Kazungula Township: my inadvertent host

Friday, 21 December 2018
Kazungula Township:  my inadvertent host

Of all the places in the world, I have never dreamt of visiting Kazungula township. But I recently found myself here by default. Following an impromptu trip to Livingstone, Zambia, I was forced to sleep over in the township on my return. The thought of spending a night in the dusty townships streaming with immigrants and hustlers sent shivers down my spine but thankfully, I have lived to tell my story.

I left Livingstone at around past 5, thinking that I would make it to the border post, which I had learnt closed at 6pm. Apparently this has been the case since construction on the Kazagula bridge started. After all, no one would want to be a victim of a hippo attack. However, when I arrived a few minutes to six we were turned back and told the border was closed for the day. Unlike the nearly 200 travellers who got stranded at Piet rief border post some weeks ago, we did not have the backing of the Minister and director of immigration to send out an authorative that the border be specially opened for us. There were about six of us. I wanted to cry. There was no transport back to Livingstone and my phone battery was at literally four percent.

The officers shooed us off. What? It felt like a nightmare. A taxi driver who was lurking nearby in the dark offered me a lift. “To Livingstone?” I asked, my eyes lighting up with hope. He looked at me as if I had lost my marbles. “No aunty, to Kazungula,” he responded. Kazu what? My heart dropped. I shook my head stubbornly. He seemed to lose patience and said to me: “Ok, sleep there on the ground. If I were you I would get a room, relax for the night and take off in the morning. So if you are going to be difficult, sleep here.” Of course I was not going to sleep at the border post. I begrudgingly placed my bag in the backseat of the car and hopped in the front.

The taxi sedan was an old beaten up thing that creaked and wobbled as it moved. If it had a name, it could be called ‘death on wheels’. I held on to my seat as it screeched and humped along the short drive into the township, taking a sharp curve that would have sent us flying across the fence. I prayed he would not speed off with me. I wasn’t prepared to be a human trafficking victim.

But he turned up to be a nice man. He first took me to his favourite spaza so I could buy airtime and Pepsi. I could not bring myself to eat anything there, it was dirty and dusty and he took me to a nearby guest house. He then gave me stern warnings of how I should not walk about and mix with the truck drivers as if I was a small kid, gave me directions of how to get to the border in the morning. The “guest house” looked like a multi-res property in Old Naledi; a dilapidated structure with poorly built rooms lined across the yard. I was welcomed by a chap probably about my age, who had a bored expression on his face. He told me that they had only one room left: the one next to the “reception” and it went at 150 kwacha. I took it, paid and followed him to the room and stood a safe distance away as he fought with the door before it finally unlocked.

When he said: “Enjoy your night” little did I know that there would be a lot of irony in that statement. The room was small with a hard bed, a chair, a bar fridge, flat screen on the wall. The other area had a toilet and shower. I had to suck in my tummy in order to squeeze into the tiny space to the shower which was so small that I could not turn to back out and instead had to take steps back to get out. Phew! Since I had noticed that the guest house was near the shops, I took a walk back there. I bought a quart of beer on the street from a guy with the thickest and longest locks I have ever seen. There was what seemed like a bar or club nearby and music blared loudly. Many girls in skimpy outfits were loitering about. Lots of people, dusty and defeated faces. Some of them looked at me suspiciously but went about their business. I learnt that in Kazungula township, it went on further. Here, usually truck drivers, visitors and illegal immigrants, as well as those who worked on the bridge project.

I returned to the guest house. As I was still watching the movie in between zoning into sleep, I could hear screams from the next room. I was convinced that someone was being murdered. The woman’s scream would come back louder as if from a hollow tunnel and I heard a male voice grumping angrily. I pulled on my clothes and went to the front room. My “heroine” tactics were misplaced. It turned out that my roomies on the right were enjoying a roll in the hay, abeilt a brutal and wild one. The man had come out and now stood at the stoep, blowing large cigarette rings in our direction, with a self-sated expression on his face as he stroked his round hard stomach.

I backed off and ducked back into my room. It was too much for me. I turned up the volume on the television and tried to fall alsleep but the mosquitoes would not let me. Although there was a mosquito net hanged neatly over the bed, the little devils still attacked me brutally. It felt as if the mosquitoes were having a conference on my thighs and arms. I tossed and turned most of the night and only went into a deep sleep at about 4am.

I woke up an hour and a half later because I wanted to be at the border as soon as it opened. I stepped onto the tiny shower area and when I opened the tap, hot and cold water alternated. When you are in pressing conditions you think quickly. I lathered myself in soap, and then opened the tap and jumped under the hot water then closed the tap. And opened it again, hot water. Close. Just like that until I had finished. I got dressed, took my bag, locked up and returned the key. There was little chance of chit chat small talk because of the language barrier but I did show the young man the bumps from the mosquitoes and he giggled that maybe I am sweet. I was not amused.

Since it was morning, I could better see my surroundings. I noticed that I was in fact closer to the border than I imagined: it was a stone’s throw away. On the short walk, I noticed many truck drivers brushing their teeth, wiping their faces or smoking. Apparently some of them can queue for days on end and Kazungula township becomes their home, where they eat, drink and pick up girls for a bit of “fun” to while away time.

I stamped on the Zambia side and set off to Botswana. When the phantom came to the docked, I sighed in relief and sang Going Home by Micheal Buble as I savoured the morning sunrise. Interestingly, a ride is about two or three bucks but the man took five bucks from me. Plus a tip, he said with a sly smile. Sigh!

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