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.
A very memorable trip.
Thanks for reading my memories of Africa. – Maureen