Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Week to Remember

Katie, in Zambia.

There are certain things that one would never ever experience if one wasn’t an MK. This week has been one of those experiences.

Monday was a relatively normal day. A bit tense as everyone prepared for what promised to be one of the most interesting elections Zambia had ever seen. We talked about the fact that some towns in the province next to us had sold out all machetes and catapults. We talked about what the consequences would be if the current president, Rupiah Banda, and his party, the MMD which had been in power since 1991, lost. The only person he could lose to was Michael Sata, president of the PF party and quite a scary, unpredictable man. We canceled all events that were supposed to take place the next day, election day, and said we’d play it by ear for the rest of the week.

Tuesday started unlike any other.
We live just outside city center on a slip road along the most prestigious road in the city where many a national monument is built and many an embassy’s flag can be seen flying. It’s the home of all Zambia’s parades and most of its government buildings. It’s called Independence Boulevard. We’re also next door to the Civic Center and its ever popular bus stop for the multitude of mini buses that inhabit the city. Also, we’re one roundabout away from the Supreme and High Courts.

This is normally a very active area. There’s always steady traffic building up, hooting, and revving on Independence. On our road there are people walking up and down or just standing around. Normally children can be heard yelling and laughing. There are usually one or two radios turned on loud enough to be heard as you walk past the houses. There are people standing outside their gates talking casually to their neighbours and little kiosks set up along the road and all around the Civic Center.

Our house itself is a revolving door. There’s a steady stream of people coming in to talk or use the computers or join in one of our prayer meetings. We have a cottage on our property in addition to the main house it houses the rest of our YWAM team and our offices and is normally the source of a steady stream of laughter and music and chitter chatter floating around the property. We also have a maid and a gardener as most here do. Normally we have continuous faces, and voices, and doors opening and closing.

Today, however, there was silence and emptiness. I got up to find just my parents and myself inhabiting our house. The cottage was silent. The voting had begun. At about eleven I began going stir crazy and decided to take a walk down to the end of the street to see if there was anyone out and if any of the kiosks were open. I stepped out our gate into an empty road. As I walked the only sound was the constant pat – pat – pat of my shoes against the cracked tar. The sun was warm and the breeze was teasing, but there were no children or people out for it to tease. The atmosphere was thick with almost palpable tension. A large police truck filled to the brim with riot police rumbled past me coming from the police camp behind our road and going goodness knows where. I finally saw the only two people I’d see that day standing outside the Civic Center. A kiosk I passed was boarded up and all the normal vendors were gone. I walked back down to our house in the eerie silence that continued the rest of the day. There were rumours of violence and rioting in certain cities and certain parts of town, but most proved to be much exaggerated.

Wednesday we sat twiddling our thumbs nervously as the results came trickling in. Most all schools and regular activities were closed, but peace still reigned.

Thursday we learned that Tuesday and Wednesday had been nothing. People started to become very agitated with the delay in the counting and announcing of the results. Small acts of violence and stupidity began. People stayed indoors with their doors and gates locked. Friends and family started checking up on each other and pleading with each other to stay indoors and stay safe. The tension had a dose of anxiety thrown in for good measure. The utter boredom from three days of being shut in began to get to people. Facebook was hopping with posts from bored, nervous, impatient people.

Friday, 1:34am. The results are announced. Opposition leader Michael Sata has come out victorious. I was just falling asleep when I heard the fireworks. Being half asleep and having three days of pent up anxiety I assumed it to be gun shots. However, the cheering, singing, whistling, vuvuzelas sounding, and hooting of car horns on the street outside soon calmed me. I got up and ran into wake my mum telling her we had a winner. I knew who it was before I checked from the yells of “pabwato!” the PF slogan, outside. I went and turned the TV on to the local government station to watch the official announcement. I went back to bed thinking, “God help us all, but at least it’s over,” and being lulled to sleep by the chaotic sounds of the happy, probably intoxicated victors.

I woke up again at seven to the same ruckus I had left when I went to bed. My mum was on the phone with our maid who was apologizing profusely, but explaining that there just was no way she was getting into work on time due to the fact that no buses were actually running for business. At about nine I went down to the closest intersection to watch the bus loads of people celebrating and the hundreds of people running up and down Independence. I went back home to find our maid voiceless from the celebrations, but still whispering an explanation on what had been going on in the rest of the city since 1 am.

She said that when the results had been announced the townships, or as we call them here – compounds, came to life. Shops, bars, and kiosks that had been closed for three days opened up. People came running out of their houses yelling their joy. They had then run into town and met up in their thousands. They ran across the city to the conference center where the results had been announced and cheered as the party members left. The celebration had continued the whole morning and few had gotten any sleep.
I went back out to take photos and my mum and some other members of our YWAM team came along. We went down to the intersection and into the noise and the craziness. There were people blowing vuvuzelas while standing on top of mini buses and hanging on to the outside of fast moving vehicles, the PF flag was being flown and their party song was being sung as well as their slogans being chanted. After we’d been standing there a little while a huge mass of people could be spotted about 100 meters away from us taking up all four lanes of the road. They stopped and were soon joined by an equally large mass of people. They proceeded to run cheering en masse down past us and toward the Courts where the inauguration was to be held. The celebrations continued all day and the masses that turned up for the inauguration speech were like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Saturday is just another day here. If you were to walk through town you would never guess what has happened in the last week. All is back to normal. People are sober and going to work. Everything is bustling in its normal Lusaka way. People show no signs of victory or defeat. All is well.

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