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A day out shopping in Zambia

A lot has been said about Nakonde District in the Northern Province of Zambia in the light of trade. Nakonde which lies about a hundred and thirty kilometre south of Kasama, the Provincial capital is at the border with neighbouring Tanzania – making it strategic for trade.

Almost every retailer in Kasama as well as other districts relies on Nakonde for their merchandize. As a matter of fact, most traders who have regularly visited the place give a spurious impression that it is a ‘near- paradise.’ Save for media reports about uncollected reeking garbage, animal droppings dotted on the streets, irregular structures and wide spread superstition.

Overwhelmed by curiosity, however, I took a first class Tazara train at K30, 000 from Kasama – where I live. It was a long six- hour journey which began at two in the morning. Because I was in the first class coach, the services were quite good; despite the occasional discomfort from the usual swaying of the train, coupled with the noise from the clanging of the wheels. The din eventually lulled me to sleep, before I was awakened by the whistle… signifying my arrival at Nakonde railway station at exactly eight o’clock in the morning.

The station was packed to capacity: vendors raising their merchandise to the windows and shouting their offers, while hawkers stood by their trolleys laden with all manner of provisions for sale: “Cheap price … cheap price!” they shouted.

After disembarking I was faced with the prospect of being robbed, considering the multitudes I saw that Wednesday morning. I feared for my money – let alone my life. Hearing two languages being spoken interchangeably: Namwanga and Swahili- just increased my fright. I later learnt however that the locals were predominantly bilingual.

Amid trepidation, I beckoned an honest – looking young man to show me where I could possibly eat and rest. Speaking through the language barrier – aided by gesticulations, the boy led me to the legendary Chachacha guest house, a place renowned for its excellent services, by rural standards.

“Welcome sir, what can we do for you? Here we have two types of rooms: single and double… it all depends on your preference,” said a receptionist with a broad smile. I felt right at home. Then I booked a single room at K20, 000, before ordering a breakfast meal, which I took after a warm bath. For all intents and purposes, Chachacha guest house can not pass for international standards – owing to a number of short comings: believe it or not, even the double rooms are not self contained. Independent bathrooms and toilets are however available for male and female respectively.

As for the meals, I was impressed to find the typical Zambian dish, seemingly mouth watering! Well prepared Nshima (staple food) and traditionally prepared relish – all ranging from K7,000.00 to K8, 000.00. I was also intrigued by the spirit of hospitality among the Nawanga people of Nakonde. Indeed, they always served me with meals on bended knees – a typical Zambian sign of respect. The culture of civility and integrity was apparent in both the guest house as well as the person in the street. I was utterly amazed!

“Here we are trained to welcome visitors politely right from our homes; it is not just because we work here… all Namwangas are polite by tradition – mannerism comes first,” said a waitress as she handed me a bottle of mineral water on a sparkling serving tray as she knelt on one knee.

Despite the deplorable state of roads and mountains of rubbish dumps dotted around the town, makeshift shops- fashioned out of scrap wood and corrugated iron sheets leaning drunkenly backwards, the Namwanga people of Nakonde are predominantly serious traders who embrace the principle of integrity and civility – they are a hardworking tribe.

“Incito… incito!” shouted a boy in a red unraveled jersey, battered khaki shorts and bare feet, as he peered at me expectantly.

Even youngsters are a proud lot, albeit being poor. Indeed, they do not want to be branded beggars – they always want to work for money.

I was shocked to see a young man of about eighteen years pushing a trolley the size of a one tonne truck – laden with goods of every sort and kind. I wondered just where he derived such incredible strength from! But legend attributes this power to suspected juju from neighbouring Tanzania, such stories have invariably been in the news for some years now. Indeed, most businessmen in the area are believed to posses a form of magic meant to boost the enterprises. Anyway, that too is another story.

Although Nakonde goods are relatively cheap in shops, the businessmen sometimes take undue advantage of the ailing Zambian economy by hiking prices each time the train stops en route to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia – hence exploiting clients.

“The Kwacha has fallen against the US dollar”, and quickly increase the price of items by ten percent in order to maximise their profits.

But even then, it is still economical to buy goods from Nakonde because the locals are said to procure their items at rock bottom prices from Dubai. The items sold include: household goods, electrical appliances, motor vehicle and bicycle spare parts, bicycles, building materials, among several other things – all lowly priced.

The prices are usually fixed, just like any other shop, but when buying at wholesale there is room for negotiation. I bought enough clothes for my wife and children and the state of the art DVD player – all valued at only K1, 200, 000.00.

If at all there were any shop lifters and pick pockets, I saw none of them. On the contrary, as a visitor, shopping in Nakonde can be surprisingly cheap… believe you me,. I have resolved to save K2, 000, 000.00 to take my family there for a major shopping expedition.

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