Last weekend we had to get out of town! There’s really not much to do in Lusaka so we thought we’d start exploring the environs around it. Someone told us about a farm-to-table lodge/restaurant called Fringilla that was only 40 km north of Lusaka so off we went.
Now, 40 km (about 25 miles) seems like an easy breezy 45 minute trip at most, right? (And at $7-8 a gallon for gas, right in the range we wanted.) Plus, their website also said it was just a 45 minute drive.
Well, you can’t believe everything (anything?) you read in Africa. For starters, you take the Great North Road (that runs from Tanzania down to South Africa) out of town and navigate your way through vendors, semis, buses, and taxis. The road randomly varies from a four-lane to a two-lane road. The exhilaration of passing that pick-up truck with 30 people in the back (all staring at you, don’t they know that road etiquette is like elevator etiquette?) is quickly replaced with the despair of being enveloped in the black belch of diesel exhaust for the next five miles.
Every type of vehicle imaginable travels on Great North Road from semis with sea freight containers to cattle cars with braying steers to tinted-window tour buses.
The sides of the road are crowded with street vendors and hordes of people hoping to sell you newspapers, charcoal, telephone minutes, fruits/vegetables, flags and toys.
The names of local establishments are often declarative statements, usually involving God or Jesus. (See the chickens for sale in front of “God is Great Hair Salon” below.)
By the time you crawl through the middle of town to the outskirts you’ve crawled through 3,600 seconds (that’s an hour in sloowwww motion). Just as we were leaving the outskirts of town the road opened up to four lanes for a kilometer or so. We whizzed up a hill and just as we crested we could see the police sting operation below. When the police pull you over here in Zambia they stand in the middle of the road and wave an arm up and down in a stiff and strong heil Hitler type of movement. Sure enough, the police spied our pasty white faces and pulled us over. He also pulled over the SUV full of Chinese behind us. Strangely enough, only obvious foreigners were being pulled over. He told us the speed limit was 65 kph and we were going 85. Now, I was looking at the speedometer (Thom was driving) as we “whizzed” past the semis and cattle cars and tops we were going 60 kph (as opposed to the 20-30 when following these vehicles). Thom’s experienced with dealing with these supplemental income schemes by the police and said, just give me a ticket, I’ll go to court, I was not going 85. The officer said, no, step out and go over to that table and pay 70,000 kwatcha (about $15). Thom said, no, I have no cash, I’d rather go to court, give me a ticket.
The officer asked for our driver’s license (fortunately we had gone to AAA before we came and got an international driver’s license for $15). Then, he asked for Thom’s passport. Of course, Thom didn’t have that with him. The officer wrote down our address (actually, just the area of town we lived in) and Thom’s name and kept insisting that Thom get out and pay. By this time the Chinese were in line with all of the other expats digging out their kwatcha. Payment in dollars was okay too, by the way. Thom asked for and wrote down the officer’s name. The officer continued to write on his pad with carbon paper triplicates but he didn’t have Thom sign anything and he didn’t give us anything and after 15 minutes waved us off. Though it’s meaningless and par for the course here, all of this confrontation and arguing and negotiating passage is very stressful for me. Thom forgot about it by the time we hit the first police check-point.
Ahhh, police check-points, why are there police check-points? I don’t know and still can’t figure this out, but in the next 15 miles there were two. I suspected this was another supplemental income scheme but they just asked where we were going and why. At the second police checkpoint the officer didn’t seem to want to let us pass without our passports (we were only about 20 miles outside of town, mind you). When I was a professor at Michigan State University teaching the persuasion course, I had come across some research that showed if you distract an authority figure just as they’re about to deny your request with something that requires them to retrieve information, they’ll forget about what they were going to do and give you the information and move on to the next person. I’ve found this works especially well if you ask a question related to your getting easily through a checkpoint, so just as the officer was about the say we couldn’t go through without passports I asked, “How much farther is Fringilla? We’re lost and keep turning down roads on the right but can’t find it.? The officer switched into helpful mode and told us how to get there, that we were only 15 minutes away and waved to us as we drove off. (By the way, this strategy works pretty well when you have oversized bags you want to get on the airplane and you have to get past the gate agent. Just as you’re handing the gate agent your boarding pass, with your suitcase on the opposite side, ask: Do you serve full meals on this flight or just snacks? AGENT: Oh, you can buy snacks but there are no meals unless you’re in first class. YOU: Thank you very, good thing I brought peanuts. AGENT: Have a good flight. Whoosh, you’re through!)
About 15 minutes later we finally arrived! It had only taken 2 hours and 45 minutes.
By this time I was starving so we went straight to the restaurant and ordered the farm-fresh kill. Thom had a hamburger and I had the mixed grill, which was really a sampler of their different livestock (steak, pork chop, sausage). [As my son’s fond of pointing out, “Mom! You’re the worst vegetarian ever!”] Apparently they’re famous for their sausage which was very lean and tasty.
The highlight of the meal was meeting and talking with the owner and founder, George. George came by and asked us how our meal was and then sat down and joined us for a good 40 minutes. He had moved here from Kenya in 1971 and now members of his family run the different parts of the Fringilla operation. Thom asked him if he thought people were better or worse off since the 1970s and he said worse. He said when he first moved to Zambia there were woods and game and people had just enough natural resources to build shelter and feed their families. Now, he said, due to overpopulation, most of the forests and virtually all of the game were gone. Also, he said that for a while there AIDS was really taking out his senior staff, who were difficult to replace because of the training and experience they had. However, he said that since ARVs (anti-retrovirals) had become available that he makes sure his staff with HIV make their weekly trips into town to get their medicine and that no one had died in a few years (of his senior staff). He said that about half of his senior staff had HIV and that they make a point of talking openly about it (so people will pursue ARVs) but that in the beginning people just died. It was really interesting talking to someone with a 40 year perspective of Zambia. As he excused himself he told us to be sure to wander around and check out the farm. So, off we went.
First we came across this very pregnant goat, who told Thom to check out the piggery.
So we did.
This piggery was far cleaner than the piggeries…er…I mean boys’ rooms in our house.
Of course, when I see the animals I vow to be vegetarian again (our meals this week so far: stuffed squash, black bean soup, spaghetti).
The landscape reminded me a lot of Texas. (My first job out of grad school was at Texas A&M, which, let me tell you, is a culture shock after growing up in Southern Cal.)
There was a nice children’s play yard…
…and a full-fledged nursery.
It really was a complete farm-to-table enterprise, complete with conference and lodge facilities too.
The trip back was uneventful, with the police simply waving us through the two checkpoints. Apparently there’s a Fringilla butchery store in the light industrial area part of town (northwest Lusaka, across from Micmar Hardware on Lumumba). Friends of ours say they simply call and order whatever type of meat they want and then go pick it up, fresh as can be, the next day.