Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones

A baby catches a nap during a drama performance at Munilinga, NW Province

After much grumbling about being stuck in Lusaka (this place tends to induce claustrophobia) and complaining about the lack of excitement in our lives (my previous posts as clear evidence....) we had some good drama this week. TJ was travelling up in Northwestern Province, up at the border with DRC, to Solwezi and Munilinga. The day they left there were riots in Solwezi. There had been and early morning hit and run accident where some pupils (pronounced “pee-oooo-peeeillls”) out for a morning jog; one student was killed and several other injured.

The response by students (a common one) was to trash some cars and damage property. TJs group managed to get on the road without getting into trouble. Soon after they got underway, however, their trip was interupted by a parade of people carrying a coffin overhead. From what we’ve been able to sort out, in Northwestern Province when someone dies you consult with a witchdoctor who will help you find out ‘why.’ Or more accurately, who....as in ‘who is responsible?

After the body/coffin is consulted, a crowd carries the coffin which leads them, ouija-board-style, to the residence of the responsible party. What happens next is anyone’s guess but having a dead body in a wood coffin lead an angry crowd of mourning villagers to your doorstep can’t be a good thing.

But this is TJ’s adventure. My big excitement was the fact that our trusty Landcruiser turned over 200,000km and now needs a new timing belt (and a carbon tax sticker - some new way to extract an additional 150,000kw from taxpayers). I was whinging about the fact that this happened not on the way to the Kafue Gorge or coming home from Lake Tanginika but on our way to school. As luck would have it (I’m not saying what kind of luck), the car and I were due for an landmark adventure.

We went out last night, at 7 to meet with some friends and a colleague of TJs who is headed back to the US. In the three hours we were gone the students at UNZA had decided they were fed up, they had not yet been paid their food and book allowances, and were having some other issues. (They have a long list of complaints.) Their response was the same as the students in Solwezi...riots.

This is a bit misleading to put this photo here. These are the police that were in attendance at TJs meeting at Solwezi. They were there to do a gun salute to mark the beginning and ending of the meeting. I really didn't think the police in Lusaka would appreciate my photojournalism efforts at their post-riot postings--although whenever I have asked to photograph police officers they willingly oblige.

I must mention that the entrance to the campus is on Great East Road (below) about 1km from our house. I also must mention that Great East Road is a 4 lane road with limited access on and off, tall barrier fences and deep drainage canals between the lanes. Once you are on Great East there is no getting off or turning around, only going forward. I usually take a little side road that runs parallel to GE -- there are many large, virtually invisible speed bumps, lots of pedestrians and bicyclists in the morning and many distractions like impromptu car-wash stations and taxi stands, puncture repair stops, etc. but at least you can turn off or turn around if things get harried.

We managed to miss the actual riot but saw the evidence - stones and bottles littered the road, there were a few broken riot shields strewn about, the place was a mess. The military police (who have a very bad track record as far as their response to students throwing stones - they fire back with live amunition) were there but really just a few so we proceeded home through the mess but on the filter road as the main road was blocked off.

Most but not all of the rioters had been cleared out. I say ‘most’ b/c mid-way down the street our car was struck. We thought twice but wisely didn’t linger to inspect the damage or look around to see who tossed the thing. Getting caught in a riot of any sort is not something you want to do. We were rattled but b/c we didn’t see anyone and noticed only one section where the rocks damaged the car. In the morning, we realized we’d been pretty lucky b/c the car had in fact been hit two times -- a 1/2dollar size ding on the front wheel well but more worrying, there is a deep, fist-sized dent in the frame between the driver’s window and the front windshield. The actual damage is minimal but the thought of ‘what could have happened’ truly is worrisome.

A government works program keeps widows 'employed' sweeping the streets of Lusaka. Here are two ladies busy cleaning up all the broken glass and clearing Great East of stones post UNZA riot

The police were out in full force this morning - this was nice to see but where were they last night? “Ohhh, so sorry! Sorry, sorry.” The ladies had mostly cleaned up the rubble and the glass. An officer advised me that I should file a police report even though I really didn’t have much to report. For kicks, I thought I may as well, and this morning I went to the police station. The outcome is not such a surprise but this is what I encountered at the police station: no form, no paper, no one in who could help me. The guys there (in shorts and tee shirts) said to try back at 10hours.

1 comment:

Kathi of Clan Church said...

"What if..." is right. I'm so glad you're all ok. It's amazing how experiences like these sort of become par for the course during one's daily/weekly/monthly life in Zambia. You take it much more in stride than I would. Then again, that's why you live there and I don't. :)