So I've just got back from one of the most eyeopening experiences I have had to date, after spending 12 days in Zambia I have a new appreciation for the simple things in life and have gained a thirst for more experiences like it.
How to describe Zambia? The sense of community within smaller towns is incredible and the people are so welcoming you almost forget you are a foreigner. Almost.
My trip was with my university so this gave me an opportunity to visit some of their university buildings in Lusaka, I'm not sure I would have done this had I done the visit on my own. You cant even start a comparison between how our universities in the UK run, for a start I hate how technology has taken away from what a library should be, but the University of Zambia's library was a tranquil haven of old school desks and actual bookshelves rammed full of books. It was quite when we visited as it was the holidays but there were still a few committed students scribbling away inside.
Following our brief visit into Lusaka we departed on a shortish bus journey to Kabwe. I say shortish because any form of bus journey in Zambia seems to take a life time. As the trip went on we came to call this 'Zambian time', no one seems to be in a rush to do anything in Zambia - except some drivers, they're mad. But it was a strange thing to get used to, don't give yourself a tight schedule when your in Zambia, it wont work and you'll be annoyed that your constantly trying to catch up on yourself whilst missing out on the wonders of Zambia. So go with the flow, do as the locals do.
When we had arrived and settled in to our lodgings we left to visit into the communities we would be working in. On the first day we were all working at one of the community schools, when I say community schools I mean built, funded and run entirely by the community. We were told that the teachers at these schools are not qualified but are simply the most literate in the community and therefore put themselves forward to teach, for free. Although there are a massive 72 different languages within Zambia, everyone is required to learn English when they go to school, this made it a lot easier for us although there was a high appreciation if you could manage the local greeting of 'moonishiny' (translation; hello, how're you?) and respond with 'bueno' (translation; I'm fine). Many of the locals had never met anyone from outside of Kabwe before, this meant we were quite a novelty and we obviously stood out from the crowd. This was made obvious on the first day when we had to walk through their bustling market to get to the school we were working at, there was a moment of pause when they noticed us approaching and alot of staring. It may sound extremely intimidating and it was to an extent, but they meant no harm by it, they were simply curious and soon enough many of them wanted to shake your hand and say hello. As we continued our walk through the community we were picking up quite a following of young children, some couldn't have been much older than two. These were the kids we would be working with and they all wanted to be your friend as soon as you met them.
I realise this is my TRAVEL blog so I won't bore you with the details of what we did during these days coaching, that can be found on my coaching blog. Instead I'll skip to being a tourist in Livingston.
Kabwe is of course an amazing place but after working there we got to spend a short few days being typical tourists in the wonderful Livingston.
We stayed in the backpackers place known as Jollyboys, if you intend on visiting Livingston as a traveler as apposed to the prim and proper tourist that requires a hotel then this is the place to stay. It has everything you need - a bed, a shower, a bar, a chillout zone and if your desperate to update your facebook status - internet. They also have loads of options of trips you can do, varying from the Bungee on Victoria Bridge to white water rafting down the Zambezi.
As we arrived in the early evening on our first day the only option we were really left with was to wander into the town and see what was going on, we had been told their were some great tourist markets here for souvenirs so we went on the hunt for these. As we walked up the street we passed by many street stalls of locals selling anything from dried fish to mobile phones, if these were the 'amazing tourist markets' we were in search of we had drawn the short straw here. I then spotted some African looking paintings over the road so we decided to check there as a last resort before heading back empty handed. As we got closer it was clear that this was aimed at tourists and the stalls we had walked past were where the locals did their shopping as they would not be seen in this area unless they were selling. There was stall after stall of amazing local craft work, there was no doubt that the work was made here as you could see people still painting by the side of their stalls which I loved. The paintings there were selling were nothing short of amazing, I went slightly mad and bought about five, but I haggled for each and every one and could have kept buying more until I had bought them all. If you get caught by spending one split second too long looking at something in their shop then they will be telling you their story with one of their items in your hand in a haggling war with you before you even realise what is going on - I'm pretty sure I came out with a few things I didn't even know I wanted after I got caught in a haggling war with one guy. Don't be guilt tripped into buying anything or feel like your not paying them enough, pay what you think is a fair price - if they want the sale enough they'll settle for your price, they wont go less than what they know they can get for something. Its a great experience visiting this market so make sure you stop by at least, you can get a bargain so you can get some real great treasures to remember your trip by here.
So with all my shopping complete it was time to actually go and see some of the sights. On our second day in Livingston we had booked onto a rafting trip with lunch included followed by a game drive. We set off on the cloudy morning in our game drive cars absolutely freezing as we sped towards the starting point of our rafting trip, obviously with no windows it got a bit nippy in the back with no sun to warm us up.
We set off in three separate rafts down the Zambezi that morning, it was great fun, we had a water fight and before long the sun was out to dry us out and warm us up, thankfully. As we rafted we were lucky enough to see some hippos and crocs which was all very exciting for a group that had never seen them in the wild before. I think we rafted for about 3 hours which was great and after getting a bit sun burnt I think we were all happy enough to head into the cover of our game drive cars for the afternoon. During the game drive we had a great guide that told us everything you could have wanted to know about the wildlife in the park, we got to see some amazing animals, my favorite being the Giraffes and we even got to see a baby one.
On our last day we had free morning, so myself and two other girls decided to book ourselves onto an elephant back safari. One of the best decisions I have ever made, if you haven't done it - do it. The herd of elephants we met were all orphaned and varied in ages, the biggest being enormous and only at the age of 38, my guide said that elephants never stop growing and that that elephant would only continue to get bigger, I cant imagine how much bigger it could get. We rode the elephants for just over an hour I think, travelling through the wilderness of Livingston, some of the views we got to see were incredible. Elephants are such gentle animals and the rhythm as they walked really was quite hypnotizing, it's fair to say I am extremely jealous that the guides get to do that as their job. My guide was awesome and I couldn't have quizzed him any more about the elephants and the culture of Zambia, he is one of the coolest guys I have ever met and I couldn't have thanked him enough.
That afternoon we did the inevitable visit to Victoria Falls, if your in Zambia and don't visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world there's something wrong there. Of course the falls were just slightly, unbelievably, amazingly impressive, you don't get listed as one of the seven natural wonders for nothing do you. It's something that words cant describe and given the opportunity - you really do need to see it.
My favorite time of day in Zambia has to be dusk, as the sun sets the color of the sky is simply amazing. How people can say the sunset in Ibiza is one of the best in comparison to Zambia baffles me. We got to experience this on a river cruise one night, this has to be a highlight of the trip. Drifting down the Zambezi, drinks in hand, food and great company watching the sunset sure was an amazing way to spend our last night.
Zambia definitely makes it onto my 'top places' list, if it hasn't made it onto yours yet - you should be questioning why you haven't been.