I was excited from the beginning. Together with Priscilla I was supposed to visit FINCA’s branch office in Choma, a city in Southern Zambia. In order to catch the first bus south I had to get up at 5am. There was no traffic in Lusaka at this time, the bus station being the big exception. Hundreds of people had already been waiting for the buses. Luckily, we had booked our tickets in advance. It didn’t quite work out with our seat numbers as there were several passengers having the same numbers. However, we managed to find two seats in the fully booked bus and we were happy to see that the bus left Lusaka precisely on time. The bus we took was run by Mazhandu Family – being recommended to me as Zambia’s best, i.e. most reliable bus company. Indeed, as one may easily find out, there are massive differences among the different bus companies in terms of comfort and safety. But more about that later…
After a five-hour drive in the very crowded bus – there are five people in each row plus children and luggage – on very bumpy roads we finally reached Choma. FINCA’s Choma branch office is located in a pretty, yet small house, and the welcome by Laban, FINCA’s Branch Manager, and his team was very warm and heartfelt. We started straight ahead with the first interviews with some of the new clients. The whole day proved to be quite exhausting. So, after having bought some – not very tasty – food at the only supermarket in town, we were just happy to have found a peaceful even though quite basic lodge a bit outside of town.
On the next day, we travelled further south to Kalomo, just a few kilometers before Livingstone with its world-famous Victoria Falls. It took us almost an hour to get there but I actually really enjoyed the drive. The landscape we passed was just awesome. There are lots of trees in different greens, yellows and reds. We also passed some traditional villages with very basic but immensely picturesque straw huts. In Kalomo, we took the opportunity to walk around the busy market before we met Santos, the local Loan Officer. Compared to the markets in Lusaka, it was not in the least as chaotic and you won’t get urged by the vendors to buy any items you don’t really need 🙂
For the interviews we met one of the new Village Banking groups at Rebecca’s house. Rebecca lives there with her husband and nine children. Around her house she has got a lot of small animals – such as chickens, ducks and porks – which they use for their personal consumption. Rebecca is a lovely person. In order not to get dirty she even offered me one of her Zambian-style colourful skirts. One of her daughters, who works as a sewer, adjusted the skirt properly which is not an easy task to fulfill.
On the third day, we travelled one and half hours to the north, thus in the direction back to Lusaka, to FINCA’s sales office in Monze. As there was no bus run by the much-praised “Mazhandu Family” we had to get on one of the really bad buses. It was as over-crowded as you could image, it smelt quite unpleasant and the bus was wiping like a barge in a hurricane. We were truly lucky that it didn’t break down completely. Without having eaten all day, we finished the required client interviews and we were happy to finally travel back in one of the popular blue-colour minibuses, paying even half of the price of the wretched bus before.
Back in Lusaka, we are trying to get the remaining documents from the Loan Officers from Choma to finish our survey of that branch. It has been an unforgettable experience, even though quite exhausting. My next task after posting the blog is to get some tasty Indian food in town… 🙂