"Your visa is expired, you are here illegally. The fine is one million, eight-hundred thousand Kwacha." His penetrating eyes jumped out from the shadow of his full-brim hat, the sun glistened off his ebony black skin and the patch on his sand-khaki uniform read "Department of Immigration."
"Pardon me, there must be some mistake," I replied. "My visa is good for three years-it is a three-year visa."
"Yes, but you have five days in Zambia for this visit," he said in a heavily accented English. "Look here, it has expired. Please come with me."
I'd been flagged down at a roadside checkpoint between Livingstone and Lusaka, Zambia. Nothing too official about it-just a few orange cones, two khaki-clad gun-toting officers, and a few '70s-era fold-up chairs. I looked again at the handwritten scribble on my passport. Sure enough, it had a date. My three-year visa had expired after five days.
Lake Malawi is an aqueous paradise in the midst of a semi-arid bushveld. Home to over 300
One Cow, Three Goats, and the Road From Hell
The thing I like about traveling alone and without a hard-line schedule is having the ability to change directions, like a squirrel crossing the highway. You meet other travelers, share experiences and tips about interesting destinations around the campfire, and maybe swap a guidebook or two. When the sun rises the next day, the world is your oyster. Pick a destination and turn the wheel east, west, or south. I had a camping reservation in a few days at South Luangwa Game Reserve, 1,000 kilometers to the northeast, but in the interim I decided to visit a couple I had met in Livingstone who lived on Lake Kariba.
To define the highway to Lusaka as a bomb-cratered mess would be a generous overstatement. Chuckholes the size of watermelons peppered the entire route, and trucks and buses crawling at a snail's pace weaved to and fro around the minefield of obstacles. After enduring 70 kilometers on the road from hell, I found a dirt side-track on T4A (Tracks 4 Africa GPS map) that would take me to Lake Kariba.
Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia and a British protectorate until 1964, is partitioned from its southern neighbor, Zimbabwe, by the Zambezi River. With a per capita annual income of less than $1,200 U.S., and 60 percent of its population living on less that $1.25 per day, it is a poor country. From the earliest days of European intervention, slave-trading raids of the Portuguese, and eventual British oversight, the peoples of Zambia, which are a potpourri of Tonga, Bantu, Nkoya, and Sotho, have struggled with identity and independence.
African bush life is of another dimension. In the morning, we walked through a nearby village and witnessed a dozen women building a mud-brick church. Stopping at the home of a local laborer and his three wives, he shared with me the story of an eleven-year old girl who was raped by her uncle. When a grievance was filed by the father, the local chief, in his greatness and impartiality, sentenced the guilty uncle to pay one cow and three goats in retribution. The father was apparently happy with this agreement, and all was good. My friend said it may be a blessing in disguise for the girl: "If everyone knows she was raped and may now have AIDS, no one will touch her or marry her. She won't get pregnant and might actually have the chance for an education."