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A royal ride to swampy Lunga

Travelogue: MWILA NTAMBI, Lunga
LUNGA district in Luapula Province is an amazing place. It is incredible in the sense that while it possesses abundant water resources that are a marvel to watch, the same are a hindrance to effective transportation of goods and services to and from the district.
If one is a farmer in Lunga, they will find it quite challenging to deliver whatever they produce to the market because for one to transport 20 bags of rice to the market, they need a bigger boat. Unfortunately, this is not easily accessible to ordinary residents who rely on banana boats for movement.
Lunga is a swampy area that requires people to use water channels to move from one village to another. This makes life in Lunga quite challenging, though unique.
My journey to Lunga late last month was both enlightening and life-changing. It was enlightening because I learnt quite a lot about the area.
I was delighted to see for myself what others may only be privileged to learn in Geography. I saw the point at which the Chambeshi River meets Lake Bangweulu and becomes Luapula River. I was also privileged to travel on the little talked-about Kwenge Lake, which forms part of the journey to Lunga.
For a person with a phobia for water and no swimming skills, going to Lunga was a very nervous moment for me.
Previously, I only heard something about the district from a media colleague based in Luapula Province who was in Kitwe to attend a workshop organised by the Electoral Commission of Zambia.
When I told this colleague that I would be travelling to Lunga, he swore to me that he would resign if he was transferred to such a place. He highlighted the everyday challenges people in that area endure and lamented the ‘harshness’ of the terrain. So as I was starting off for Lunga, I had a very gloomy picture about the place.
My journey began at about 14:20 hours from Mpanta in Samfya. I was advantaged to be in the company of acting Lunga district commissioner Martin Chilukwa and was happy to get a ‘royal ride’ on my way there. This is because Chief Nsamba of the Unga people was the coxswain in charge of the buffer boat we boarded.
In fact, my nervousness subsided when I heard that he had been navigating the waters for many years. I felt even more comfortable that the traditional leader was a safety-conscious man who provided life jackets for all of us on board.
The boat was quite big and comfortable and only had four people on board. The chief’s boat had a 40 horse Yamaha engine and as such it was quite fast.
After travelling a few minutes on Lake Bangweulu and leaving the point where the Chambeshi River becomes Luapula River, we ventured into the canals.
Mr Chilukwa informed me that the canals were tributaries of the Chambeshi River and that our former colonial masters are the ones who dug them for purposes of transporting military equipment during World War II.
I learnt from him that the canals provided a ‘safer’ passage for the war participants as they could not easily be seen by their nemeses. There is a point where a machine that was used to dig the canals rests on the water.
The longer we took travelling on water, the more relaxed I became and momentarily forgot about my water fright.
Meanwhile, our navigator always ensured that he slowed down whenever he met a smaller boat or canoe. Countless canoes carrying families and sometimes fishermen were seen along the way.
Minutes passed, hours elapsed, and the journey seemed unending. I looked at my watch and it was 16:00 hours but I was told we still had a long way to go. In the waterways, there were lots of overgrown weeds.
I learnt that these weeds needed to be removed because they made the canals narrower and were a hindrance to the smooth passage of larger vessels. At night, the weeds also proved risky for travellers and it dawned on my mind that there was need to clear the unwanted plant to improve the efficiency of water transport in the area.
About 16:30 hours, we made a stop-over at Chief Kasomalunga’s palace. Here, Mr Chilukwa showed me the classroom in which government workers usually ‘lodge’ when they are in the area as there are no formal lodging facilities to talk about.
Apparently, people usually carry their own mattresses and water when they are spending more than a day there. I saw children and women washing their dishes in the water. I also saw the houses for teachers and the rundown infrastructure at Kasomalunga Primary School. But the break here was not long.
After Chief Nsamba checked on his colleague who we learnt was unwell, the journey resumed and we were back on water.
I enjoyed the scenery and the plant life nearby and beneath the water. Wherever we saw huts and villages, the good chief and navigator of the day, told me the name of that village and the presiding traditional leader.
At some point, Chief Nsamba showed me the village where former Luapula member of Parliament Peter Machungwa hails from. It is locally known as Ku Matongo. By then, it was getting dark and anxiety was creeping in.
From Chief Kasomalunga’s palace, we travelled for about one and half hours before we arrived in Chief Nsamba’s area, otherwise known as Ku Muchanga. The place was a hive of political activity as people awaited President Lungu’s historic visit the following day.
We arrived at a small lodge owned by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (formerly Zambia Wildlife Authority) where most of the dignitaries awaiting President Lungu slept.
Here, I was offered a small room with modest beddings. The floor was polished with a red substance locally known as Mwandaba.
But the welcome was marvellous. When people heard that there was a reporter from Zambia Daily Mail, there was a ‘near stampede’ as a horde of them made their way to come and say hello, and in no time, supper was organised for us. After munching a piece of a duck and nshima, I called it a night.
But the night remained hectic as ecstatic residents sang their lungs out to revel President Lungu’s expected arrival in the area.
After President Lungu’s rally the following day, we had to prepare to get back to Samfya. The voyage back was not straight forward. We got on a boat up to Chief Kasomalunga’s area and had to wait a bit for someone who had a boat that was to ferry us to Samfya. We left Kasomalunga’s village around 16:00 hours, and spent about five hours cruising on water.
We arrived in Samfya when it was already dusky, and travelling by boat at night was bloodcurdling. There were no life jackets like was the case on our way to Lunga. I realised that sometimes, one’s faith just has to prevail over fear. We arrived at Mpanta in Samfya at 20:45 hours and I felt so relieved.
I was thankful for the experience and the exposure to everything I found in Lunga. You have to go there to appreciate life’s diversity!

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