My final destination on this Around the World adventure was Livingstone, Zambia. Arrived with few expectations. This was not my first visit to Africa - I have been to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Morocco - but each country is different. I had chosen to go to Zambia because of its proximity to Victoria Falls and because of the volunteer projects available in the country. I was looking forward to doing more outdoor work.
My accommodations in Livingstone were really quite nice. I was in a guesthouse with nine other volunteers, and this time I had my own bedroom and bathroom. Yay!
As we were all getting settled in, we decided to walk into town. It seemed close and there was nothing else to do. We really didn't even know what "town" would be, but we were confident that we could get local currency "Kwacha" and see a bit of the area where we were going to be living for a while.
Finding our way to town was easy - in Zambia, most people speak English. But they also speak their local languages and there are 72 different languages spoken in this small country. It provides for very interesting sounds as you move among the locals.
All the volunteers speak English, but for many of them, English is a second or third language. I realized how challenging this could be for some people when one of the other volunteers had her ATM card held by the machine because her transaction took too long. She wasn't sure about the meaning of the word "withdrawal". She had to go back to the bank the next day (as this was a Sunday and banks were closed) to claim her ATM card. It clearly happens often as the bank manager pulled out a stack of ATM cards from the machine!.
The nice thing about the city center is that it has pretty much everything you need. There aren't as many choices as we have at home, but I found good coffee (so important!) and free wifi. And several interesting restaurants. I could see that I would be walking into town (about 45 minutes each way) quite often.
The other volunteers in my house were either working on medical placements (providing immunizations, distributing HIV medications - the estimated HIV rate is 25% of the population! - , assisting with pre-natal care, etc.), teaching, or working in a senior citizens' home. It providing some interesting conversations over meals when we discussed our work days.
My project was in construction. In Zambia, education is not free, which means that many children do not attend schools. The organization with which I was working, Dream Livingstone, is building a school that will provide free education to children. I would be working to help build the school.
The facility itself was right around the corner from my guest house. The build was scheduled as a five year project, but it looks like it may actually finish in about 2 1/2 years thanks to the work of the local staff and all of the volunteer hours being put into the project.
The original plan was to build the caretaker's house first, and then have someone live there while the school is being built. But children started showing up at the facility before the house was even finished so Dream Livingstone revised their plan and began offering classes in the caretaker's home. On the days when I was working, 50-60 children would show up each day for class! Happy to learn and excited to have a place to go.
The construction team consisted of two Zambians who led the project, and then six guys and one girl - me. I think I held my own... but it was really hard work! We shoveled gravel and sand, made concrete blocks, cleaned out construction debris, and poured concrete. It was really great to be able to see the progress daily. And I loved being in an environment where the children who would eventually use the school were playing and learning right nearby. I hope to be able to see the finished project someday.
My daily routine usually involved waking very early (I never got used to the time change) so I would go for a walk and listen to a podcast. It was cold in the mornings - it is winter in the Southern hemisphere - but got pretty warm in the afternoons. The locals always say hi as you pass them, and the children run up to greet you! It's a pretty special way to start the day.
We had a long break in the middle of the day - the construction was really hard work! - and I would usually use that break to go for another walk. And after our project work finished at the end of the day, I would walk into town to explore. I hadn't really paid attention to how much I was walking until I met another volunteer who said "oh, you're the girl who walks everywhere." I guess I was...
The great thing about Livingstone is that I never felt unsafe. The people are friendly and eager to talk to you. I got asked for drinks several times (not sure if these were legitimate offers or whether the people were just being friendly) and was often asked to be in pictures with the locals. This was a beautiful place to spend some time.
The area in which I as staying was for people of moderate means, but I knew that this is not how everyone in Livingstone was living. I wanted to get a broader perspective of local life, so the Dream Livingstone team suggested that I go to see a rock mine. We asked a staff member to lead us on the "30 minute walk".
(Note - when people give you distances in Livingstone, it is always defined by how long it will take to walk there. The estimates given by the locals should be assumed to be shorter than the actual time it will take for you to get somewhere.)
After an hour of walking in the heat (it was a particularly brutal day!), we arrived at the quarry. This place puts life into perspective - those of us in the Western world truly won the birth lottery! Had I been born in Livingstone, this very easily could have been my life. The men use metal poles to separate the rocks from the walls - no jack hammers involved. Then the women break the rocks into smaller pieces and the children then separate the rocks by sizes. I watched one woman break down rocks while a baby was attached to her back! Her other child - perhaps he was 2? - was sorting rocks beside her.
I always ask before I take pictures of people, but several women asked to have their pictures taken with me. There was a part of me that wondered if I was being exploitive of their situation, but I decided that I was not selling these photographs. Merely using them as a way to capture the experiences of these individuals.
As we walked out of the quarry, we were all quieter than we had been when we arrived. There were some children playing in the area - using tires as toys - and they smiled and yelled "misuno" (sp? it means white person) as we walked by. When I approached the street, a man holding an American flag asked if we could be photographed together, and I obliged. The walk back to our guesthouse did not seem so hot any more.
Since it was my last day as a volunteer, I joined some other volunteers to watch the sunset over the Zambezi river. We went to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, which has the distinctive feature of having wild zebra running around the grounds! Rumor has it that they have giraffe as well, but I never saw them. We got a table on the patio and toasted the week of hard work and watched the sunset.
On Saturday morning, I started the day with a cycling tour of Livingstone. Joining me on this tour was a woman from New Zealand who had spent the week working in a senior citizen home. She had some interesting observations about her experience, but expressed gratitude that the woman who runs the home takes such care in her position.
Our guides for the day were two locals - one of whom plays football for the Zambian National team. It does not pay well, so he does this job to make a living.
We spent four hours exploring Livingstone. We saw another rock mine - it was Saturday so there were fewer people working, but sadly, those who were working were women with children. We also visited a church service - such beautiful music and dancing! The people were truly enjoying the service. Our tour took us through a local village where we met a fisherman who was showing off his catch, which included a fish with nasty looking teeth. The fisherman bragged about his granddaughter who is attending school and so very smart.
The cycling company was started by a Zambian national who uses the proceeds to fund his own school. Our tour included a visit to the school, which was packed with children milling about on a Saturday. Each one wanted to have his or her picture taken and then see the picture on the screen. I wished that I could have printed out copies for them so that each could keep a copy.
We finished our tour with a visit to a local market. Most of the items sold were fairly common, but there were two products that were unusual. One was dried caterpillars. Apparently, these are popular to eat - deep fried, of course! The other was rocks. Pregnant women suck on these rocks in order to absorb the iron from them. Such a resourceful (literally!) use of something found in nature.
We finished out our ride along a road that had wild orangutans along the path. I was told that I would see many, many more wild apes when I finally made it to Victoria Falls- my next stop.