A tale of two swamps -simple poached fish

We returned to our own hotel for one last night.  I was due in Mansa this weekend for more meetings and to start making my map, before I would head back alone on the Proflight (literally the only passenger on the Mansa-Ndola leg this time) and to spend most of the next week locked away in my motel room next to a large new Chinese shopping mall in central Lusaka.

All very different and modern compared to the quiet simplicity of this lakeside hotel.  I soaked up the last sunset, the light reflecting purple of the lake, almost placid again after the winds of the rest of the trip.  Out in the lake a few dugout canoes contained fishermen setting the night’s nets.  My name was called from along the way and I ambled over to find Ian and Mainza tucking in to the tilapia that had been bought near the Luapula Bridge.  Here was the resource that we were studying, making regulations about, mapping the area where it would be protected and managed for everyone.  It was just a fish, simply grilled and presented, but it was a symbol of the Bangweulu Swamp

We shared the one plate, picking the meat from the bone with our fingers; separating out the spiny exteriors and leaving behind a classic cartoonish skeleton of the fish.  It was the best meal I had in Zambia that trip.

A tale of two swamps – An exclusive service

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.

A tale of two swamps – Getting to a second swamp

Two years later I was back in Zambia with Ian working on a similar project but this time in the north of the country.  He was to write fisheries regulations for the Bangwuelu swamp and I was brought in to look at delimiting the line within which the laws would operate.  Unfortunately there was no need for a socio-economist in this place so Alphart did not join us, but a lot of the liaison was to be conducted by Mainza Kalongo.  He had been the Acting Chief Fisheries Officer for Zambia when Ian and I had worked on Kafue but had now retired from the civil service and was topping up his pension with consultancy.

Bangwuelu is a large lake system in the north of Zambia  crossing three provinces – Eastern, Northern and Luapula, where I was to be based.  While it could have been a day long drive to reach Luapula, there was an option to fly north on a recently launched low cost local airline.  So I arrived on the overnight flight from London at Lusaka’s airport and instead of heading off in a taxi into town I settled down in a cafe overlooking the runway and waited a couple of hours for a flight to Ndola.  In amongst the chaos of a load of building work, I entered the small departure lounge of the domestic terminal.  This little airline, Proflight, was sending prop planes all over the country (and starting to reach out across southern Africa) at quite reasonable prices.  Ndola, one of the largest cities in the Copperbelt region of central Zambia, was a popular destination and my flight was full of travellers, mining engineers and others.  We headed out over the agricultural lands to the north of Lusaka and within an hour we had descended across an industrial landscape of mines, quarries, factories and power plants.  Ndola sprawled around us but like so many southern African cities, was so openly planned when first created that it still seemed spacious and uncluttered.  The plane descended right over the centre of the city and landed at the small airport.  I was shuttled into an even smaller departure lounge than the one at Lusaka, crammed with people, and I waited for my departure to Mansa – I took a look around to see if I could spot who might be joining me on the second flight.  A couple of flights departed and the lounge started to thin out enough for me to find a seat.

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Landing at Ndola – is one of these going to be my next plane?