Uncle Charles The Sliding Door Operator

Amidst the bustle of Kulima Towers bus station, I’m looking for my bus home…

“Hey boss, I’m asking for the bus to Woodlands Extension”

“Woodlands? This one here.”


On the bus now, the conductor, who just directed me over, hops on and we’re off with a full load.  After a few minutes fare collection starts and I pass up a K5,000 bill…

“Where are you travelling?”

“Woodlands Extension; Nyumbu Yanga.”

“Ah, five pin more.”

“Mmm no, it’s four pin, aye?”

“No no, five pin more.” (Adding something in Nyanja I missed, which drew some laughs.)

“Hey I’ve ridden this bus many times before – I paid four pin.”

“No my friend – five pin for me and five pin for the driver.”

(Some laughter from the rest of the passengers as he holds out his hand)

Haha, no no, you give me 1 pin change.”

(I hold my hand out back at him)

“Ah but five pin more. Uyenda kuti?” (Where are you going?)

“Oh my Nyanja is not so great. Nyinda ku Woodlands Extension.” (I am going to Woodlands Extension)

(Some more laughter)

He hands me back a K1,000 bill and proceeds to give me a five fist-bump chest-pound combos and then a Zam-handshake with his ring finger scratching my palm at the end.

“Are you marriaged?”

“Haha, no not yet.”

“Why not?”

“I’m still young! I’d better finish my schooling first.”

“Ah, but how old are you?”


“What grade?”

“Uhm… university?”

“Eye ye, I did up to three. What is your name?”

“Oh ah, Zac.”


“No no, it’s Zac.”


(A chorus of voices from the back of the bus say, “Zaaaac!”)

“It’s Zac. Z-A-C.”


(The chorus again, “Zaaaaaaac! Z-A-C! Zac!”)

“Oh oh, Zacs.”

“Yes yes, you got it. What is your name?”

“Uncle Charles.”

(Back to everyone’s laughter again)

“Do you have a sister?”

“Aha, ahhh…”

“I need a marriage, aye?”

(More laughter)

“Haha, no I don’t have a sister for you to marry.”

“You have a sister, no?”

“Yes but not on this continent.”

“But where is your family here.”

“Oh no, they are all back home in Canada.”

“Where is your father?”


“Your mother?”


“Your sister?”

“Also Canada. It’s just me alone. I’m here for four months.”

“Just you here? ‘Til when?”

“To December.”

“So I will go with you to Canada then?”

(More laughter)

“Well I only have one plane ticket so it’s either you or me.”

“Give me your number, I will call you when you are leaving.”

“Haha I don’t know about that. We aren’t sharing the seat.”

“Ah weh, here are you staying?”

“Nyumba Yanga, by National Housing.”

“Eye ye, I will come over to your place.”

“Tonight, ah? You are not working?”

“Yes yes.”

“Ah boss it’s not my place, I’m just the guest there.”

(Someone is asking from the back, “Conductor, next stop…”)

“I’m not the Conductor – I’m the Sliding Door Operator.  You call me that.”

(Laughter and then a correction by the girl)

He glances back over to me again and the fist-bumpin-chest-poundin-hand-shakin-weird-plam-tickling transpires again.

“I’ll call you John.”

“Haha, but that’s not even close to my name!”

“Ah it’s no problem, you are John now.”

“Well that’s about the third time I’ve been renamed here. Last week I got my Bemba name, Mwansa.”

(More laughter)

“Mwansa?  Ah no you are still John.”

“Haha, ok well that works for me.”

The fist pounds return this time only four.

“Hey hey, last time was five fists.”

(More laughter)

“Eye ye. It’s fine.”

The last fist bump then landed.  Shortly after I was off the bus and walking my way home smirk on my face at the spectacle being a lone foreigner on bus had made. Another day in Zambia, another story for the a laugh later on. Uncle Charles the Sliding Door Operator certainly made today a memorable one.


4 responses to “Uncle Charles The Sliding Door Operator

  1. Hi Zac,
    I loved reading this remarkable encounter, what a wonderful slice of your life in Zambia. I told “my John” you had been renamed John. His response “cool”
    Not much fall weather in California these days, some trees turning pretty red and orange but it is staying warm, almost 100 degrees some days. You are probably feeling the same way, living in a place with lack of autumn.
    take care,
    love, Ann

    • Hi Ann, I’m glad you enjoyed it and that John is cool sharing his name. I’ve had “John” called after me a couple times since then so if Mr. Morcom ever comes here they’ll be getting it right! Agreed about the fall, though by some coincidence there are red flowering trees coming into bloom here as if it were autumn back home. But the lack of a chill is a little out of sync. Wishing everyone that side well!

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