The Copperbelt And The Competition

This week marked my first trip outside of Lusaka and onto new horizons.  Luyando and I headed off on Wednesday evening to Kitwe, the second largest city in Zambia.  Kitwe is located in the Copperbelt region, north of Lusaka, and is the central point for some of the largest copper and cobalt mining operations in Zambia.

The bus ride was the first highlight of the trip. Having arrived in Zambia under the cover of night, I hadn’t yet seen the Zambian countryside. We went to the bus station, met by a crowd of men trying to hustle us towards different busses. As with the minibuses, the station has an informal crew working for the commission on attracting customers to different busses. After finding our first choice had already left we ventured towards the next ticket center. Having heard where we intended to go, the efforts of the men intensified such that Luyando and I found ourselves being led, or nearly carried, by both arms toward a bus we didn’t want.  With some effort we managed to leave them behind and get to the ticket center to find the last two seats remaining.  Phew!  After a few minutes wait on the bus we were off to the Copperbelt.

The trip out of Lusaka was one that painted many images of the lifestyles of Zambians.  We passed affluent, gated neighbourhoods of clean homes and green lawns; second-class shops and compounds; and a shantytown in the northern Lusaka limits.  Even in the city I have spent nearly four weeks in, there were sights that were still new, revealing with clarity that I was only accustomed to a small fraction.  Beyond the city limits there were further contrasts; both large commercial farms and small rural villages of mud and thatch homes.  It is easy to default to simple images of regions around the world, but the bus window resolved a more complex tapestry of Zambia.  One where at moments I couldn’t have determined if I was on a rural road in Canada or Zambia, and others where picturesque, foreign villages lay just off the roadside.  I hope to learn more about every motif I can in the coming months.

Unfortunately, having been the last two on the bus we were relegated to the middle of the back bench of the bus.  Not wanting to make myself be any extra “touristy” I declined the urge to lean over laps for a few snaps out the window.  Hopefully next time I’ll get a prime picture position.

Arriving in Kitwe, we were picked up by our host, Luyando’s older brother, Cipo. We stayed at his flat just outside the downtown area of Kitwe for the following two nights. In the morning we made the first visit to Copperbelt University (CBU), where the engineering design competition will be held on October 4-5.  We met with the Vice Chancellor who wholeheartedly endorsed our efforts and then headed off for a short notice interview of one of the lecturers, Mr. Luwaya, who has been a strong leader in preparing for this competition.  The interview was for the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) evening news feature, Focus.  It was a great interview and our first publicity in preparation for the competition.

Mr. Luwaya mid-interview with ZNBC

ZNBC Kitwe headquarters

I also managed to finally capture a picture of one of the beautiful and mystifying purple trees in Zambia (yet to learn the species name).  Since I have gotten here the intensity and foreignness of the colour have had me gazing so much so that Luyando has found my fixation comical.

I think I’ll just bring one home with me … will it survive the Canadian winter?

The remainder of the day at CBU was an exciting meeting with a few lecturers who have been busy crafting the design question for the competition. Though I obviously can’t spoil the surprise here, it was a great opportunity to work with their vision of a challenge that was both appropriate to real life scenarios in Zambia and pushing for a multifaceted solution. I felt very welcome to offer some of my own perspectives from my participation and mentorship in FIRST Robotics, in a union that helped bring out a design question I am really excited to see in action! More on that in a couple weeks…

Mealtimes were good times too. A local schwarma joint called “After Ten” made for some good homesickness busting food. I’m sure more than a handful of you reading this will know of (and potentially share) my affection for a good chicken schwarma.  I also had the pleasure of meeting up with the CBU student representative to Kulemela, David Kanabashi, with whom I had some great cross-cultural conversation and sharing of our perspectives on engineering and the allure of cutting edge fields. For myself, that attraction was nanotechnology, for David, it was telecommunications, which is a critical and ever-growing part of Zambian business and social spheres. It is not hard to see that while our educations may come from institutions the world away, and have some variances their delivery, our foundational passion for engineering remains the same. Hearing such similarities is inspiring and makes me believe ever more in the investments Kulemela strives to make in education and engineering culture for students in Zambia.  There is just the same potential and passion here in Zambia as there is in Canada!

Another notable occurrence on the trip was when Cipo was taking Luyando and I out to dinner and we ran out of fuel. Cipo, having worked his typical tiresome week as a supervisor at Mopani, the large local copper operation, had forgotten he needed to fill up on his way home (leaving quite late as it was). To our good fortune he was able to get a few more fumes through the engine and turn us around and back down the hill we were on towards the gas station. We would have made it via gravity if there hadn’t been a small incline up to the gas station entrance. So, like any sensible young man would I hopped out and began to push us on our last leg to the pump.  Only once I was behind the car pushing it the last few feet through the intersection and up the incline did it occur to me how peculiar a young Canadian male pushing a gasless car towards the pump probably was in Kitwe.  I suppose there is always a time for firsts!  And so we got filled up and had our dinner without much other event than Cipo feeling a bit little embarrassed and us all sharing a laugh at the comedy of the situation.

We returned home the way we came early Saturday morning, seeing the sunrise on the downtown Kitwe street.  Again, we managed to be the last two seats on the bus by some miracle and were off in minutes of boarding.  To anyone who has being travelling by bus in such places before, it’s ok if you are a little jealous our collective station waiting time for the round trip was about ten minutes.  Though again we paid for our time luxury with our same seats at the back of the bus.  After about five and a half hours we were back in Lusaka, weary from the travel but feeling accomplished all the same.  It was a wonderful trip and one we are to repeat again this coming week.  Hopefully some more pictures and less text when I report about the next one!


4 responses to “The Copperbelt And The Competition

  1. Aw those trees look so nice! I’m sure you could smuggle one on a plane 😉 Is it easy to push a car? This isn’t really Zambia specific, but I feel I would have major challenges pushing any car 😛

    It’s nice to hear you found a schwarma place too! Does it compare to Al Madina’s? Hahaha

    • Haha, pretty easy when it is in neutral. And I can try to have a little sapling survive. We should get Emily Gruber on this tree survival detail… 😛 Schwarmas don’t have the same glory of seasoning as Al Madina’s but they’ll do!

  2. Hi Zac,
    wonderful update and I know what you mean about the trees. My new California friends that I walk with in the neighbourhood always laugh at me because I am always saying “oh! look at that stunning tree, lovely bush or beautiful flowers” which are everywhere and they don’t even notice anymore. I don’t know how we are going to live in Ontario again where it gets so brown and greg.
    I guess we just have to appreciate the scenery while we can.
    take care,

    • Hi Ann,
      It really is true how your surroundings, while impressive to someone new, can become so regular. The one thing that there isn’t here is the fall colours which I am imagining back home. A guess it’s a price to pay for the plain old shades of winter.
      Thanks for checking in and I hope things are all well in California!

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