Welcome to Zambia…

Good news!!!! We’re only here since about a week and have already tested over 60 fish. That’s pretty amazing b but you probably guess that I am not writing a post just to tell you how smooth everything is going…would be very unlike Zambia.

The story began the day before yesterday when our compressor stopped working. The compressor allows us to fill our diving bottles in the field which we need to catch the fish while scuba diving. This is the first time, we did not have a backup compressor and what can I say…Murphies law works very well in Zambia. Fortunately, we knew a very skilled mechanic who even has some necessary spares for our compressor. Unfortunately, he wanted to travel to another town on the very next morning. We agreed with him on coming to Mpulungu (about 40 min boat ride from here) at 7.30 am the next morning before he needed to leave. This meant leaving here at 6.30 am.

Yesterday’s adventure

7.10 am: we are leaving…Zambian time. Not good!!!

7.40 am: Murphie’s law part 2. After three very calm days we have a storm. Everybody is soaked within minutes. Luckily, we covered the compressor very well. We should have covered ourselves a little more I am thinking. Because of the high waves we need to take it slowly which causes us an additional delay.

8.00 am: Arrival in Mpulungu. Near Mpulungu the waves calm down and the wind dries us very quickly as nothing has happened during the ride. We phone the mechanic, hoping he is still willing to help us. He informs us that he is no longer in his office but back to his village to which he orders us. This means another 5-10 minutes of boat ride. No problem.

8.10 am: Murphie’s law part three. The batterie to start the engine of the boat is dead. We cut a little old rope from the boat and use it in an attempt to start the engine manually. Since we’re trying this for 10 minutes without any success, I think about carrying the compressor up the hill and call somebody to drive us to the village.

8.11 am: Always good to have a handy field assistant. He aggressively pulled the damn rope like there was no tomorrow and the engine started.

8.17 am: Murphies’s law part four. We phone the mechanic again to tell him that we arrived in his village. He replied that he is already busy with leaving for his trip. He will send his colleague, he added.

Our boat driver, my field assistant and the compressor waiting for help.

8.40 am: Waiting. The sun is brutal already. The shade crawled back under the huts. A friendly man from the village brought us some chairs to sit on. The children are curious about us Musungus (that is how they call us white people). One boy comes very close to me to look into my green eyes. Green eyes are very rare here. In this little village, Christians and Moslems live peacefully together. Some of the Moslems look more like Musungus but they all have dark eyes.

The boys are very amused about the selfie function of my smartphone.

10.00 am: The second choice mechanic is a very nice and skilled man but how are you supposed to work if you have barely any tools? Let’s not even start with spare parts. He cleaned parts of the engine with petrol and sucked the dirt out of it (yes, with his mouth). After a while he knows what is wrong with the compressor: Different things but the main issue is the air cleaner of the engine. Of course you can only get a spare one in Europe…that would take days if not weeks and block my project entirely.

11.00 am: What I have learned from previous field trips is that you should always have a plan B. Especially in Zambia. My dear Heinz in Switzerland (the actual king of Lake Tanganyika) kindly allowed me to borrow his compressor that he stored in Mpulungu. Phewwwwww…..happy end for now. However, within the next days I need to find a solution how to fix our compressor but I am confident that I will. After all, Zambia is not only the country of unforeseen problems but also the country of unconventional solutions.

Published by caribiologist

Postdoc at the University of Basel, Switzerland

3 thoughts on “Welcome to Zambia…

  1. Is free-Diving an option? How deep are the fish? If you train free-Diving you could stay for 2-5 minutes under water and still dive pretty deep. I used to do scuba diving and stopped with the rescue diver license, eventually I realized it’s not really for me because a. it was very expensive for me at the time because I was just 18 Years old and b. very troublesome with all the gear and c. my total time under water per day was very limited. I found it much more convenient just to take a deep breath. I get down to 10-20m depending on whether I can still see the light and have about 2-3min at that depth and can repeat that. I realized that I have more underwater time in total per day as well. It’s a nice training as well. I never tried to go much deeper though always kept some reserves. I also realized I am much faster under water without gear, which should be helpful for catching fish? You also don’t create noise under water and no bubbles, which probably disturb fish? The only huge risk I found were fishing nets / rods but I always was able to see them on time and without gear it’s much harder to entangle oneself but also if you get caught in one it’s very hard to take time and get out unlike at scuba diving. The other risk is if you overdo with the depth and you do several very deep dives without breaks you can get decompression sickness too. However, I was told at the ridiculous low levels I was going at Zurich lake (mostly 10-20m dives) that I don’t have to worry at all? The others in my group dived much deeper with more ambition.


    1. Hey Johannes, that’s super interesting. I didn’t know you are well trained in free-diving. Definitely see the advantage about it but unfortunately free-diving is in most cases no option for me. Many species are not easy to catch and occur quite deep. Furthermore, you sometimes have to handle them underwater and put them in cages to avoid decompression sickness. All that takes too much time especially with my super small lung volume🙈
      Could be a good option for the species that occur in shallower water. In fact, we sometimes catch those while snorkelling (without scuba equipment).
      Btw, always wanted to dive in Zurich lake. How is visibility at the moment? Greetings to Switzerland. Thanks for your comment!!!:)


      1. The Zürilake – it’s quite cold, the visibility is ok but there is little to see for my ignorant eyes. But it is a good place to learn diving and it’s quite deep, safe, which allows for technical lessons. A good community at the time. For somebody learning diving at the „Tunisee“ the Zürichlake was very exciting at the time. There is also some Awesome research going on about fish noises, which you probably know and archeology investigations where diving in Zürichlake is really exciting then. But I lack any understanding in these fields to grasp any of that. hahah. You have probably much more to discover at your location haha!!! For me Zürich lake is a place to do sports or train free /scuba diving.

        I haven’t been serious about scuba – or free diving for >15 years. I sold my equipment again before I went to Uni. Last time, I scuba dived was in Orkney in 2013. I hired an instructor because I had no experience anymore, no buddy and my experience with dry-suits was little. We went diving at wintertimes in Tunilake with wetsuits in 1998.


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