Thursday, March 14, 2013

God Bless the Trains Down in Africa....

Well, the last week in Dar es Salaam was a blur of tying up loose ends, saying goodbyes, organizing last details involving our train trip and the ever-dreaded packing. All in all it was pretty stressful to be honest. Now, at this time of writing we’ve been on this train for 3 days and realistically won’t be arriving in Lusaka until tomorrow morning.
Currently we are in a Zambian town called Mpika, waiting for workers to clear the track of a train that derailed here two nights ago. Thankfully there were very few people on the train and it was only luggage cars that went off so nobody was hurt.  We’ve gotten different stories as to why the train derailed but nothing clear or satisfactory. One theory was put forth as, “Well, the line is almost 40 years old,” it being understood that the line doesn’t get proper upkeep.  Another story is that the driver forgot that this particular stop has several tracks and at the last minute forgot which one he was supposed to take. Either scenario is not comforting. We are just thankful that other than boredom of sitting on the train at these long stops the trip has remained uneventful.
The Tazara (Tanzania/Zambia/Railway) Line connecting Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Zambia was built between 1970 and 1976. 51,500 people worked to complete this railway including 38, 000 Tanzanian and Zambian, and 13,500 Chinese. Uh, Chinese? Yeah, see, after independence Tanzania decided to go the socialist way during the Cold War and so Chairman Mao decided to gift this railway for their wise decision. And I guess the Zambians made out with it as a kind of wooing from Mao. So anyway we’ve been riding a Chinese communist train through Africa and it’s been long but a blast!
The first day right around sunset we rode through a game park and managed to see some zebra, giraffe, a ton of antelope and a family of elephants. The only problem is the train is going so fast that you’ve got to be lightning speed with the camera if you want to capture anything. The scenery has been beautiful and the kids have managed not to go stir crazy for the most part. It’s been a great adventure and if we had the choice we still wouldn’t trade it in for a 3 hour plane ride. Of course, I’m saying this believing this train is going to move in the next hour or so (it’s been almost 4 hours here now) so we’ll see where this update ends. Once we start moving theoretically it should be another 9 hours on the train and then 3 by private bus to Lusaka. Here’s to Africa!!  
So the train took off after a 10 hr stop to clear the track and put us arriving at around 7am the next day; We were then picked up by our lovely staff that were waiting for us and took a rented bus the remaining 3.5 hours to Lusaka.  After our unplanned 10 hr stop adding to the unplanned 4-5 hour stop that happened the day earlier and the 2 nights and 3 days of planned travel we were rationing supplies such as toilet paper, water and kwacha (the Zambian currency) which was used to purchase the food from the train car. The parts of the chicken that were given when we ordered chicken were starting to get interesting as time went on. I think at one point we were given a chicken back???  Apparently the kitchen was running low on supplies as well. 
Also, during the stops the train bathrooms get locked because the refuse goes right on the tracks and understandably a moving train is better suited for that kind of that kind of thing. But remember, we were stopped at one point for 10 hrs! Thankfully we have a Romanian on our team who broke us into the bathroom when needed.  Near the end of the trip, hour by hour, the train was returning to its communist roots. J 
All this to say that although the train ride was quite the adventure and we had a great time seeing the scenery of Africa, train travel here is not for the faint of heart! I’d put it more in the “extreme sport” travel category. So if your looking for interesting bathroom experiences, almost flying off your bed every time the train hits the brakes, hunting cockroaches before bed and seeing a bit of village life out the window with the occasional elephant then this train is for you!  All in all we are really glad to have experienced it. And thank the Lord it’s over.

just getting started

just woke up cuteness

hanging out.. because that's about all you can do on a train

what do you do when you are stuck on a train for 70+hours? you lose your mind and buy a turtle off of some kid out the window. Meet our team mascot Louie. Our team purchased him. He is currently MIA and I am hoping he made a break for it!

waiting for the train


look in the back for antelope? bushbuck? kudu?

blurry wildlife

some sort of birds.

blurry elephants on the right

Blew this one up so you could see her shirt. Selling water? Yes we can!

Hard work farming in the rice field.

This western Tanzania and it was beautiful!

we went through 22 tunnels on our journey

front of our train as we were on a curve

We are here safe and sound in Zambia and are loving both the cooler weather and the fact that we have our own little house!! Waking up in the morning and making tea in your pajamas is so relaxing! Add a hot shower and a washing machine that we have access to twice a week and we are pretty much feeling spoiled.  The house is in a beautiful compound that is owned by a theological seminary. My classmates are divided between 2 other houses and there is a park for the kids!  We have taken a tour of the hospital we will be working at and will begin work Monday.  Right now we are just trying to settle in and get used to the surroundings. We’re taking our time.
Thanks for your prayers for a safe journey!! We will update more on Zambia soon! Love,
Bruce, Heather, Josiah, Abigail & baby bean

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