Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Bizarre Odyssey to Zambia

As many of you know, I had to make one more return trip to Zambia to retrieve personal belongs which we had left behind because we had no where to put them when we first arrived in Kenya. After securing housing, I prepared myself psychologically for the journey.  I have found it is necessary to do this when taking this train because although the trip from Tanzania to Zambia is supposed to take about two and a half days, there really is no telling when you’ll arrive. I had once endured a 22 hour delay due to a train derailment further ahead on the route.

Loading the train in Zambia
After a 15 hour bus ride from Nairobi to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, I was welcomed aboard the train the next day by one of the staff, a young likeable fellow, who I later learned his name was Charles. A few hours into the trip, I was shocked to learn that he had passed out in the restaurant car; we made an unscheduled stop in a small station where a vehicle was hired to take him to a local clinic.  He was later brought back in the train with an IV hooked up on his arm.  
We proceeded with the trip with the intention of stopping in a major town where a better equipped hospital could be found, but he never made it to the hospital.  He passed away in the train.  
When we did finally stop at the town, it was to leave his body at the morgue as we continued with our trip.    A sad and disconcerting mood descended on the passengers at such a swift finality to life. 
I have used this train about ten times now, so I was very familiar with the routine and most of the major stops.  I knew for example, that when the train arrives at the Tanzania/Zambia border, the immigration officials of both countries board the train to check passports and stamp exit if leaving Tanzania while their Zambian counterparts stamp enter to allow you in their country.  The immigration officials normally pass through once to announce their presence and then return to inspect the passports and stamp them. 

On this occasion, the Tanzanians did their one pass routine; I had the door to my compartment open and was sitting on my bunk ready for the actual passport inspection/stamp.

The next thing I know, the Zambian immigration came in, they proceeded to inspect my passport but I told them that I was waiting for the Tanzanian officials.  They informed me that the Tanzanians had disembarked from the train and that they were so sorry but that they could not give me a Zambian entry stamp without an exit stamp from Tanzania!

Ready to depart fot Dar es Salaam!
I was told I had to get out of the train and go to the Tanzanian side of the border to get an exit stamp otherwise, if I proceeded with my trip, I would find myself in Zambia illegally and would have major problems on my return trip. As I was trying to figure out what my options were, suddenly, the train started to move!  I knew this was an express train, so it’s not like I could just get off at the next stop and walk back!
 I quickly grabbed my bag pack and slugged it on my back and then I reached for another shopping bag and headed for the exit. 
  It was pitch black outside as only Africa can be and it was hard to see anything.  I knew if I stopped to think about what I was about to do I wouldn’t do it.  I did not do the one… twothree… whatever. 
Come to think of it, I don’t even think I prayed.  I just let go!  

Happy to be alive and on my way home!
There is a way to jump off a moving vehicle and I was pretty adept at it in my younger days, when I would slide off public buses on my way to school in my zeal to avoid paying bus fare. My friends and I would then use the fare for the movies on Fridays!  Anyway, something went wrong this time; when I jumped, the weight of the bag pack, pulled me backwards and it didn’t help that there were stones scattered along the rail line which I stumbled on.  I fell backwards and banged my head on a stone.  I must have momentarily suffered a concussion.  I knew the train was rushing past me but I could not see nor hear it. Something was telling me, “Kamau,…. crawl… away… from…. the train, crawl…away from the train,” but my body was responding ever so…slowly and then I wasn’t even sure if I was crawling away in the right direction!

The truck finally arrived in Dar es Salaam
When I fully regained my senses, I felt this dull ache on the back on my head and as I sat up I felt something warm and sticky on my face and I knew I was bleeding. I did not know how bad the head injury was, as I made my way to a little building where I could see some light; it turned out to be a railway staff quarters. 
I explained to the man I found there what had happened and asked for water to clean myself up.  I also asked if he knew of a guest house where I could spend the night. After getting directions, I started to make my way to the guest house; it was probably about ten o'clock at night when I arrived there.

I am glad I had cleaned myself and covered my head wound otherwise I might scared my host and may have been turned away.  The next morning, I considered going to see a doctor and was informed that there was a private clinic nearby. Upon further reflection, I decided against it since I know that in Africa, especially in the area where I was, most so called “private clinics” are run by not doctors but people with basic medical skills and I wasn’t in a mood to have someone experiment on me.
Unloading the truck in Nairobi
I crossed the no man’s land into Tanzania and went to the immigration where they quickly stamped my exit stamp after which I then crossed over to the Zambian side for the entry stamp.  From there I boarded a bus and proceeded with the last of the journey to the Village of Hope for our belongings. The return trip to Kenya had its own adventures which my wife kept you up to date!   I want to thank you all for praying for me, it very likely saved my life!  I am so glad to be home with my family all in one piece! Literally!    

So what’s the moral of this story…..

Don’t be dumb by jumping off moving trains!
Home Sweet Home!

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