I spent most of January and February 2017 in Mongu. For better or worse, time in Mongu also means time in The Capital. For worse, time in the Capital means time at Lusaka InterCity bus station.
I have learned to make a fragile peace with InterCity, but despite this, it remains one of my least favourite places in Lusaka. I think that says something when a public transport advocate hates the country’s main travel hub.
My issue with InterCity is “the dudes” that populate it. I usually arrive on foot, and when I do I am typically approached about 200m outside the station.
“Big man, Livingstone? Copperbelt? Let’s go.”
It would be one thing if I needed only to juke a single call boy – or tout, use the term you prefer. The problem is that the advanced party is only the first of a relentless cycle that follows me up to the ticket window. That peace I mentioned earlier? In part, it is because I am now more comfortable to pull up and retort “iwe, #$%^ off” to when someone touches me. I have a longer list of phrases and jokes to identify myself as local-ish to deflect the less aggressive.
I understand the possibility that on occasion, these dudes might actually help a person find something or help carry a bag. I am not against having information and porter services operate in an unregulated manner. But the current situation at InterCity makes it hard, not easier, to find things and maneuver luggage. In part because there are so damn many of these guys hanging around following people.
Which is why I was surprised to see that call boys are officially banned from InterCity.
After one arrival at InterCity I mercifully plopped myself down in the taxi I had hired from among the drivers pushing at the bus door and started chatting (my opinion on taxi drivers is different since they’re actually useful). I asked the driver about his own practice of mobbing passengers and his perspective on call boys.
“I don’t like the way this place works, but if I just stood back and smiled, I would probably spend the whole day without getting a fare. As for the call boys, sometimes there are efforts to chase them. But when they’re chased, where do they go and what do they do? It’s kind of accepted that harassing people at the bus station is better than what they’ll get up to otherwise.”
I see the driver’s point, interpreting it as yet another symptom of an economy that is fundamentally unfair. But, for me, that does not make it OK that bus passengers are among the citizens who are sacrificed to call boy behaviour. I suppose I would rather take my turn then have them turned loose on the compounds from where they come. But instead of this being the only option, I would rather that the patrons of the shopping malls, financial institutions, suburban office parks, etc. get their equitable dose of call boy. Maybe that would increase the incentive to do something about that unfair economy.