traffic signals so you simply have to watch everything because you don’t know when someone will walk right in front of your car. Thankfully we’re all going so slowly that any accident would likely be uneventful.  To make it even more exciting, there are street vendors walking among the lanes of traffic selling everything from car phone chargers to underwear to blow-up globes of the world. 

I finally made it to our preferred bank, but of course there were no parking places. There are always men standing around on Cairo Road hoping to earn a few pennies by directing traffic and helping people locate parking places. They’ll also happily break into your car if you don’t reward them for their efforts. One such man was motioning to me to ‘wait, wait’, and then ‘come this way’, then ‘wait, wait’. Finally, I simply stopped on the road behind other parked cars and dashed over to the ATM while Troy stayed in the car to guard it, and then hurried back to the car. Our new friend earned fifty cents for his help.

I got back into the muddle of traffic and headed north to where Tom was waiting semi-patiently for the cash. I quickly did the hand off and then rushed back to the car, noting that I now had only 30 minutes to make it out to the airport in time to meet the volunteer. 

At this point I desperately needed to find a bathroom and my blood sugar had also dropped drastically. I needed to find a gas station with a restaurant, pronto.

Trial by Fire--Part two tomorrow. 

Exactly Three Years Ago: SIMC: LARPing edition (boy, do I miss my kids!) 

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