The plural of minibus is mayhem

I spent last week in Lusaka as a volunteer trainer for the RAP 2014 In-Service Training (IST), helping to facilitate technical sessions for the intake of aquaculture extension volunteers who arrived in Zambia exactly one year after I did. Although I enjoyed working and sharing ideas with this impressive and engaging group of volunteers who are just beginning their Peace Corps services, the most entertaining part of the entire week was getting real comfortable with Lusaka’s ubiquitous minibus system of public transportation.

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Intercity Bus Terminal in Lusaka, one of the most hectic places known to man

Zambia’s capital is a rapidly growing sub-Saharan metropolis with inconsistent infrastructure, which is a nice way of saying that there are too many people and not enough roads. Rush hour is a sight to behold, with traffic laws relegated to mere suggestions and right-of-way at roundabouts and intersections going to the vehicle that is most battered and therefore cares least about getting bumped by another car.

Enter the minibus.

Riding a minibus in Lusaka entails hopping into a faded blue 30-year-old Toyota minivan with thin bald tires and a slightly heavier-set but just as bald driver and, packed into rows of tiny benches like human sardines with 19 of your closest friends complete strangers, rattling a few kilometers along a pothole-filled road to a different section of town. All the while, a skinny kid with baggy clothes hangs off the side of the van hollering at passersby, subjecting them to a steady stream of verbal abuse as he wrangles up more fares. If an unfortunate pedestrian so much as glances up, the bus screeches to a jarring stop and the conductor yanks the poor chump inside as the vehicle leaps away again with a cringe-inducing grinding of gears.

Riding in a minibus isn’t exactly the most luxurious way to get around. So why would anyone subject themselves to this, you may ask?

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A typical-sized minibus with an atypical cargo -- 12 volunteers (and their camping gear) traveling to Kasanka National Park last November to see the bat migration

1. Because they’re everywhere. The minibus routes follow all of the main roads in Lusaka and several dozen buses race each other up and down the thoroughfares, picking up and dropping off passengers at every stop along the way. If you miss one bus, another will come careening around the corner honking at you in approximately 3.4 seconds.

2. Because they’re surprisingly efficient. Driving in Lusaka is, as alluded to above, not fun. However, it’s a bit more fun when your minibus is the only vehicle that’s moving, weaving in and out of heavy traffic and making such liberal use of adjacent side streets and uneven shoulders that during rush hour they effectively serve as Zambia’s de facto minibus lane.

3. Because they’re dirt cheap. The price varies by distance, time of day, the whim of the conductor, and how white you look, but the fare is generally understood to be two kwacha (about 30 cents) if you’re going to get off 1-4 stops away, three kwacha if you’re traveling 4-7 stops, and four or five kwacha if you’re going all the way to the end of the line. Not too shabby when you consider that most of the time, you’re getting a ride and a show.

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The Big 5 look like harmless little kittens when compared with the singular terror that is a minibus

ZamTwitter, Month 15

Random news from my fifteenth month of Peace Corps service, in 140 characters or less.

July 10 – Killed two mosquitoes while in bed tonight. Am way too proud of myself. Floor, meet Matt’s new standards for achievement.

July 12 – While in the market today, a drunk guy who had been pestering me suddenly darted forward and kissed me. On the lips. Not my finest hour.

July 13 – Stopped in Kashikishi to buy cisense, tiny fish caught by the thousands daily in Lake Mweru, and got mobbed by feisty fish sellers.

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July 15 – Accompanying Ba Cleopher, my boss and the head of RAP, on site visits is giving me ideas for more home improvements I can do in my house.

July 17 – Hobbes is back after a month away and promptly had kittens in my closet. Calvin is not pleased that my attention is no longer fully on him.

July 19 – I’m cleaning house and renovating. Built three new shelves, swept out ten pounds of dust, and made a tiny rock garden.

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July 22 – Just saw a spider big enough to make a tarantula jump and shriek. I have never been more glad for the mosquito net I sleep under each night.

July 25 – Kiva’s persistent email reminder campaign pays off. Just reloaned credit that’s been in my account for a year to a cattle farmer in Uganda.

July 27 – My parents are officially in Zambia. Mom’s already taken a hundred pictures, and Dad’s already spent too much on fish-themed wood carvings.

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July 29 – Mom’s a big hit with the kids in my village. They’re playing card games, having photoshoots, and are fascinated with her skin.

July 31 – Emi’s hanging out with us in Nshinda and is doing a fabulous job of taking pictures, answering questions, and corralling incorrigible kids.

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August 2 – We’re in Chobe National Park in Botswana and lions were just spotted outside our camp. The guides’ advice: zip up your tents all the way.

August 3 – Visiting Victoria Falls for the first time. Had to grab a picture with the parents.

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August 6 – The crack in the floor of my latrine is getting larger. Sebastian assures me it’s no problem, but he’s not the one who has to squat over it.

August 9 – I’ve spent thirty hours in the last five days riding in buses. I’m pretty sure my rear end is permanently molded in the shape of a seat.

Visitors

My parents are in town and we’re traipsing about the country. Not two full days in Zambia and they’ve already befriended market vendors, met some of my closest Peace Corps volunteer friends, and produced more blog posts and Facebook updates than I have in the past three months. The combination of jetlag and 21st century smartphone technology is a potent mix in the right hands.

Hut improvements

My parents are arriving in Zambia tomorrow, and so like any dutiful son I’ve been busy cleaning and preparing my site for their visit. Most of this work entails teaching kids how to ask my dad, “Are you Jackie Chan’s brother?” and removing cat hairs from all surfaces for my feline-allergic mother.

However, their much-anticipated arrival is also a good excuse for me to do some renovations, including installing a few new shelves and devising a vertical dishrack on one of my kitchen walls.