008: Chengola Road

“Daisy, NO!” Chelsi cried as her puppy jumped from the chitenge sling tied around the handle bars of her bike to the ground.  Chelsi stopped the bike just as Daisy moved out from under the tire.  She struggled to find her footing on the ground; her legs were weak and the bike seat was just a touch to tall. “Daisy, come here. Get, GET over here,” she reached for the wiggling puppy.  She could not blame her for wanting to be back on the ground, it had been a long day for her cramped up in the bicycle. 
Chelsi scooped up her puppy while balancing the bike on her hip. She surveyed her surroundings; they were stopped on the shoulder of the Chengola Road, a road notorious for its heavy use by mining traffic and terrible condition.  There were some tall trees just 15 feet behind her, but no houses and no people. Two were cars coming just over the hill in her direction.  This was supposed to be simple, she thought to herself. 
The plan itself had been simple:
Where Chelsi stayed in Kamijiji she was about 24 kilometers from the provincial capital Solwezi. The trip to town took her through all of the villages familiar to her, over the dam that made Mitukutuku Lake, through maize fields perched high on a hill before dropping sharply into a valley, where on the other side of the stream she would bike back up a hill, just as steep, surrounded by village houses and tiny shops.  After climbing a little further she would reach the tarmac that would take her the rest of the way to town.  All in all the trip would take about two hours. 
From there she would head to the Peace Corps transit house, or Prov house to get assistance fixing up her bike and get directions to the ministry of agriculture and livestock office so she could visit the district veterinarian.
“Perfect!” she told her friend Sara, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, just a few days before on the phone. “I have to go to town anyway to have Daisy vaccinated, and Kabisapi is what? Just another 30k down the road towards Chengola? Instead of turning back and coming home we can continue on to your house! Help you settle in and check out your site for a day or two.” Chelsi was anxious to see her friend again and see the house she had heard so much about.  Apparently the villagers had been so dissatisfied with the previous volunteer’s work that just after he left they came and stole the porch he had built.
And so, that morning came; Chelsi was a little nervous to be spending the night away from her site but she felt significantly better about it knowing her puppy would not be left behind.  She started out early, or at least early to her, about 7:30. She packed a small bag, which was strapped to the bike rack and her Daisy who was tied up in the front.
Most of the ride was uneventful, till she came up closer to town.  Weaving her bike through the throngs of people she was quite the special sight, a white woman with a shiny white bike helmet strapped to her head toting a lumpy looking parcel, and what’s that?
Ah! Bajina kakabwa!” came the excited cries when people realized it was a dog she was carrying. 
She turned out of the villages and on to the tarmac just west of what the other volunteers referred to as ‘the dirty market.’ This affectionately bestowed name did not reference the merchandise or the rioting that occasional breaks out in the square but, as her Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) put it once “You’re allowed to go there, it’s just dirty. Like you think your feet and legs are getting tan, then you take a proper shower and you’re like, ‘oh…’”
Really all of Solwezi was like this, however it was as if the dust blowing across the rest of town was all collecting here. She was focused though, passing the streams of sludge and piles of garbage without a second glance. There was no room not to be totally focused, and so close to her destination. One slip up and if she was lucky she would only collide with a group of loiterers, maybe a parked car, an unnoticed misjudgment by an eighteen-wheeler and it would be the end of her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and probably her life. Biking through all of Solwezi demanded this type of undivided attention. So she was relieved when the Shoperite, a South Africa in grocery store, and her turn off towards the Provo house came into view.
The house was quiet and though she had announced her coming a few days before she was nervous because she knew the dog really was not supposed to be there, but would only be for a few minutes, she justified to herself.  She positioned her bike up on the stand and located Ephraim, a permanent resident of the house, where upon having a second set of eyes look at it she was led to the realization that she had been turning the rear derailed adjustment screws the wrong ways.  “Oh and you can find the vet’s office here.” He gave a brief description before continuing on with his other work.
The doctor was friendly and Daisy was a really trooper and the only hang up was that her last vaccine would not be ready till 2 or 2:30 that afternoon. “Do you have any business in town that can keep you busy until then?” it was coming up on noon now.  So they went back to the Prov house.
To her great delight her friend Dick had arrived at the house and even better she was beginning to prepare a lunch that she would ultimately share with Chelsi.  “And Oh My! Look how Daisy’s grown!” She was twice the size as when Dick dropped her off three weeks ago. 
