STORY // Zambia :: An Interesting Boat Ride and Other Thoughts

On our way back from Chaba, Zambia across the large lake back to Samfya our boat needed to make a stop at small lakeside village to drop some supplies off.

We had hired a boat for our trip that was to carry the coordinator of the project I had just visited, myself and another person involved in the project, plus the driver and his friend that decided he would like to join in the adventure. Well, something that I have now learned through my time here is that just because you privately hire a boat, doesn’t make it your boat. Inevitably people who are trying to get from one fishing village to the next always want to hitch a ride. It seems like people are constantly trying to crowd onto your boat seeing that they may have a rare chance at transport. And if not that they at least will pass off their supplies to you so that you may drop them off at the next village. We became more like a cargo ship in transport than a boat privately hired to help us in our work. But what much could I do about it? Nothing. So off we went with an extra passenger and excess to our load.

So there we were, making an unwanted stop at a small village to drop off some sacks of food and charcoal.  Almost everyone had gone on shore to use the restrooms and I stayed behind with the driver to keep an eye on all my photography gear. While waiting for the rest of the team to return, a man in about his late 60’s caught my eye. He wandered over to us and as he got closer I was able to really see what he looked like. There wasn’t anything about him that stood out to me. He was outfitted in tattered clothes that only held remembrances of their original color. By the look of him I just assumed he was a local coming to check out our boat. He made his way up to the edge of the water and without missing a beat stepped inside and began speaking with the driver. I just stared unsure of what was happening or of what the discussion was even about. A few minutes passed and my friend, Peter, came back and he joined in the apparently serious conversation. Then things became heated. Finally I decided it was time to intervene. I inquired and learned that this man was a marine officer (or a police officer) that worked the waters. Apparently our driver’s buddy had a case against him (like a complaint or charge that had been filed against him by someone).  The young boy now was supposed to make his argument and perhaps stay there until it was all sorted. He would either be charged and have to pay a fine, go to jail, or be found innocent and let go.  This was a Saturday and there was no telling how long this might actually take.

The conversation had become heated because this supposed marine officer wanted to detain or hold our boat and fuel there till the case was sorted. I began asking questions…

“Was the boat or fuel used in whatever this boy had supposedly done wrong?” I asked through my friend Peter who translated for me.
“No.” The officer said.
“Well then he can’t do that then. The fuel belongs to me not that boy. The boy can stay here and sort out his problems and we can go. We didn’t hire him.” I said to Peter
And then to my surprise the officer said in clear English… “This is my case, I can do whatever I want. The fuel stays here.”

“Oh so now you speak English clearly after 10 minutes of working through translators.” I thought to myself. Now, it’s important to note that it had become apparent during this discussion that this “marine officer” who didn’t have an ID, a badge, a uniform, a gun or anything that would seem to validate is authority (nor was he able to produce anything of the kind), was drunk. Very drunk.

An off duty police officer that was drinking at the bar came over and mediated for a while with the drunk officer. After about 10 minutes, the marine officer calmed down and said we could leave but the boy had to stay there. We happily agreed. Eager to leave we all started getting in the boat only to realize our driver had disappeared. I searched around a bit only to find him in the bar opening a cold beer. I motioned him to come on while letting him know I don’t appreciate him drinking while he’s driving me across the lake (yet knowing he’s not understanding a word I’m saying).

You should begin to see the trend now. But remember it’s just like 10-11am during all this. You begin to wonder how long that officer had been drinking.

We weren’t quite in the clear yet. As we got back to the boat and I was about to push us off, the  officer came back and grabbed the boat standing between me and the boat saying we couldn’t leave.

“Why?” I asked “You just said 5 minutes ago that we could.”
“No.” He insisted.
“I have changed my mind.”
“No! You just said we could leave. We have nothing to do with this boy that is in trouble.”
“No!  I… want… money.” he drunkenly stuttered.
“Money!?!” I said in disbelief.
“Yes, You must pay me 80,000 Kwacha (about $16 USD),” stammered the officer.
I began to laugh trying to mask the fact that on the inside I was angry. I was becoming furious at this drunk and losing patience very quickly. Had the man been younger, stronger, had a uniform or a gun or even resembled any legitimate authority I might have been a little more hesitant but he wasn’t any real threat, only hot air.

“No, I’m not paying you anything. You are drunk. You said nothing about this boat being involved in the charges against the boy and that we could leave and the boy would stay. We are leaving now.” I said as I started to push the boat off the beach.

