Eventually the flight to Mansa was called forward and myself and two others were the only passengers to stir. We were led to a very small plane, about 16 seats and invited to board from the back. We plopped our hand baggage in a wide open space at the back of the cabin, next to a small picnic basket full of biscuits, crisps and drink cartons. I went up to the front passenger seat, immediately behind the captain. He and his first officer sat themselves upfront and proceeded to run through their checklists, then they turned and briefly introduced themselves and gave us a safety talk. Ndola airport can take jets so our take off was leisurely – there was plenty of room on the runway for a small aircraft like this, and we flew over a few estates, past a copper smelting factory and out into the bush. Although a little hazy, the view below was rich with the tapestry of rural African life. Straight red tracks disappearing off to the horizon, clusters of settlements surrounded by fruit trees, a tapestry of fields leading to bush. And in Zambia there were a plethora of dambos – shallow valleys that flood in the wet season leaving a green carpet of lush grass for grazing.
It was mid afternoon and the clouds built up over the hot bushland; although it was not bumpy it obscured most of the view for a while. The cloud gradually cleared and as we followed a long straight tarmacced road and a sinuous river I saw a town picked out in sunlight over to my right. A water tower stood out amongst the tin roofed houses. We started to descend but overshot the town and turned right over a lush wetland and some more fields. In the distance now I could see an open space of grassland and a thin strip of tarmac in the centre that marked the runway of Mansa Airport. Even from the air it was obvious this was a neglected strip – the tarmac had no straight edges; the grass had sprawled across in several places. I saw the flashing lights of a fire engine just to the right of the airfield; someone was expecting us at least. Our landing was smooth and the pilots taxied the aircraft to a small cluster of buildings. My ride had not yet arrived so I watched as the other two passengers were collected and their luggage offloaded onto pickup trucks. I was ushered into the “Departures Lounge” which in effect was a small waiting room next to the airport chief’s office.