A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Zambia - Part V: Chishimba Falls with Friends

Medevac Friends: Cherie, Ellyn and Me
A major part of being in Zambia was connecting with my friends there and seeing the country they love and work in. I met both Cherie and Ellyn while I was on medevac in South Africa. Medevac creates some strong bonds. These other volunteers are the only people who really understand what you are going through. They are there to see each step of the process and they themselves are also going through medical problems. Cherie and Ellyn were my support during my last few weeks in South Africa.

So, it was very exciting to meeting up with these friends on their home-turf. Cherie picked us up from the airport and showed us the ropes of Zambia. We traveled south to Victoria Falls and then way up north to Kasama where Ellyn lives. We stayed at Ellyn's house and got to go to school with her and eat meals with her Zambian family. She took us to her market and we cooked at her house. I loved living her life with her for a little bit.

As we were tourist and Ellyn wanted us to see more of her area, the Northern Province, we took two days to traveled deeper into the bush to camp along Chishimba Falls. Chishimba Falls are beautiful falls with several drops. We were able to go swimming here and enjoy one another’s company. Sajay, a PC Zambia volunteer and Sam, a British traveler we met, joined us for this camp out as well.

That night, between 6 Americans and 1 British, we were unable to completely sing through a single song. No one knew all the words to any complete song! Somehow, we found this hilarious and did lots of laughing. We also roasted veggie dogs, made smors (or Ellyn made them for us as we sat around laughing), took a late night dip in the water and danced around the fire. It was a fun night.

Zambia - Part IV: Beautiful Africa

I found it fascinating to be in another African country that had so many similarities yet so many differences. When we landed at the Lusaka airport in Zambia and disembarked from the plane Celeste and I were struck with the dry heat and wind. We continued on our way that day and found everything was more brown and just dry dry dry! We have dry seasons in Uganda but somehow there is still humidity and green.

I was not prepared for Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Lusaka is a beautiful seemingly planned city that looks like an American suburb. There were strip malls! Boulevards! Traffic Lights! Street lights! Two story grocery stores! Stores, not stands! I felt like I was in small-town America. Nothing in Kampala, Uganda's capital, reminds me of America.

Zambia is very poor. Uganda is poor too with 2/3 of the population living under the poverty line of living on less than a $1 a day. I think a big difference is that Uganda is very fertile. We can grow crops year round. In Zambia they have three seasons: rainy season, dry season and hungry season. Zambian's eat Nshima (what we call Posho in Uganda) everyday. It's maize flour mixed with water to a mush. You roll it into a ball with your hands and use it to scoop up beans or whatever sauce you have with it if you can afford a sauce. When I told my friends in Uganda that Zambian's eat nshima everyday they were upset for them and said, "Sorry for them. They should come to Uganda."

That is something both countries have in common - a deep sense of hospitality. Both Ugandans and Zambians will open their homes to you and give you anything they can. During one hitching experience in Zambia Celeste worded the question of getting a ride strangely and the man said, "You need assistance? How much?" He was going to give us money because he thought we needed money! This is what you do in Africa. You give.

I talked to many PCV's in Zambia, fellow travelers and a few international workers and we've deduced that most of Sub-Saharan Africa has the same cultural tendencies. Our frustrations with people are the same: lack of critical thinking skills, belief of entitlement, work ethic (very strong in the home and garden but not in the work place), patriarchal, belief in witch craft, etc. The problems that come from these tendencies are also the same: domestic violence, alcoholism, lack of development though the money is there, corruption, etc.

Through all our frustrations and cynicism's, we all love Africa. Not only is it a beautiful place but these people have become our family and friends. And it is those relationship that change the world. Because every person is the world.

Some beautiful children I met in Zambia:

Zambia - Part III: Getting Around In Zambia

Zambia is a very rural country. It is sparsely populated. After living in busy, sometimes chaotic Uganda for the last year and a half, I was surprised to find Zambia so different. Partly because of the lack of people, thus lack of need for transportation, and partly because of our frugality over unnecessary spending, we found ourselves hitch-hiking through Zambia. Throughout my 2 weeks in Zambia I never paid for a ride except from and to the airport.

A disadvantage that comes with hitch-hiking is that you sometimes find yourself on an empty road with no car in site for hours. Or, you find yourself on the side of the road with no car willing to pick you up. Or, you find yourself on the side of the road being picked up by people who are not going where you want to go but they want to have white passengers in their car so they pretend they are going your direction just to get you in the car. Or, you've been picked up and they go so slow it takes several hours longer than necessary.

One story I particularly like remembering is on the day we tried to get way up North to Kasama where my friend Ellyn lives. We tried, unsuccessfully, for several hours to get a hitch going North. This was a particularly empty road and we decided to take ANYTHING that would stop. Usually we had rules about only flagging down extended cab pick-up trucks, vans, Land Cruisers, etc. Semi-trucks were a definite NO because they are so slow. However, the only vehicle that came along that morning was a huge, fully loaded semi-truck. Lucky, the driver, welcomed us up into his semi. It turns out his brother worked for Peace Corps Zambia so he was happy to give us a lift. Lucky, drove painfully slow. The trip should have taken 6 hours but after 6 hours we were only half-way there.


