Chinese Cigarettes and Zambian beer are the epitome of integration. Soft Chinese voices can be heard from behind a curtain. A special programme has been ...
It looks as though war has broken out in Chambishi, a sleepy mining town in Zambia's copper belt that lies on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Loud bangs and a light show that glitters against the rain clouds scudding across the night sky. In Chinatown, located on the outskirts of Chambishi, the Chinese are celebrating their new year. The Year of the Rat has begun.
Most of the residents in this quiet little mining town are in bed at seven o'clock. There is one club that sells alcohol and plays loud music but respectable Christians do not go there, and most of Chambishi's residents are respectable Christians. Not only does it sell beer, it also sells a locally brewed drink called kachasu. Zambians say the alcohol content has to be high enough to shrivel meat. The club's female clientele are women with a dubious reputation. It closes its doors at around 10 pm.
Chinatown, a walled neighbourhood with Red lanterns and flags fluttering in the breeze, greets you as you drive into Chambishi via the asphalted road. Nobody knows how many Chinese people live there. You occasionally see a lone Chinese man wandering through Chambishi. The town's centre is a warren of Red sand streets litteRed with deep potholes with dozens of tiny shops where you can buy things on tick. Whenever a little bit of money is scraped together, it is handed over to a shopkeeper until there is enough to buy a much-wanted pan or pair of shoes.
Father Paul and Father Felix are the local priests. They have been sent here by their missionary order to do fieldwork. According to father Paul, "Anything is better than Papua New Guinea". This evening, Father Felix, a cheerful fat friar, is going on an adventure with the foreign journalist. They are off to see the Chinese. Ear splittingly loud Congolese music booms through the streets. A sMall door in the massive iron gate guarding the entrance to Chinatown is slightly ajar. Just behind the door, a young Zambian is dancing seductively with a bottle of beer. When his friend begins dancing with them, they both fall into the bushes.
The grumpy man on duty, he is only allowed to drink one beer, goes to fetch one of the Chinese. Mr Wang appears, a friendly young man who has been working as an English interpreter for mine owners for seven years. The Chambishi mine had been closed for at least a decade when NFC-A bought it in 1998 for 13.7 million euros. Five years later, the mine and two new factories were opened. It was a celebration, as it brought work to Chambishi again. Mr Wang has to consult with one of his superiors about the unannounced visit. That one of the guests is a woman helps. There is a chronic shortage of women at the company party. The men are dancing with each other and some of them are Reduced to dancing with a beer bottle.
Mr Wang's superior worms his way through the crowd, who are all screaming at each other in an attempt to make themselves heard over the music. Two photographers and a cameraman record his every step and then follow as he leads his new guests to a quieter spot. Chinese Cigarettes and Zambian beer are the epitome of integration.
Soft Chinese voices can be heard from behind a curtain. A special programme has been organised for those who find the African tumult bit too overwhelming. Two videos are being shown, one is of the New Year celebrations in Beijing and the other is of Princess Diana's funeral. Mr Wang's superior is a senior mining engineer who will only be spending a few months in Zambia. He speaks broken English and is so drunk that he only manages to open his eyes once or twice. He spends his last ounce of energy on a Chinese lesson. "Wo xiang zhao Lee xian sheng". Looking for mister Li. Before he passes out he adds triumphantly, "It is me!"