By Alisha Estabrook, in Lusaka
Currently, Ohio University students studying abroad in Zambia since Nov. 26 have so far noticed some differences between the way people here run media, society and government versus the United States.
It is important to keep in mind that while these observations are comparing two nations, they are vastly different nations, on opposite hemispheres. Zambia is seven hours ahead of United States Eastern Standard Time on Daylight Savings. It took traveling across the Atlantic Ocean and crossing the Prime Meridian and Equator to skip forward in time. As someone who comes from a small town in the United States, I should point out that even big cities in the U.S. are strange territory for me.
This is Zambia in my opinion and its differences:
In the first leg of our journey, I noticed quite a few differences in how people utilize transportation here in terms of personal vehicles, buses and walking.
In Zambia, previously a British colony, people drive on the left side of the road. Driving is crazy. I have not seen an accident and am amazed every day that I have not. Zambians are good drivers, but roads are very congested. Cars seem to have a magical force behind them, helping them to maneuver in and out of really tight places or over rough roads.
I have noticed that most vehicles have large license plates. They are taller than the ones found in the U.S., unless the plate is on a truck, then it is thin and long. For identification, the plates have three letters followed by a second line of four numbers.
Many people use buses to get around. They have short fronts that enable them to keep up with the congested traffic. They cram as many pedestrians into the bus as possible. People are packed in like sardines. The bus will even have people lying across people to squeeze in more bodies.
Bus stops are all over Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. They have pull-off areas connected to the road to pick people up. Many buses can occupy one pull-off area, making buses stick out into oncoming traffic. This is the cause of quite a bit of honking, but not the only honking. It seems that horns are constantly sounding, so much that we do not know why people honk half of the time.
Traffic never seems to slow down, unless there’s a jam. Merging on to a road seems dangerous, as it is not uncommon for cars behind you to not slow down. Certain times during the day, like when people travel to work, are busier than other times. Here, a traffic jam is part of the daily routine.
Main roads are paved, but side roads aren’t necessarily. Most vehicles are capable of off-roading. It has surprised me what the University of Zambia bus, our designated transportation for this trip, can make it though. I’m not sure if a typical bus driver from the U.S. would attempt half the things our driver has accomplished.
It took a few days before we saw a stoplight, and even longer before we came across a stop sign. Instead, Lusaka has many roundabouts. The stoplights and stop signs seem to be saved for the middle of the city, or less busy areas. But even then, you have to beware of traffic disregarding the signal.
Many road signs don’t have words on them. The outline and color of a yield sign is enough to get the message across. Street signs are limited. Usually bigger roads have names pointed out. The roundabouts are more likely to have the street names before the intersection, but in the case of smaller roads, I usually can’t find a street sign.
I have also noticed many speed bumps all over Lusaka as a way to help slow down traffic.
Not once have I seen any sort of handicapped parking space. I’m not sure if this is attributed to the fact that Zambians don’t live as long as people in the U.S. or not. I haven’t seen any elderly people out and about either, so there doesn’t seem to be a real need for them.
People can be seen walking at any time of day. Pathways cut across the country or through fences. Footbridges are available so people can cross above busy streets. Sidewalks are generally found on busy streets either beside the road, separated by bumper strips or grass.
Young children travel on the backs of mothers wrapped in cloth that is tied in front of the woman’s chest.
They aren’t really crosswalks like the U.S. utilizes, and there is no concept of “jaywalking” (even though many people in the U.S. disregard that law too). People cross in front of traffic all the time, even when vehicles are traveling towards them. Vehicles drive alongside people, most of the time in really close proximity. I’m surprised people aren’t hit more often. Many people also stand in the middle of the road, attempting to sell newspapers or cell phone minutes to drivers and passengers. Lots of people also clean the sides of the roads as vehicles speed beside them.
Generally, most of these practices seem like a hazard to me. Coming from the U.S., I notice these things as differences from how the general public or I travel. Somehow, it works for Zambia.
Note these observations are only from Lusaka. I am looking forward to traveling outside of the capital to see how highways and other cities work with transportation.
Alisha Estabrook is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession, about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism