The weather’s turned here. The rainy season is trying its best to begin, spitting out sprinkles every morning with 20-minute thunderstorms some nights. Best of all is the temperature, which can get downright cool in the morning. Much better than the 95-degree standard set in week one.

I spend a decent portion of my day on Cairo Road, Lusaka’s main commercial drag. It’s where the Internet cafe I’m sending this from it located, and it’s also where several of my interviews have taken place. (The name is a leftover from old man Cecil Rhodes’ dream when he was running the show in these parts — he wanted the British Union Jack to one day fly over a contiguous African empire stretching from Cape Town to Cairo. Cairo Road is part of the continent-long road that was supposed to connect that empire.)

Cairo Road is a nice, buzzing place, with lots of street traffic and pedestrians. But the other day I realized something: I’ve probably spent at least 20 minutes walking on Cairo Road every day since I’ve been here. But in that time, I’ve seen a total of one white person. (Other than my own pasty self.)

Where are the white folks? There are two explanations for that, one historical and one very modern:

- Historically, Zambia has never had many white folks. Britain’s colonial aims never involved really developing what was then called Northern Rhodesia. Unlike in Zimbabwe and South Africa to the south, the Brits never committed to large-scale settlement — Northern Rhodesia was an afterthought, used primarily as a labor source for neighboring colonies. So other than the folks who ran the mines in Zambia’s north, few whites ever moved here.

And since Zambia gained its independence earlier than its neighbors (this Friday is the 39th anniversary of 1964’s independence), many whites took the opportunity to scamper off to South Africa or Zimbabwe, which remained white-controlled until the 1990s and 1980s, respectively. I’ve seen one estimate that there are only about 3,000 white Zambians today, in a country of about 11 million.

- But here’s the real scoop: All the white people are at the mall!

About five years ago, a retail revolution took place in Lusaka. Someone very smart (and, I presume, now with a fat bank account) decided to open Shoprite, the first supermarket in town, on Cairo Road. Zambians loved it, having suffered through tiny shops that offered little. The place boomed, and black Zambians still shop there in large numbers.

But a year or two later, some other smart developers realized there was a market for a good old American mall. They found a big tract of land outside town and built a shrine to commerce called the Manda Hill shopping center. It’s immaculately clean, filled with upmarket shops (well, upmarket for Zambia at least), and accessible only by car.

I went there for the first time this weekend. White people everywhere! Here a white person, there a white person, all throughout the mall. (Actually, white people and Indians. Most of the shops I see in Lusaka are owned by Indians or Muslim Arabs.) The developers clearly thought of Manda Hill as an escape from old-style Lusaka commerce for the upper classes. It’s an interesting divide — you start to wonder how much interaction these whites have with blacks in their daily lives. Probably not much, other than in the role of employer.

Last night, I met up with Pelekolo, an editor at one of the local newspapers and a friend of a friend. He wanted to drive me around; he said he wanted to show me the “real Zambia.” So he took me to O’Hagan’s, the chain fake Irish pub at Manda Hill.

I suppose that’s just as much the “real Zambia” as anything else — including the “Club Manhattan” we went to after dinner, featuring cold Mosi and a really cool, six-inch-long frog in the parking lot. (I suppose my wildlife sightings have begun.)

Anyway, reporting’s going well. I’ve had more success tracking people down, and I’m starting to see the pieces fall in to place for my main stories; keys are turning and locks unlocking. It’s still difficult to get people to be honest about HIV here, but that’s a subject for a later post. I’m trying to track down Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, for an interview — I think that’ll work out. And this morning I interviewed MC Wabwino, Zambia’s No. 1 rapper/accountant, about child sexual abuse. I think I can confidently hold that over your collective head for a long time to come.

22 October 2003



Comments

11 December | 11:50  |  shamir

wd

03 February | 7:51  |  lorrie

first of all I think you Mr so called benton are white supremist. I don't know what planet you emerged from but leave africa alone. keep your irish foolish pub to your damn self. Be a racist and don't set foot in africa. I dont know what fool told him to visit him. Why don't you rescue your "heavenly europigs from sodomizing you kids other than asking too much from Africa. go home pig.

17 April | 21:32  |  chilu

I think this so called white folk does not really know what he is talking about.alot of people talk openly about HIV and are very open about the disease.I think people who come to zambia should learn to appreciate what zambians have and what they are building instead of passing stupid comments.am a zambian living in the uk.These are the same people who go to the western world and lie about the high percentage of AIDS in the country. i dont mind them talking about the poverty levels or other economic problems and even Aids i know its there in zambia. and alot of zambians are dying of AIDS but the figure or rate and percentage stated by the media in the western world is not true.
The majority of zambians know and are quiet educated about the dangers of Aids and how it is contracted and how the infection can be prevented.

03 June | 22:16  |  mo"

I'am an american who lived in zambia for 10 years, and i think zambia is the exact way you described it. I hope i can have a chance to visit zambia one more time to feel the changes.



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Welcome to zambiastories.com, the online journal I kept during the six weeks I spent in Zambia in 2003 as part of a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. The entries below are in reverse chronological order — most recent on top, oldest on bottom.

To learn more about my trip and this site, check the About page. If you have any comments or questions, email me.

Stories

11 Jul 2004: Where the only growth industry is death; AIDS destroys scarce resources as well as family members

12 Sep 2004: A lesson in dying; Once a refuge from AIDS, Zambia’s schools are now its latest victims

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Calendar

10 Oct 2003: Leave for London
11 Oct 2003: Leave for Zambia
12 Oct 2003: Arrive in Lusaka
22 Nov 2003: Leave for London
22 Nov 2003: Back to Washington

Disclaimer

Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer.

 
© 2003 Joshua Benton