September 4th, 2013
(starting again from this post. I was going to Lusaka with Misheck, who was calculating how much change I was about to get)
Note: In a minute here I’ll add photos to that post as well.
..and then I got change.
So Misheck and I (I had been spelling his name wrong, it’s correct now: Misheck) were on mini bus to Lusaka. It quickly became quite crowded (it was already crowded – I mentioned there were four people per row in the back three rows, and three in the front row including the driver, for a total of 15 people in a car the size of a VW “hippie” bus), and this was, as Misheck put it, a “low-roof” van, so I was hunched over the whole time. Every time we went over a bump, if I didn’t duck, I would hit my head. “I am thinking for the way back we should get a big roof van,” Misheck said. I concurred.
It was approximately THIS crowded.
After a little more than an hour (for about a ten mile ride) we exited the bus in the heart of Lusaka. Okay, southwest of the heart of Lusaka, but we were inside the city, and there was a lot going on. We didn’t exit right at the bus station, but soon came to it. There were a lot of buses.
More than this many buses.
I’m not convinced Misheck knew how to read a map, but I would later find we were headed the right way. The way he guided me through the city reminded me of the guide I had in Darjeeling, Dawa. When I asked Dawa how he knew where we were going, he simply said, “It’s in my blood.” I get the feeling Misheck just knew because, you know, he lived here. I don’t think he’s spent a lot of time in the city, but eventually he got us where we were going, and there aren’t even any street signs. So whatever the case, points for him.
On that note, he did have to ask for directions once, but only once we were practically across the street. He commented to me that people here are really good at giving directions, and really want to help. If they don’t know, they will tell you. This is unlike people in Guatemala, who will apparently give you directions even if they don’t know where you are going so they don’t have to be embarrassed. Just a cultural anecdote.
Anyways, after some confusion about which building it was exactly, Paul, one of the Zambike’s employees, came out in the street to meet us. Zambikes shares a lot with Southern Steel, but has no signs, so I think our confusion was justifiable.
I mean, except for the bikes.
(you couldn’t see the bikes from the street)
Anyways, we were brought inside, and Paul entertained us for the next half hour or so. “I am a historian,” he would say, before launching into a lecture about the different tribes in Africa, or how Zambia was the heart of Africa.
Something I noticed was the Misheck wasn’t the odd man out. I was paying him for the day so I wasn’t too worried about it, but I sort of did think he would just sort of stay in the shadows for the day. In fact, he was just as engaged as I was. The folks at Zambikes seemed to take a genuine interest in him, asking him where he was from, what he was doing, etc. They even asked him to stop by and volunteer next week. I thought that was pretty cool. I imagine that in India, depending on the caste of my guide, there may have been some issues (or just some complete and utter silence). But – a theme I will perhaps touch on more and more – it seems like everyone here just wants to be friends.
Misheck is on the left. Really fast biker dude is on the right.
After a while, Mwewa, the head of Zambikes Zambia, came in and introduced himself. We had never met in person, but he was my Zambian contact via e-mail after Dustin (the founder of Zambikes) moved to Uganda to start Zambikes Uganda. We spoke for a bit and he invited me to the production facility, an invitation which I graciously accepted. After another ten minutes or so (there is a lot of waiting here – patience is part of the culture, I think), we all hopped in a truck and got going.
On the way I had a few questions for Mwewa. As I think I’ve indicated, Zambikes isn’t completely transparent to me (not their fault, just, you know, they have been 4000 miles away from where I live). Most of my readers know by now I’m interested in starting a social enterprise, so I had (and will continue to have) questions there, too.
Of the more relevant things we discussed, I asked about their client base. Who do they sell to? At what rate? Are there discounts? Mwewa said they sell primarily to people are social butterflies. That is, people who need regular transport for their work, and whose work is to help other people. Teachers. Priests. Social workers. Agricultural educators.
It seems like a pretty cool market.
I mean, this guy’s cool, and he’s in the market.
As far as prices go, Mwewa indicated that Zambikes receives no subsidies or discounts from the government. As such, they have to sell their bikes at full price. While this isn’t ideal from the standpoint of a social enterprise, it is absolutely necessary from the standpoint of a business. At the least, Zambikes isn’t “a bunch of white guys trying to make money.” The vast majority of the workers are local. Even Dustin quickly forfeited his position as head of Zambikes Zambia to Mwewa, a born and bred Zambian. So while they aren’t giving bikes away to the people who need them, Zambikes is providing sustainable jobs to the local economy. And to be frank, they sell great bikes at a great price.
