Regina Jere-Malanda has just returned from her homeland, Zambia. She had been away for four years, and what she saw blew her mind. This is a fascinating story that somehow sums up the condition of Africa today.
For those who do not live in, or have never been to, the copper-rich country called Zambia, and their knowledge of it comes from the media (both local and international), the picture is so grim. Zambia is a no-go area, and there is neither hope nor room for improvement.
We read how the country, like all the other black-led African countries, is on its knees. There is only a litany of woes: economic mismanagement, corruption, abuse of power, and worst of all, HIV and Aids.
If such a cheerless portrait of your country is sold to you at every turn, even the most diehard patriot living abroad is likely to think twice before returning home.
It was, therefore, with monumental apprehension that I recently returned to my country following the death of my beloved father. It had been four years since I last visited -- four years during which, according to the international and local media, Zambia had become a terrible place to return to.
To be honest, for a week before the trip, I developed insomnia -- terrified to my bones at the thought of going to see this broken Zambia. My state of despair was such that on the day of departure, I forgot to bring my plane tickers.
I have been travelling by air for many years, but I had never felt such torment before, not because of the real reason for the trip -- my father's death -- but because I was so scared of what was awaiting me in Zambia -- not just the economic hardship but people dropping dead from Aids or with poverty written all over their foreheads, etc. For the first time I became air-sick.
So it was a relief, at the end of the 12-hour flight (which looked like eternity), to hear the British Airways captain announce that we were descending into Lusaka International Airport. I couldn't wait to breathe the fresh air of Zambia, and feel the sun; yes the sun!
But my excitement was quickly curtailed by what greeted me on the runway! Right in front of us, in the company of two Catholic nuns, was a group of about 300 children -- I guessed all of them under the age of 10 -- smartly dressed in matching white T-shirrs, standing obediently in neat rows and anxious about something.
I walked up to one Zambian lady whom I assumed was the children's teacher bringing them on an educational trip. My heart sunk when she said: "These are Aids orphans from Kasisi, Kabwata and Chilenje [all Lusaka suburbs]. British Airways has organised to give them a treat of their lives by offering them a free ride on the aircraft."
My knees went wobbly, and believe me it wasn't the airsickness. My worst fears were being confirmed! What next?, I worried.
The next day, the "orphans" BA trip to the southern tourist town of Livingstone, where they "flew over the famous Victoria Falls for a spectacular view" was front page news in most of the local papers. One, quoting a BA official wrote: "The Airline has decided to take an interest in the orphans as they are the less privileged, and the flight was one way of contributing to the community in which it operates."
It was a bad start. But my goodness, what I saw on the way from the airport to my waiting relatives at home, told a different story.
I had read sometime during the four years I had been away, a piece from the website of a local newsletter, Lusaka Low-down, giving guidelines to visiting motorists on how to endure Zambia's "potholed" roads.
The situation may have been true then, but the same foreign-owned, widely circulated newsletter has not gone back to tell its readers how Lusaka roads have never looked better than they are now.
I was awe-struck to see how good the Great East Road that links the airport and the...