Daily life in Solwezi (Zambia #3)

Making bricks

Travel Euphoria Wears Off (Zambia #5)

May 25, 2007 Comments (2) Africa, Experiences

Politics and Pot-holes (Zambia #4)

I’ve had a great opportunity of late, teaching surveying students about mining. My class consists of three students. I’m sure glad I brought scanned notes from all my classes, which I used to create handouts for them. Needless to say, I couldn’t use Powerpoint.

To get to my class I must drive into town, a 12km trip that takes 25 minutes. Along the road to Solwezi, 60 km/h speed-limit signs mock you. Pot-holes have their own-potholes. Townsfolk ride their bicycles along the edge of the road, adding to the obstacles. Sometimes the bicycle passengers are dangerously distracting – have you ever seen a bicycle carrier rack loaded with three confused adolescent goats? Witnessing that is enough to cause an accident without all the other hazards.

On the topic of strange sights – have you ever seen a 25,000L fuel tanker truck driving ahead of you, spraying fuel from a hole in the tank? I hadn’t before either. When he stopped, guys were standing beside with 20L pails to catch the leaking diesel. I wonder how many pails they needed.

I’ve been spending some time with Team Indonesia, a crew of imported labourers. A few of them speak English and I’ve learned that some of these guys are highly educated. The first one I spoke to introduced himself in broken English as “Marlon Brando” – he’s a chief accountant and financial analyst with an MBA, getting field experience before going back to the corporate office. The chef worked in 5-star hotels before the tourism industry literally bombed, another two are engineers, and at least one other is an engineering student paying for his education.

I’ve also met lots of workers by offering them lifts if they’re going my way – usually the canteen or the city of Solwezi. There are many people that have migrated to this city since the mine opened 3 years ago, which has more than doubled the local population. I’ve met teachers working as security guards for $50/month, the lowest paid job on the site. I’ve met engineering students who couldn’t afford to finish their education and must work for 2 years to go back. I’ve met unemployed who come to the mine gates every morning hoping for temporary labour. Every single person I’ve ever met has been friendly and open and bubbling to speak to me, and I am invariably asked to help them secure a higher paying job on site. All I can tell them is to keep applying, and working to impress their superiors. This mine employs 1200 people, and there’s just no way it can employ everyone who needs a job – especially when people are coming from all over the province looking for work. The mine has a “Foundation” that spends money in the local community. I haven’t learned enough about the provided benefits, but I know the local schools and hospital are unacceptable. Most of the Zambian geologists and engineers have left their families back in larger cities with better facilities. Another definite problem is the horrible road conditions in the city – even the road to the mine is terrible. Around here, pot-holes have their own pot-holes.

At the last mine I worked, I had no computer for the first two months and was forced to computer hop, as people cycled out of the office to visit the field. Thus I was pleasantly surprised here when given a corner desk with a 2 GHz computer with CD burner and 15” monitor. (I was lucky to show up the day the Chief Geologist was quitting, and smoothly took his desk). This was solid, but I was soon ‘bumped’ by the new Chief Geo, and my spirits were low as I had flashbacks to the last mine. However I got another corner desk but a slow computer with only a CD-ROM and 15” monitor. Things were soon looking up, upon discovering the computer was actually 2.8 GHz and just in dire need of a reformat. I had previously befriended the IT guys, who wiped it for me. Now the computer was flying! I also acquired a DVD burner through my IT connection. Just when things couldn’t get any better, the new engineer quit and I snagged his 17” LCD monitor when nobody was around. I don’t know if anybody realizes, but I think I have the sweetest machine in the office.

In my first week here, my boss Gerhard hadn’t smiled once. He is South African of British descent, and quite a down-to-business type of guy. I hadn’t gotten many friendly vibes from him, and rumour has it that the aforementioned Chief Geologist left due to their inability to get along. Gerhard has since shown a few chinks in his armour – in one morning meeting last week the senior engineer reported that we had no water in the dongas (the trailers we live in). With a straight-face and serious tone, Gerhard turned to me, and spoke with his high-brow British accent, “So that’s why your hair looks like that. I thought you were just having a bad-hair day.” Everybody laughed.

I’ve posted more photos at my flickr site, click the thumbnail above.

Please take a peak, and feel free to leave comments.

Happy African Liberation Day!

2 Responses to Politics and Pot-holes (Zambia #4)

  1. Anonymous says:

    On the topic of African roads, if you haven’t read it already, you should read “The road to hell is unpaved: Trucking in Cameroon”


    (If you don’t have your economist login, let me know and I’ll email you the article)


  2. Miko Fulla says:

    That article was great. Thanks

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