Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mumena Trip - Communication and Transportation

Transportation and communication are the constant challenges of life in Zambia. And on a trip with 30 people into an isolated and remote area of the country, those challenges become even more daunting.

During lunch at Mumena on Sunday, our driver Donald came to us saying that the bus would not start. He had been working on it for some time and knew he needed a mechanic. We consulted with Brian Davis and got some leads and phone numbers for diesel mechanics, and Donald made phone calls. At Mumena there was only one spot where our cell service would work. As Sondra Davis explained, “You have to go stand under that jacaranda tree over there.” So Donald did just that and tried to find a mechanic. No luck on this Sunday afternoon.

The next step was to rent a bus to get us three hours down the road to our next destination at Chimfunshi Wildlife Refuge on Monday morning. Donald made the arrangements, and the rented bus with its driver got us there in time for Monday lunch. Meanwhile Donald was in Solwezi trying to get a new starter for the bus and find someone to install it.

As soon as we arrived at Chimfunshi, I asked whether they had cell service. The answer was, “Well, yes and no.“ There was no service at the spot where we were staying (dorms at the education center), but there was service on the soccer field. Innocent, the director of the Chimfunshi program, invited us to jump in his pickup for the half-mile jaunt through the woods and past the workers’ compound. Sure enough, on the edge of the soccer field my cell phone came to life and we were connected with the world.

I called Godfrey Lemba at Namwianga and discussed Plan B—he and the head mechanic from the mission would drive the other big bus from Namwianga on Tuesday. They would drop the bus off at Chimfunshi and Donald would drive us on home. They would proceed on to Mumena and repair the broken down bus. But Mr. Lemba had a new complication—Zambia’s one refinery was shut down, and the news stations were reporting diesel outages around the country. He wasn’t sure they could get diesel for the trip, because the Kalomo station had none.

I told Innocent about the diesel issue. He knows people in towns up and down the main highway through Zambia, so he got on his cell phone and started making calls while I kept up conversations with Mr. Lemba about possible scenarios for getting enough diesel. Within a few minutes Innocent had called enough people to reassure us that at least for now there was diesel between Lusaka and Chimfunshi, and I had located enough diesel to get them to Lusaka.

Amazingly, the plan worked. Mr. Lemba and Buster, the mechanic, set off from Namwianga at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Donald left from Chimfunshi at 7 a.m. and went by public bus into the nearest big city, Kitwe, and bought a starter for the bus. Mr. Lemba and Buster met him there late Tuesday afternoon and brought him on out to Chimfunshi. They arrived at 8:30 Tuesday night. Donald stayed with us while Mr. Lemba and Buster went on to Mumena. I tried to talk them into spending the night at Chimfunshi, but they were determined to get the job done as quickly as possible. Mr. Lemba’s words were: “We are men. We will do what we have to do!”

We left Chimfunshi on Wednesday morning in the working bus and continued our trip without interruption. Buster and Mr. Lemba had the other bus at Mumena working by 2:00 on Wednesday afternoon and started their homeward trip. They spent the night in Lusaka and actually made it back to the mission a few hours before we did on Thursday.

Transportation and communication—conquered once again.

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