Now, there was a section of the road where trucks needed to be weighed. It turns out Lucky knew his load was over the weight limit so he had to pull over and wait for the weigh station staff to change shifts. The next shift had a friend of his working who would let him through with only a small bribe. We decided to leave Lucky and find a faster ride. We got a small car to take us a few kilometers further where he stopped and we decided to eat lunch.

After a sit-down lunch we were back on the road trying to flag down a kind, fast driving soul to take us the next leg of the journey to Kasama. Hours passed. Then Cherie's phone rang: "This is Lucky. Where are you girls? In Mpika? O.k. I'm coming to save you." Sure enough, a few minutes later Lucky pulls up in his giant, fully-loaded semi truck to take us the rest of the way to Kasama. Our should have been 6 hour trip took 14 hours. But we made a good friend who we know we could call for anything. I love hitch-hiking in Africa!






Zambia - Part II: Elephant Safari

We as Peace Corps Volunteers are not racking in the money. Our monthly allowance is enough to cover our basic needs and some months we can even set money aside to be used later. I try and save half to 2/3 of my allowance each month with the intent of using that savings on fun activities and vacations. Over the last year I saved enough to cover my trip to Zambia and to participate in some “touristy” activities. The trick to traveling on a Peace Corps budget is to find a travel buddy who has the same mentality: travel frugally but don’t be afraid to spend money. Thank you, Celeste, for being that travel buddy.

Victoria Falls area is very touristy and prices are high. We talked about the things we really wanted to do and with Cherie and Laura (PC Zambia friends) we decided we wanted to do an elephant back safari along the Zambezi River. We sucked up our frugality and shelled out the exorbitant money requested. Then early in the morning we ventured out atop elephants and it was beautiful!

While it was marketed as a safari the only animals we saw were guinea fowl and antelope, two animals we have an abundance of in Uganda. The other girls reminded me that we were on elephants and that should be an experience all on its own but a part of me was still disappointed we didn’t see more game.

Elephants are amazing creatures. Their skin is tough and they are covered in little hairs. Their eye lashes are the envy of any woman. They slowly ramble around enjoying life and eating whenever they feel like it. It was fun being with these monstrously sized animals. And it was fun riding through the African prairie and river on top of an elephant.

Zambia - Part 1: Victoria Falls

When you dream of traveling the world, what do you want to see? I’ve wanted to see Victoria Falls since I learned about it in Culture Club way back in the 4th grade. The world’s longest waterfall, Africa and rainbows – who wouldn’t want to go to Victoria Falls?! While I was on medevac in South Africa I met PCV’s from all around Africa. When I met two girls from Zambia I knew my opportunity was coming. Over many enthusiastic conversations about Zambia the invitation was given and I readily accepted. I was going to Zambia.

I convinced my good friend Celeste to travel with me and using our precious vacations days we set off to see a wonder of the world and connect with my dear friends there.

Victoria Falls is breath taking! They are so long you cannot see them all at once. They span space in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s the dry season right now so the falls were not in their fullest glory yet I still found them astounding. They are a true wonder of the world.

Since it was the dry season we had the opportunity to swim on the very top, right at the edge of the falls over the Zimbabwe side. This was by far one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. We took a boat to Livingstone Island, hiked a short ways then were told to swim across the Zambezi River to an out cropping of rocks. Now, when I signed up for this adventure I wasn’t expecting to swim across a raging river that drops off into some of the biggest falls in the world. Where we were to swim was right after a patch of rapids and right before another patch which then became the edge. I watched the first person jump in and get swept by the current far down from our intended goal. I turned to Celeste and blamed her for this hair brained idea and accused her of trying to get me killed. Truth be told, it was my idea but I really didn’t know what I was getting into.

We managed to make it across the river swimming with all the fear of God in us. Then we climbed up the rocks and could see a small pool of water. We also could see the drop of the falls. Our hearts were staccatoing at a rapid speed and we turned to each other hoping one would back out giving the other the excuse not to make the plunge. Neither backed down. Celeste went first jumping over the rapids into a “calm” pool and swimming right up to the ledge of Victoria Falls. When I saw that she didn’t go over and a natural lip was keeping her there I also jumped in. Together we glanced over the edge and shivered in fear, excitement and amazement. We were at the top of Victoria Falls!

There were experienced Zambians leading us through our adventure the whole time. They even stood on the lip keeping us safe. I had bruises on my shoulder afterwards from where one of them held me down firmly in the water because I kept floating up and almost over. We joked that at least our families would have a good story line of how we died, “My daughter died when she fell over Victoria Falls.” But don’t worry Mom and Dad, there is no need because we lived and now are here to share our great adventure. Now you can say, “My daughter swam on top of Victoria Falls!”

A surprising addition to the falls were pesky baboons. Celeste and I did not like these. Maybe we were biased from the beginning because way back in training a volunteer had told of us of her vacation to Zambia where she was bit by a baboon and had to get lots of rabies shots. With the story still in our heads we avoided paths with baboons, walked quickly and never made eye contact. Again, we lived to tell of it.

Victoria Falls is a beautiful natural wonder of the world. I hope to see it again someday.