Once a garden...

My hometown - one hundred years old today and only on careful inspection can you discern this city’s age. Lusaka is more like a youth, a teenager, at the rebellious stage at which the neatness and order bequeathed to it by a parent is thrown out and replaced with poor hygiene, dirt and an unsavoury and ill-thought through appearance.

I’m not a historical revisionist. Lusaka was built to service a European minority and to obscure the reality of the indigenous people. The city was divided into elite, second-class and native and its denizens attended to as such.

Like many other things, we did little to change it since independence and have done away with even the simple pleasures of city life such as play parks and shaded streets. Only on a profound quest in places such as Longacres and the town centre do we find any evidence of this colonial history, every old building has been mutilated until it’s unrecognisable or simply torn down. These buildings aren’t important for their own sake but as a record of our past, and from an economist’s point of view a potential source of tourism income to boost our development.

Development and affluence mean enormous and often frighteningly hideous homes built along a potholed dirt road built without drainage or at times even planning permission.

Our city is for the affluent especially for those with cars. Few new roads are buily with pedestrian access and bicycle paths are unknown. In summer we burn as we walk along streets whose umbrella-like indigenous trees have been uprooted and replaced with (ugly) sparse palm trees – again another choice of the affluent. In winter gusts of wind disperse dust in our eyes and in the rain season the flooding brings an unspeakably foul mix of water and sewage sometimes hip deep as a result of the massive deforestation our city has seen and the failure to design a drainage system of more than a series of narrow and blocked ditches.

As a friend says “you have few recreational facilities and expats have devised all the interesting things to do within your perimeters.” Our city planners know only shopping malls and hotels, again excellent for the affluent but not for the others.

Nonetheless, Lusaka is safe, relatively, despite being underserved by the police force. A woman can still walk unmolested, cell phones and wallets are safe within reason, something that a visitor to some other African capitals can appreciate. In Lusaka, once the price is negotiated taxi drivers are your friends, they’ll find you even in the middle of night in an unsavoury part of town and deliver you home safe and sound.

Our denizens are friendly, but also mind their own business. Though we are crammed daily into tin cans of minibuses, when not in them we like to give each other room - we prefer not to touch strangers but cannot imagine not having physical contact with our friends and relatives.

To top it off whichever part of the city you inhabit from wealthy to wretched the ever-appreciated vitumbuwa is always available.

Image; Lubuto Library Project Inc via flickr 

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