At this the officer began to grab the boat again, shouting and repeating “I am the marine officer. You cannot go. You must pay me 80,000 Kwacha.” By this time a couple of off-duty police officers and government workers who had been drinking at the bar had gathered around.  They grabbed the “marine officer” and held him down so we could leave.
We finally pushed from shore, thankful to be on our way. After about 300 meters and out of sight of the dock, our driver turns back to the shore line. I was wondering what he was doing since there was no village or anything along the shore. As we got close, out pops his friend from the bushes. Turns out he must have fled or something, and he and the driver had a plan all along. Great, now we were aiding a fugitive across the lake. Oh well, by this time I was just happy to be on the lake headed toward Samfya knowing that officer didn’t have a boat or any way to come after us. Finally that night, we made it to Samfya safe and sound. After 9 hours of traveling that included:
– the motor breaking down multiple times causing us to sit and float on the huge lake as the driver tried repairing it with my multi-tool.
– the driver getting lost in all the channels in the marsh and having to show him how to get out using my GPS.
– picking up random people at various fishing villages.
– and last, but not least, the run in with the drunk marine/lake officer who had no ID, badge, uniform, gun or boat.

I share this little story for a few reasons. One being that it’s just a good and funny little story. At first glance, it may worry some of you. “That sounds dangerous,” you may say, or “Be careful!” Of course, you have to be careful. But this man seriously didn’t worry me. In fact, it is very probable that he isn’t a “marine officer” at all. Maybe he was at one point and had retired.  You have to know when there are serious causes for concern and others at which you just laugh.

Another reason is to highlight the perception with which we view unfamiliar places. Growing up, the understanding I had of Africa was it was this place filled with corruption, hunger, orphans, AIDS, hopeless despair, primitive lifestyles, and on and on. I had never been to Africa, nor did I really know anyone who had. But these ideas are the ones that shape many people’s perception in the West of not just Africa, but the whole developing world. Mostly these opinions are formed largely from what we see on the news or through other media outlets. But we must be careful not to lump everything we hear about Zambia, Africa or the developing world, in general, into an opinion that these are just horrible places filled with corruption. I say all this because I want to draw light on the fact that while, yes, there is corruption (as the story illustrates about the “marine officer” requesting a bribe and abusing authority), it is not the only story.

Yes, there is HIV/AIDS and it is a huge issue, but people are starting to receive education on it.  I’ve seen the church respond and embrace those who are sick by caring for them and helping them receive medication and nutritional supplements. I’ve seen people’s health restored to what it was before they had AIDS.  I’ve seen people begin to use their own life story to encourage others to get tested as well as challenge youth to stay pure.

Yes, starvation is an issue, but I’ve seen people being taught how to grow their own kitchen gardens to provide food. They are empowered through skills training and micro-loans to generate income for their families.

Yes, poverty is an issue, but I’ve met people who are giving their lives to care for the poor, empowering them by giving them the skills, trades and knowledge to become self-sustaining. And these are not just NGO workers or missionaries. These are the next door neighbors. They really understand what it means to care for one another and treat others as you would like to be treated.

Yes, orphans and vulnerable people are an issue, but I’ve seen children and widoes taken in, cared for and given a chance at life.

So, yes, there are many issues that face those living in the developing world. Horrible, sad stories. But you can’t stop there. There is more. So much more. There is HOPE! I have seen it. I see it everyday. Everyday I’m meeting people who are being active agents of redemption in others’ lives. Transforming their communities with a holistic view of the Gospel. Caring for and addressing both the spiritual needs and also the physical needs. These are the stories that I’m working to capture each day. This is what totellastory is about: capturing these stories of hope! Bright Hope World and HOPE World Partnerships are all about partnering with these people who are already doing amazing things in their communities to enable them to do more.

Be encouraged! As much as you hear the stories of all the bad things, know there are also stories of good.

Be challenged. A lifestyle of giving your life for others, caring for those around you and being a living testimony of the Gospel is not just for the followers of Christ in Africa or the rest of the developing world. It is for you as well. We have much to learn from our brothers. There is still poverty in the West. Still injustice. Still abuse. Still orphans. Still human trafficking. Still those who do not know the love of Christ. It is our responsibility to be that love.

show hide 2 comments

Karen Thanks so much for sharing this Lane. Your hope-filled perspective in the midst of staring many of those issues straight in the face on a daily basis is inspiring to me. I’m praying for you, and I can’t wait to hear more of your stories when you get back!

PATTERSON, Lyndsy Rae Way to go! Brilliant insite and powerful words.

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