Back to the continent

Apologies for the late update, a busy first week in Zambia has come and gone.

Arriving from the UK: Jo, Rudo, Euan, me, Will, Steph and Chigz

 

Last Saturday, our seven-member UK volunteer team stepped off our ET701 Ethiopian Airlines flight and finally set foot on Zambian soil after 24 hours of increasingly exhausting plane journeys.

The drive into Lusaka (with our new friend Gerald) was filled with Afrobeat music, the wheels kicking up red dust and views of low acacia trees passing by on the horizon. Having spent ten years growing up in Africa, it felt good to be back on the continent.

Our new friend and driver Gerald

I have actually already lived in Zambia for three years. Surprise! This fun fact isn’t actually that fun because I was 5 months to 3 years old and can’t remember much from when my family was here in the early 90s. Nonetheless.

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My dad and I at Victoria Falls in ’92

On our first day, Lusaka greeted us with 30 degree heat and a warm breeze. October is the hottest month here, but Zambia is situated on a plateau in Central Southern Africa and the 1300m elevation somewhat takes the edge off the humid subtropical climate.

Those of us traveling from the UK met our team leader, Tony, and checked into two lodges in the Woodlands area.

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Mupigu Lodge

After a quick shower and a look around the palatial room Jo and I share, we went out and bought SIM cards at a nearby plaza. Of course, Airtel never activated our phones after some farcical registration process, so a week has gone by without any of us being reachable/independent/connected to the world. There’s no internet at our two lodges, but our Zambian counterparts are staying in a third lodge, with wifi, to which we all flock to satisfy our online needs.

Euan hands-on with his fish and nshima

Foodwise, we have been fortunate but limited in choice. My first meal consisted of a whole, seasoned tilapia fish (head, tail and all) with chips and salad. For the past week we’ve been working with a small menu of grilled fish, grilled chicken, and beef stew with accompaniments like coleslaw, chips, rice and nshima (the maizemeal staple food). We have all quickly run out of interesting combinations and find ourselves craving more fruits and vegetables. Luckily, our homestay families have been trained on how to feed us greener and less starch-y food and we will have more of a say on our diets once we’re settled with them. And then we can actually sample some Zambian cuisine!

Three-hour lunchbreak by the pool

Meeting our seven local counterparts and their team leader, Penjani, has been a fun and enriching experience. I have learned some sign language from Annie, where to buy clothes and makeup from Florence, the boys (Abraham, John Paul and Chris) have been teaching me about agricultural and religious practices, and Cythia has work experience from the SME I’ve been matched to, so she’ll be a great point of contact.

Midday stroll in Woodlands extension

We have just completed a week of management consultancy training where we were taken through courses on finance, marketing and business operations, as well as health and safety briefs, from a number of interesting speakers. Now I know I should brush up on some accountancy and check under my bed for snakes every night (?).

In-country manager Cris outlines the project
Rudo listens attentively while counterparts Flo & Jo bond

We have also (finally!) been assigned to seven agribusinesses along with our Zambian counterparts. I’ll be working with Chris, a 25-year-old Lusakan with a degree in Agriculture from NRDC (the National Resources Development College). He has also worked in small food cooperatives and has a wealth of knowledge about local markets and food production.

First meeting: my counterpart, Chris, and I being introduced to managing director Priscilla by our in-country manager, Cris.

Our company is a little enterprise producing chutneys, marmalade and peanut butter, led by a lady named Priscilla. We are excited to sample the goods! Our main focus will be to help create a business strategy and marketing plan. This means our first work week will be spent researching and gathering data in order to get an overview of the company structure, financial position, staff skills, etc. AgBIT, the business incubator, has been helping the SME for several months already which should ease our consultancy work slightly.

It’s been good to have a lot of team-building and a gentle introduction to the city, but it is tiresome living and breathing together. We have now moved into our respective homes, started work, and can live more independently. As we are the pilot scheme of the ICS Entrepreneur programme here in Zambia, there have been a few hiccups along the way, but I am so happy to be here and to really get started with the business. It feels uplifting to be part of a project about entrepreneurship and empowerment, and I can’t wait to learn more and help the business grow.

Due to internet issues, I am a little behind on the blogging, but I will try to soon share more about my Lusaka living. Stay tuned!

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