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.
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?
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.