African Adventure – Part 8

On the Great East Road

About a year and a half into our sojourn in Zambia, we decided to take a trip on the Great East Road, to what was then called Ft. Jameson, (now Chipata), and from there on to Malawi.

Have I told you that the roads in Zambia were terrible? Our poor rusty twelve year old car was shaken to pieces whenever we left the city. Every few miles we would see another muffler or other car part lying at the side of the road. I always joked that with all the parts along the road, we could have built ourselves a brand new car. Many, many friends would describe how their relatively new car was ruined during a trip but our Peugeot was built well and survived whatever we threw at it.

Sometimes when we returned to Lusaka we had to visit the junk yard where we found all sorts of car parts. It took us a while to come across a starter (or some such thing that helped us start the car). It’s a good thing we found it because we were drawing all kinds of attention when we were in downtown Lusaka and John had to get out of the car and crank the engine like you saw Charlie Chaplin do in the old movies.

On our way to Chipata, accompanied by our friend, Ross, we had a mechanical problem. The area was very hilly and the car was struggling to make it to the top. All of a sudden, the car wouldn’t go into first gear. (Forgive my lack of “car” understanding, and try to make sense of what I’m trying to say.)

On one particular hill, the car stopped dead. John and Ross figured out what had happened and knew we would need a part, but first we had to get to Chipata. Now we knew that when we drove into the town, there was a gas station on a corner where we had to turn in order to reach the house where we would be staying, which was at the top of a steep hill.

I got into the back seat and John and Ross got out to push the car UPHILL. John would hop in after a few minutes but Ross had to keep pushing and running until the car got into second or third gear. Then he had to jump in and close the door, which opened BACKWARDS. They had to do this repeatedly and I’m pretty sure they were both exhausted by the time we got to the rise where we could see the village of Chipata below us.

They guys had a plan. We would speed up and WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN turn at the gas station at the corner and go uphill as far as we could. In hindsight, I shudder to think of it.

We took that corner at speed and drove through the gas station with people waving at us and screaming. But we didn’t stop! And we made it most of the way up the hill. We carried our bags the last few metres and had a well deserved rest. Next day they were back at the gas station where somehow they got a part and had it installed. On to Malawi!

I’ve already told you that highways were paved only in the middle. We were cruising down the middle of the road at top speed, about 50 miles per hour for our old car, when we spotted a policeman who was also in the middle of the road and was vigorously waving us down. We couldn’t figure out what we could have done and were a little nervous as we stopped the car. We had crossed the border into Malawi only a few miles before.

He leaned in the window and asked where we were going. When John said we were going to Salima, he said, “Good. Me too. I need a ride.”  And hopped in!

He was very friendly and told us he was going to Salima to see his wife who lived there. He asked how old our car was and told us it would be an offense to have a car that old in Malawi. When we told him that we had hit a wild boar on the road the day before he told us that in Malawi that would be an offense. I half expected that when we told him that we had a baby girl, he would tell us it was an offense in Malawi. Instead he just told us it was really too bad. In Africa, boys were more important.

Around this time we came upon the scene of an accident. Nobody had been hurt but a truck carrying goods for Zambia was on a collision course with an empty petrol truck. They were heading downhill, in the middle of the road and at the bottom was a small single-lane bridge. The petrol truck went left and the other truck went right and they both ended up at the edge of the river.

Quite a crowd had gathered and the policeman wanted to get out, perhaps to investigate. In the 15 minutes since the accident, stalls were set up and people were selling things! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After about half an hour, the policeman came back with a LIVE CHICKEN. He had bought it as a surprise for his wife. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the journey sharing the back seat with Ross AND a chicken, but I needn’t have worried. He had John open the trunk and threw the chicken in!

For the rest of the trip as we wended our dusty way to Salima, I thought of that chicken being bounced around in the trunk of a 1954 Peugeot. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been dead when we got to Salima, but it came out into daylight squawking. I wonder if that was an offense in Malawi!

The hotel at Salima was wonderful and we had a great time. The meals and accommodation were tops and each day we went sailing on the lake.


Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.


A very memorable trip.

Thanks for reading my memories of Africa. – Maureen



African Adventure – Part 4

Babies and Cars

Imagine being 21 years old, married, and going off to work and live in Africa for two years.  For us it was an adventure.  For our families, it must have seemed like madness.  We could not phone home, or communicate in any way except by what is now known as snail mail.  Any news we wanted to send home would take ten days to two weeks to reach them.

In early December, 1966, I found out that I was pregnant.  Our families were thrilled with the news.  First grandchild for both sets of parents.  And the baby would have 20 aunts and uncles.

Remember, I was still doing the laundry, kneeling on the floor beside the bathtub, and walking to school in the African heat.  I became quite sick so we decided to try to find a car to buy.  My salary as a teacher (John’s salary was the same) was $2,400 per year.  Zambian volunteers were the highest paid in the world.  The volunteers in India got only $500 per year.

Through a friend of a friend, we found a car that we could afford.  It was a 1954 Peugeot, and cost us $240.  But here’s the thing.  The entire roof of the car was rusted from being in the African sun for over ten years.  The doors opened backwards, and the driver was on the right!  It served us well, and took us on many trips around Zambia as well as to Malawi, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Botswana.

Because Rhodesia and Zambia were opposite politically (Rhodesia was an apartheid state), Zambia declared a policy of no-trade with Rhodesia, which meant that all goods had to come from somewhere else.  Gas had to be trucked in to the country from Tanzania.  The roads were appalling and there were many serious accidents.  Gas rationing was the solution.

We had little coupons which we had to take with us to buy gas.  Most months we were limited to 10 gallons.  One month we had 12 gallons, and one month, only 4.  Gallons.  For the whole month.

People helped each other out and if you had a spare coupon you gave it to a friend who was planning a trip.  If you knew a doctor, it was a bonus, because they had unlimited coupons.

In March we set out for the beautiful Victoria Falls, in Southern Zambia.  They were wild and natural, and uncommercialized.  We walked along a dirt path and came upon the Falls.  In the African language of that area, they  were known as mosi-oa-tunya, which translates to the smoke that thunders.  It describes the Falls perfectly.

John and I sat on a rock at the very edge of the falls and had our photo taken.  It is one of my favourites and whenever life has had its difficult situations, we look at that photo and tell ourselves that we are the kind of people who sit by Victoria Falls and can face anything.

The slides we took in Africa are being digitally translated, and I will add photos when they become available.  Until then you will have to use your imaginations.

Thank you for reading.  Have a wonderful day. – Maureen