Getting Around Like a Pro: the Ride of Your Life

Sara Drawwater
25 April 2010
If you don’t own a personal vehicle and want to get from A to B in any city in Zambia without leaving a big hole in your bank account, hopping onto one of the thousands of white and blue public…

If you don’t own a personal vehicle and want to get from A to B in any city in Zambia without leaving a big hole in your bank account, hopping onto one of the thousands of white and blue public minibuses is your best bet.

Being a constant commuter myself, I can assure you that there is never a dull moment on these buses! From the blaring music of the minibus driver’s choice to moments of hanging on to your seat for dear life through a bumpy ride, you never really know what to expect once you step on board.

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my numerous minibus trips is that it is absolutely imperative that you take three things with you before getting on any minibus: your wallet or purse (with money in it!), patience and a sense of humour.

We all have our memory loss days when you can’t find that pen that you are so sure you left on the table only to find it tucked behind your ear and it’s all very forgiveable. But forgetting your wallet is not forgiveable at all on a minibus. Last week I almost had a panic attack as I searched through my handbag and realised I had left my purse behind. Immediately I had a flashback to the day when another young lady had been in the same predicament. After she had tried to explain profusely to the stone-faced bus conductor that she had left her money purse behind, he had calmly told her that he had heard that excuse too many times before. He assured her he would not drop her off at her stop but would make sure she was dropped off at the very last station so she would have to walk back to her destination. A cold sweat had begun to break across my forehead as I watched the conductor begin to make his way towards me. Fortunately, the gentleman seated next to me must have noticed my wild panicked look because he had worriedly inquired if I was okay and after a garbled explanation from me, had kindly offered to pay my fare. Since then I always triple check to make sure I have money on me — there might not be a knight in shining armour on the next trip!

If you intend to get anywhere on time while using a minibus it is important that you leave at least an hour early. Apart from the usual traffic, bus conductors have the annoying habit of trying to fill up the bus with as many people as possible at each stop. Experience had taught me that becoming impatient does not move the bus along any faster; and arriving late and flustered never helps. You will do well to make sure your patience levels are on full!!

Finally, a good sense of humour is never a bad idea to carry along as you will have many opportunities to make use of it. Two days ago I was surprised to see a man running up to the minibus I was on when the bus came to a stop at the traffic light. The man came right up to my window and thrust a pair of earrings, bracelets and a couple of necklaces in my face. I shook my head to indicate that I was not interested but he continued trying to bargain until the traffic light turned green and the bus drove off. I must admit I was fairly amused by the idea of shopping on my way to work, but the thought of unwrapping a damaged item with no money back guarantee after the bus is well on its way has kept me cautious.

With these tips in mind you will be able to get around on any minibus just fine, maybe even manage to look like a professional!

We invite you to contribute to this blog by sharing some of your experiences on minibuses with us.

And finally, if you are visiting Zambia for the first time and want more information about transportation options, see our website!

Posted by Nambeye Katebe