Lily and I were jogging late in the morning and I spotted my neighbor standing on the side of the road, at what I assumed was a bus stop. And sure enough as I peered up ahead there was a white mid-sized bus with big black letters that said something about transit. Within a few seconds I was back on a road trip from Ndola. We had just finished haggling over how much money we were going to hand over for ten stuffed dolls and animals at the postal service.
"500,000 Kwacha! That's obscene for a few puppets," I moaned under my breath! It's for the children!" I pleaded with the postal worker.
That didn't seem to dent the look of disdain on her face. I'm not sure at what price we ended our negotiations, but after a long, arduous and hot wait in line and another long and heated debate over a few stuffed toys, we made our way to the bus terminal. She didn't know it, but these toys were puppets, a precious gift from the states - the efforts of a fund-raiser initiated by a handful of teens who wanted to make a difference. They wanted to help us. We trained the Zambian and Congolese teachers how to tell bible stories to the children using these puppets. Most of them had never seen a puppet.
I couldn't make sense of the tangled mass of buses, and so we began rapping on the doors of a few buses with drivers, seeking the nearest transport to Luanshya. After several inquiries - most understood English, we were directed to a bus toward the back of the lot.
"When do you leave for Luanshya?" Dan (my husband) asked the driver.
"It is full, we go," said the driver.
"Well, that narrows it down," I thought, but we climbed into the empty bus anyway and made our way to a metal seat near a window. A few minutes later an older black man stepped onto the bus rattling off a message of sorts in what sounded like Lunda, and we were promptly ushered off, following him to another bus that looked so full it was about to explode! Dan squeezed into a seat with 3 large, sweaty black men, while I opted to use my precious cargo as a seat in the aisle, facing the back of the bus. Baskets full of fish, greens and plantain were stuffed under seats and in between riders. A chicken was squawking somewhere in the back and a crying baby was loosened from it's mother's back, swaddled in a colorful chitenge, to rest comfortably on mama's lap.
We roared off onto the city streets making our way to the only highway in Zambia, careening at about 120 kilometers. Jarring bounces, the loud motor sounds, Swahili banter and laughter were all part of the ride and I rather enjoyed the adventure, except for the temperature. Even with the windows open and the dust breezing in, the heat was unbearable. Perspiration ran down my face and body. Relief did come when a dusty whoosh of air blew through my window and cooled me off as the breeze touched streams of sweat against my flesh.
Vendors poked trinkets, roasted corn and fruit through open windows at bus stops. African pop music blared on radios, the rhythms were beginning to sound and feel familiar to me. Inexpensive wood furniture lay sprawled against the dusty terrain along the road. I never saw trash or litter, even on the busy streets in the center of town. Nothing lay unused.
Two hours later, we stopped at our destination. We stepped off the bus and my body was still vibrating from the bumps and loud vibrations, making a lasting impression in my African memories. Clutching my valuable box, I imagined the looks on small black faces, the children excited to see the surprise that awaited them behind the curtain.