I’m not a Trainspotter….

African TAZARA RailwayNow let me say first, I am not a trainspotter. I had a brief phase when I was 8 years old, but I managed to pull myself away from it. I do remember getting excited however at spotting a particular type of train……. enough of that before I vilify any reputation I have online. 🙂

I was flicking through some channels the other day, and came across a documentary called African Railway, filmed by Bafta Nominee Sean Langan.  What got my interest it that the subject of the documentary was the TAZARA railway, which runs from Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. Those of you that know where I live in Zambia, will know that the railway runs some 3km from my house. I often saw the trains running and had to cross the track every time I went anywhere. So I had a genuine reason to be interested 🙂

The particular interest of the documentary was the ‘inefficiency’ of the railway and how it is kept running by the everyday people that work on it. Sean often tries to track down and talk to the mysterious Chinese investors in the railway, and is blocked by that mysterious almost divine power of African bureaucracy.

It was interesting viewing for me, because I no longer have the simple view of a European, I have a fair amount of African mixed in as well. Facts that seemed to be presented as shocking such as lack of maintenance, long hours worked, how things are ‘just’ kept running and the like, didn’t really shock me at all. I actually found it quite amusing that someone would expect these things to be solved and running well at all. It really highlighted to me the chasm of difference between the UK and Zambia, in particular in terms of expectation. Every time a fact was highlighted as surprising, it simply struck me as normal.

In the UK we expect so many things to work out OK. The pensions strike action is a good example of that. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, the driving force is an assumption that life should be fair and equitable. If it isn’t, well we can do something about it. That is simply not the case in Africa. Many workers are not paid on time, conditions can be terrible and life very hard. However, there is a ‘working with’ or ‘acceptance’ of those facts, that is actually admirable. You could call them enduring qualities.

Perhaps an area in the Church where you see this, is where we blame God. We expect everything in our life to be well. We don’t expect anything to go wrong. However, life is not like that is it? And yet, when things do not go well and our expectation is crossed, we blame God. I have never found an African who does this, certainly not openly…… interesting isn’t it?

Africa causes me sometimes to be irritable, but I think I have learned to have more realistic expectations in life. Maybe we all should take that lead and we would spend more time enjoying life, rather than fighting against something to simply being dissatisfied.

So no, I’m not a trainspotter, but I did learn something from the African Railway.


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