Monday, February 27, 2012

Africa: Second Weekend

We get to have a little fun for our second weekend, while the clinic director would no doubt like us to work I don't think the staff would appreciate this at all.  The plan is to go to a safari lodge in Botswana and then see Victoria Falls.

Our trip gets off to a bumpy start.  The clinic director is driving us in the IVV van, like a lot of machinery out here the van is not in perfect condition.  First of all, the interior door handle is broken requiring that it be opened from the outside, or through a window.

Second, the starter doesn't work well requiring the van to be pushed.  On the way to the clinic director's house we stall on the dirt road requiring that we get out and push it, along with several other people who see the problem and volunteer to help.  The stretch of road we're on is short so we have to alternate between pushing it forward and in reverse several times before it starts.

Starting the car, African mission style.
After seeing his new house, we get back in for the hour drive to the border.  Because of political issues, the border area is shared between Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe (with Namibia not far downriver as well) and Zimbabwe is opposed to a new, modern bridge that would allow trucks to bypass the old Botswana-Zimbabwe bridge and vetoes the project, we need to cross by ferry.  We are told this is expensive, around 50,000 kwacha ($10) a piece.  It turns out to be 3000 kwacha per person.

Once there, it is obvious a bridge is badly needed.  Dozens of trucks are pulled over on the side of the road on the way up, that is in addition to a large parking lot full of trucks off to the side.  We are told that it often takes two weeks for a truck to be able to cross.  This is partially due to the lack of a bridge, while there are up to four ferries operating at any one time they are insufficient for the traffic and prone to breakdowns, but the primary reason for the delay is the time it takes paperwork to be processed.  I assume that it is possible to have some of this done in advance or to pay a bribe, but I am never given specific information as to how this works.

Crossing over involves getting on one of the ferries after a truck has already been loaded onto it.  Sometimes they try to take two trucks, we're delayed for a bit while waiting for a second truck to back off one ferry because the two trucks combined are too big to allow the ferry gate to close.  There doesn't seem to be much in the way of safety standards.

It is quickly obvious that Botswana is better off than the parts of Zambia we are in.  There is more construction, roads seem a bit better developed, and everything just looks a little more modern.  Botswana is definitely doing better than Zambia, though we see signs of development in Zambia as well.

We do the standard tourist things for the next few days.  We go on a water safari and a driving safari.  We go on a hike along some trails by Victoria Falls (I dislike heights and it is really obvious safety standards aren't up to par, some areas only a few feet from the cliff's edge have nothing but a chain a few inches off the ground barring the way, in some places there isn't even a chain).  We're a bit surprised to see that people are bungee jumping off the old railway bridge between Botswana and Zimbabwe, we're here only a couple of weeks after that woman's cord had snapped on the very same jump.

Ayo looking out at Victoria Falls (since she asked why I didn't mention her more in my blog entries).

Someone far less afraid of heights than I.  This is the same bridge this happened on.

Outside the falls is a small souvenir market.  The remarkable thing about this little place is how much different it is from shopping in Zimba.  In Zimba, while it is possible to negotiate, the normal thing is to just take the price given, just like how we shop in the US.  At the souvenir market at the falls, and in Livingstone, the merchants act differently.  We get told long stories, merchants offer to bargain for our socks or pens (which they don't really actually give a discount for, the clinic director is with us and comments on how many cheap pens he was able to get), and starting prices are absurd.  I find the experience exhausting.

Later we stop by the Shah's for dinner.  We are told the Shah is the richest man in Livingstone.  He runs a construction business and had some involvement with the clinic's construction.  He had visited our clinic for an exam earlier in the week and since he was acquainted with one of the doctors invited us there for dinner.  Unlike the rest of the house's we've seen in Zambia the Shah's house is entirely modern and comparable to anything that can be found back in the US.  It also has several Mercedes parked in the compound (it is a bit different from most western houses, there is an exterior wall and several buildings within) so it's actually a lot nicer in many respects from the vast majority of houses I've been in.  We have the best Indian food I've ever tasted.

After dinner we leave for Zimba, though we lose two people who are having to return early.  While there are two less on the team, we also have an extra passenger for the ride to Zimba, our driver saw someone he knew on the street and offered him a ride.  To digress for a moment, I do see high degrees of trust and cooperation in Zambia, which is notable as a bit of refutation of more simplistic notions of social capital.  Though a more complete discussion of the topic would acknowledge that the social capital literature distinguishes between trust between individuals with some connection and trust between strangers which complicates the comparison.

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