Chelsi passed the time tinkering with her bike and chatting with a few other volunteers that trickled in over the course of the afternoon.  It was just before 2 when she disclosed her plan to bike to Kabisapi.  “Why don’t you just hitch?” Ephraim offered with a tone of bewilderment.
“Well, I have the dog and the bike, and I can bike.  Biked here, it’s just another 30K.”
“But it’s a puppy, and there plenty of trucks, and you’re white and female. You’ll get picked up.” Chelsi was only partially concerned that her added baggage would prevent her from getting picked up. It was more that she was just afraid of hitchhiking.  She had hitched since arriving in Zambia and even a little in the States, but never by herself and never to a place she’d never been to before.
“I just want to ride the bike,” she insisted.
Chelsi and Daisy breezed through the vet’s office on their way east. It was 2:30, she texted Sarah saying that if they had not arrived before 5 something was wrong, and so they started down Chengola Road.  This road had a reputation and not for being a smooth graceful ride but for being both the most heavily traveled and most poorly maintained road in all of Zambia and Chelsi was about to experience it up close.  It was heavily used by mining trucks, ferrying copper and equipment between mines reaching north into Northwest Provence and Kitwe, a prominent mining town in Copperbelt Provence.  The road was also frequented by the mine managers in their fancy SUVs and private contractors usually in pick-up trucks. Then there was Chelsi, apparently the only one crazy enough to transverse this road without the protection metal doors, closed windows and a suspension system. 
The dust was worse than ‘the dirty market’ and every time a truck went by she became trapped in a cloud of dust. The tiny particles created a film on her eyes, filled her nostrils and if she pressed her teeth together there was a crunch… It did not take long before she decided that she would never bike to Sara’s again, but for today she continued on. 
She looked at her watch, “Just another 45 minutes,” she relayed to Daisy, who was beginning to stir in her sling.  Though she said it with encouragement her heart was full of doubt.  She was biking slower then she had that morning and was sure they were more than 45 minute away still. She turned her head to look back towards the sun, but we should still have enough light, at least two more hours. Maybe two and a half.
The traveling was slower not just because the clouds of dust, which forced her to slow out of fear she might drift in to the lane of traffic, or that the afternoon sun was more punishing, but that Kapisapi was turning out to be perched atop a mountain.  There had been no slopes on which to coast down, despite the punishing uphill climb. After another hour of biking she began to worry that she a ridden past it, that she had been so focused on maintaining her forward momentum she had not seen the market her friend had told her to watch for. She was afraid to turn around though and go back because every rotation of her bicycle wheel down would be one she would have to make back up if she was wrong and more importantly the sun was starting to hang very low in the sky. There’s no time for second guessing yourself.  She pressed on, hoping that this market would be just around the next bend, or up the next hill.
Exactly how much time had passed is unknown, but the shadow of her on the bike was long and began to disappear into the shadows of the trees ahead. The bike was slowing to a crawl, maybe I’ll just get out and push for a while, that might be easier.
“Daisy, NO!” her puppy wiggled free of her sling and jumped to the ground.  Chelsi nearly fell on top of her trying to stop and dismount the bike.  She sigh once she knew the dog was safe from getting in the way oncoming traffic. Shoot, now what?
She was tired, she looked around. ”you’re white and female. You’ll get picked up.” Echoed in her ears. She saw the two cars coming in her direction.  What are you going to do? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?
With just a moment left before they were past her she stuck out her arm, shook her hand in the proper up and down fashion and closed her eyes preparing for the oncoming cloud of dust.
To her surprise when she open them a pickup truck was pulled over onto the shoulder just ahead and an Indian man was stepping out.
“Is your bike broken?” he called out as she started towards him. 
“Yea,” a half-truth but she was not recovered enough to tell the whole story.  He helped her lift it in to the bed on the truck. “She’s vaccinated,” she said picking her puppy back up. He chuckled a little, clearly she was not a threat. 
“Where do you need to go?” he got back behind the wheel and unlocked the passenger door.
“I need to go to Kabisapi. It can’t be too much farther up the road.” She climbed onto the seat.
“I don’t know where that is, but I’m going to Ndola.”
“It’s definitely before Ndola.” He turned the truck back on and signaled to get back on to the road.  Chelsi took out her phone and texted Sara an update on her situation.
“I’ll be there soon. Look for me on the road in a white pickup.”

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