I rub my eyes as the sun is starting to summit the hills that encircle Chipata. There is some kind of African reptile on the window. I stare at it for a while, and it scurries up into the thatched roof of the lodge.
My stomach does not feel quite right. I'm nervous. In a few hours I'll be solo in the Eastern province's capital. It definitely can't be the Fanta-Mosi combo. I decide I'll feel better after a shower.
In town we go to Shoprite to get some breakfast. Shorprite is one of the South African grocery store chains and looks like a Metro or a Sobeys. Right beside an open air market where vendors are selling vegetables, rice, and fish for a fraction of the price, it seems as foreign as the people who shop there. I buy some buns, yoghurt and fruit and we head to the bus station.
Arriving at the bus station in Chipata as a group of vulnerable white people is an overwhelming and entertaining experience. As soon as the taxi drove through the gate a small army of ticket-sellers and bag-loaders swarm the taxi, yelling into the cab and trying to direct the cab driver to one of the two buses. Both going to the exact same place. Both leaving when they are full. I think about how little sense this system makes as I pull my day pack out of the back seat of the cab. Mid thought I am startled by the Revving and jolting of the closest bus and the chaos that ensued. Three men grabbed at Raquel's bag and tried to pull her towards one of the busses. Another couple are trying to 'help' Steph with the Hockey sticks we brought on request from some of the long term volunteers. Then I felt a less than gentle pull at my bag. Whoa! I turn around.
"You must get on the bus now! It is leaving! Let me take your bag."
"No, I'm good. I'm waiting for my friends."
The bus meanwhile revving and jolting forward, and the swarm of men still pulling at everyone's bags. We are all confused and not really sure what to do, so we just stand there clutching our bags.
"Where is Anna-Marie?" I yell to Scott. He doesn't hear me over the commotion.
Chris is playing a few chords on his guitar looking comically relaxed given the situation. Anna-Marie is walking over from the other bus, calm and collected as if it were just another day in the office. Which it is. For her.
"Okay, let’s go."
As soon as the words come out of Anna's mouth, the noise, revving engine, and grips they have on our bags relax. To the glee of the bus workers on the winning team, they take their time to load them onto the bus. It was all a show. The bus won’t leave for another couple hours at least.
I decide to wait with them for a bit, and follow them onto the bus. Sure enough, it is less than half full. Anna had gone to check the other bus before we got on, and I was even less full. Point of common sense: choose the bus that is more full as it will likely leave sooner.
I wait with them until 10:30, during which time a few more taxis showed up and the revving, yelling and pulling at potential passengers followed. What a zoo. When I decided to leave, the bus is just over half full. I decide to walk the 40 min back to the lodge; I’m not in the mood to barter for a fair taxi ride. It’s been less than a week in Africa and I’m already sick of people trying to give me the “Muzungu price”.
After a morning at the internet café letting my family and friends know I made it to Zambia I find myself climbing the hill (mountain by Saskatchewan standards) behind the lodge. The climb is fantastic; and the trail circles upwards in a spiral around the hill to give a view of Chipata on one side and the vast Zambia countryside on the other. As I approach the top my pace quickens. I am burning to see what the view is like from the highest point. It must be spectacular. Two sharp turns later I summit.
Pure and utter disappointment. There is a large perimeter of trees that make it impossible to see anything. The most interesting thing are two huge cell phone towers, and a small group of workers sitting in the shade talking.
It is interesting how easy it is to get your heart set on achieving a lofty goal. How easy it is to visualize what it will be like to achieve it; the ideal circumstance. How easy to imagine how you will feel when you reach it; glorious and fulfilled. But at the height, at the climax of it all, there is something missing. It’s not what you expected, someone was there first, or you didn’t get the clarity you thought would come and you are not able to see as far as you hoped. Funny how it is the climb that often gives the clearest picture. It is the climb where things are challenging but worth it, and it is the climb that fulfilling.
I start the long walk back down. As I do, I begin noticing things I had missed on my way up. My expectations for what wait at the top, and the resulting tunnel vision to get there, resulted in missing a great view out onto a lake. I get out my camera and take a picture.
This summer is about the climb. Don’t rush to the top. Learn, absorb, be open, take pictures; and if at the top you don't find what you were looking for, at least you had your eyes open on the way up.