I’ve been aware since March or April that there was a lake, or something that looked very much like one, in Macha.
And when we were looking at google maps back in Lusaka (actually to see where Alison is living, but while we were doing that, Kathy thought she’d show me where LinkNet is, too. The blue dots east and north mark LinkNet and the Wooden House), we wandered past the lake-like thing, and Kathy mentioned, “Oh, we’ve never found that dam. You can figure out where it is and take us to see it.” As I’d already had in mind that that might be something worth doing, I said that I probably would, or something to that effect.
So two weekends ago I set off for the lake. I examined google maps and determined that the lake was just past Mission, where the church is, so I biked there, first.
I didn’t really know where to go, beyond ‘somewhere past Mission,’ so I picked a likely-looking path and headed down it.
The path went down aways, towards lower ground and slightly thicker vegetation that I could perhaps believe to be indicative of water, and then it flattened out into an attractive but not-so-likely-looking path.
I kept going. I still have some difficulty understanding exactly how much distance compares to how much map, and I wasn’t doing anything else that day. The path kept going, and eventually the lower area on the right flattened out into more grassland.
I kept going. There were a number of little paths going to the right, but none of them looked quite substantial enough that I felt like deserting my nice, solid path in favor of them, and I was not yet steeled to the idea of turning around.
I got to the road. There being no other road in the area, I was pretty sure that this was the road upon which one travels 14 unpaved kilometers in order to get to the turnoff to Macha. It’s also way past the lake (see that yellow line to the south?). I didn’t know how far it was, but I was pretty sure that I was a good ways past where I wanted to be.
So I turned right on the road, after carefully marking the particular trees and bump in the road that denoted my little dirt path, and attempting not to use the cows as a marker. There was a line of green on the map that maybe suggested a river, and I didn’t object to the idea of a river, either.
I did find the river. It was a bone-dry depression along the ground, with the usual indications that it might sometimes have water, but certainly didn’t have any right now.
About then I began to wonder why I was still traveling along the road, and what I expected to find. I turned around, and shortly after I passed the river again, I noted another dirt path going the same general direction that I wanted to go, and I decided that there wasn’t any particular reason to follow the dirt path I’d already seen. After all, the worst that would happen is that I would get sufficiently disoriented that I would have to retrace all of my steps, road and all. (The concept of private land doesn’t seem to exist here in the same sense that it does as home. Instead of stories about people who wander onto private property and have the owners shout at them, one hears stories of crazy expat joggers who get invited onto Tonga stools by the visitor-deprived locals and given glasses of chibwantu/ibwatu (Mind you, while chibwantu isn’t bad when fresh, if the cornmeal floating in it doesn’t bother you, offering several-days-old chibwantu to one’s guests might be as effective a deterrent as dogs or armed guards, from what I’m told).)
After a while my path meandered up to join the path I’d been on before, and then the paths divided again, and I took the left fork, not entirely sure that I hadn’t originally come from the right fork. That’s the thing about navigating here. There are no indicators of distance, no blocks, or plots of land, or even cultivated fields. I find that paths generally look much of a muchness, with variations in width, or ranging between grassy, or grassy-and-scrubby, or grassy-and-scrubby-and-trees, or grassy-and-trees, or burned remains of any of the above. There may be buildings, but I at least don’t find the buildings here particularly distinctive, and any one path can vary in any of these characteristics almost as much as two different paths. But I figured that if it was a different path now, I could go back to the fork and would get back to Mission reasonably quickly.
I continued on my path. After a while, I took one of the paths leading down to the left and discovered . . .
I decided that this was the river below the dam again, and continued along my path, feeling more confident that I was on the right path. There was also more traffic (although you shouldn’t come away with the impression that it was ever devoid of people, with the exception of that smaller path I took off the road), which seemed like it might be indicative of something.
It was somewhere along in here that a scrawny dog took offense at my bicycle, or my pale skin, or my skirt, or the sequins on my skirt, and took this offense out with his teeth, but my skirt took the damage (unexpected advantage of riding bicycles in skirts. This perhaps balances out the fact that when I was nearly home, I managed to catch the skirt in the back wheel in such a spectacular way (in the brakes, I think) and tied myself to the bicycle so thoroughly that I almost fell over while trying to get off the bicycle in order to untangle myself). That skirt is one of several articles of clothing that I am coming to the conclusion will not survive a year in Zambia. Things just wear harder here (and I thought handwashing was supposed to be good for clothes!). Have I mentioned that I completely destroyed one of those recycled-plastic-bottle reusable grocery bags on the way back from my shopping-and-language-lessons trip to Choma? The owner yelled at the dog, and no damage was done to my person (and the skirt has been mended and everything), and we all continued along our ways.
At some point I stopped for water and made the discovery that my water bottle was closer to half-full than all-full, an oversight that was all the more distressing because I did not entirely know where I was, and it was getting hot. I had just decided that pretty soon I should give up on looking for the lake (surely the river, such as it was, was enough for one day?), and this football pitch, unfortunately, was not the same as the football pitch just below Mission, because this one had two goals, rather than only one.
I took one last look to my left and saw the unmistakable shimmer of water through trees.
Well! I could hardly get this close and turn around now, especially since there was a well-trodden path and everything. I followed the path, feeling quite hopeful, and came upon a pump standing in a small grove. That explained the people carrying buckets and basins that I had passed earlier. A bit further on, I passed the enclosing bramble-barrier that protects gardens from cows (That’s one of the things that strikes me most about these rambles. Even in what seems to be the most desolate areas, there are signs of habitation. Looking like everyone’s ideas of The Wilds Of Africa or not, one can’t forget that people have been living here for a very long time), and then, at last, to water. It was a sort of gray, cloudy water, surrounded by thick clumped mud, but it was deliciously wet to eyes that have been staring at brown dusty country with occasional clumps of green.
I started to lock my bicycle to a convenient tree, realized that I’d left the lock at home, and so my bicycle and I took a ramble around the edge of the lake and up onto what I guess was the dam (which seemed to me to be on the wrong side, and I don’t entirely understand the geography of the place, but it was a high wall of earth, broken by a shorter brick wall, and there were little brick houses and power lines (perhaps they do some sort of hydroelectric?) and beyond that banana trees).
On my return, I discovered that the path across the aforementioned football pitch led past a basketball court and almost directly up to Mission. I’d just taken the wrong path when I picked my original likely-looking candidate.
And in other sorts of searching for water, one day the running-out-of-water was so bad that we didn’t even have water in the faucets behind the house, and the kids hailed me on my way home from work to help them carry the water. Carrying a wide, shallow basin of water on your head is really difficult. I’m getting better, though; about half the time I wind up watering my garden with a similar (smaller, thankfully, so easier to manage) basin.