They have really justified, in my mind, a “full price” social enterprise. In my naivity, I think I have always believed that any real “help” from another country has to be offered freely. In just the past few weeks, with the combination of having read Poor Economics, having asked Zambikes the right questions, and having done some research on my own, I’ve come to believe the opposite is true more often than not. I’ll talk more about this later, in any post about starting a social enterprise, but I wanted to mention it here.
In any case, it’s 18km from town to the Zambikes production facility, about a 20 minute drive or probably a 1 hour bus ride (the busses are constantly starting and stopping). We arrived at the facility and basically hung out for a few hours. I already knew I wasn’t going to start work yet, because I didn’t want to work a day, take two weeks off, then start work again (see my previous post on what I’m currently doing in Macha instead).
But we were still happy to be there!
I will detail the facility more once I start work there. For now, suffice it to say, Zambikes has the space they need to make things happen. They aren’t working out of their garage… *ahem.* So the first time I visited, I just met the workers, explored a bit, asked some good questions (like “Can I take a picture of that cool looking patented device over there?” – No), etc. It was interesting to talk to the employees, who are all locals, and who have been with Zambikes for various amounts of time. Israel, for instance, was the “metal cutter guy –” he cuts the metal pipes they use to make the Zambulances. He’s taking night classes at a community college for computer science. We got to geek out a bit. It was funny – for some reason I find myself expecting the people here to be fairly uneducated. It’s not entirely unfounded, and I’ll talk more about that later, but I am impressed and often happily surprised when people have a good amount of schooling.
I also got to see the guest house, which is pretty cool. I’m not sure if there is housekeeping or not – I think it might be impromptu. Both times I met a woman living there named Staz, short for Anastazia, who was very kind and bright. The second time, she made lunch for everyone visiting. It seems like it will be a swell place to live.
If you don’t mind living in the bush, that is.
Anyways, at some point we went back into town. Misheck and I hung out some more, then were given a ride to the bus station. I bought lunch for Misheck and Paul, and we chatted a bit (Paul gave us another history lesson – he’s a talker) before Misheck and I caught the bus. The busses don’t leave until they are full, and if you get on before the leave, people try and sell you things. It’s sort of the same as India, with people walking around shoving things in your face saying “I give you good price sir!” except they… hiss. Yea. Somebody waved Frito Lays in front of my face and hissed. It’s how they get your attention. It’s certainly less intrusive than, “Okay sir, okay. For you I give special price.” I just didn’t expect it.
(you’re looking at three stories of empty Coke bottles)
At the bus station the second day, Paul had to get going, so we didn’t stop for lunch. Misheck asked that instead of paying him for the day, I bought his sister a pair of shoes. I thought that was a pretty reasonable request. I might actually want to do that more than paying him – I know Mischeck isn’t going to spend it on alcohol or anything, but it’s somehow ratifying to know it got put to a good cause. Again, it’s none of my business what Misheck does with his money, and I know he’s a good guy. It was just… new.
So, a bus ride back, and we were at home again. On the first day, we arrived just as “the children” were headed home – the kids who worked in the field until about 5. When we got off the bus they walked behind me and whispered between themselves. I turned to say hi and they scattered… which I sort of expected after the orange incident (two blog posts back). So Misheck and I kept walking until about 20 of them were behind us. Then, I jumped, turned, put out my hands, and roared like a monster. They all scattered, and then they all fell to the ground laughing. It was pretty great.
The second day after the bus ride, we stopped to play soccer. Flying Mission sponsors a soccer team – the is, they own the land a soccer field is on. At 4 every day, the under-15s play, and at 5, the over-15s play. We got back about 5:15, so jumped in with the over-15s. We didn’t play a game, we just played for possession, but it was really good to play soccer again. It’s my favorite sport next to ultimate frisbee, and I hadn’t played since early college.
My (American) pre-conceived notions told me all the Zambian kids were going to be really good at soccer. Many of them were, in fact, quite good – better than me. But at the end of day, I think they were just kids having fun. There will undoubtedly be a soccer post; for now, suffice it to say that playing soccer is a better way to occupy your time than doing drugs or begging.
(side note: The pre-conceived notions I mention aren’t entirely unfounded. The Zambian national team is one of the only teams in the world that doesn’t buy or sell players – it’s composed entirely of Zambians)
So, that’s all for now. I’ve raked up quite the queue of posts for everyone. I think I can cover Macha in two posts; plus I’ve promised a soccer post now, and my sister wants a food post… *ahem.*
‘Till next time.