“Come back when you have more life experience”
How many university graduates have heard that at a job interview before? I have always thought that life is about experiences. In fact, life is just a bunch of experiences strung together until you finally have some stories to tell your grandkids. If I have learnt one thing in the past few years, it is that experiences do not come to you. Nobody had ever head a truly great life experience whilst lounging around in their comfort zone, eating Ben & Jerrys and playing FIFA until the early hours on a work night. Life is short, and with technological advancement the world is becoming a far smaller place than it used to be. I am at a stage in my life that I am fortunate enough to be able to go out in the world and experience it first-hand, and my word am I grateful I stumbled across ICSe.
My Challenges WorldWide placement in Lusaka, Zambia has already provided me with a whole host of experiences that I cant wait to tell and retell to anybody who will listen back at home. Things that I would never get to experience back in sunny Yorkshire, England or even the western first world. Here are some examples, keeping in mind that I am yet to even start my work project or move in with my host family.
- Over 24 hours worth of non-stop travel
If you think back to just a few moments ago you will remember that I mentioned that the world is getting to be a smaller place with technological advancement. Well as soon as you touch down in Africa this notion is pretty much scrapped. The difference between European, American and African domestic airlines quickly became apparent, with us making great progress until we reached Niarobi. From that moment on we were faced with hikes across baking airport runways and stop-offs at random airports that were not listed in our flight plan. On the other hand, the pilot speaking the words “If you look out of the left-hand windows you will see Mt Kilimanjaro” made up for any quips I might have had. But after a seemingly endless period of travelling, boy, were we happy to see the smiling faces of Challenges WorldWide representatives at Lusaka airport.
- Eating with your hands
I must have googled the words ‘Zambia’ and ‘Lusaka’ one thousand times before heading out here. One of the main things that kept popping up was the word ‘Nshima’ (pronounced “sheema”), a tasteless porridge-like substance that is the staple food of most Zambians. “Great, Zambian food is tasteless”, I thought to myself. How wrong I was! Nshima is dipped in any range of delicious meal additions to make a meal that is always varied and filling. My favourite being Nshima with potato leaves and beef with gravy. No cutlery in sight, you’d better get used to getting messy! Mealtime fun for ages 1-100.
- Presidential election parties
I’m clueless when it comes to politics. In fact, when asked, my automatic reply is “I don’t do politics”. However, even I am aware enough to know that there has not been a street party as a direct result of a general election during my lifetime in the UK. It just goes to show the passion that Zambia has for the development and growth of their economy that they managed to ruin the first opportunity of sleep that I got in the country.
The unfortunate death of president Michael Sata in late October 2014 hit the country hard. He was an incredibly popular man and the nation was left in mourning for some time. His second in command is not a Zambian national by birth, and therefore cannot occupy a full presidential role. This lead to a quickfire election campaign to fill the president’s seat until the next general election in 18 months time. Our group was fortunate enough to land in the country on the afternoon of the election results. After hours of delays, the results were finally announced at 11.30pm, just as we were settling down for a well earned sleep. No chance. The city went crazy. Music blaring, car horns honking and dogs barking as though in fear of their life filled the airwaves. The atmosphere was electric and I hardly even had a clue what was going on. What a welcome.
- Traditional Zambian dance
On our first full day in the country we were informed that a local group of teenage traditional Zambian dancers were coming to perform at the lodge as part of their presidential election celebrations. We had been on the continent for less than 24 hours and already Africa was embracing us with all of its might. Anybody who knows me will be quick to tell you that I don’t dance. Let me tell you, when the bongo drums are beating and a guy wearing only a loin cloth and a covering of baking flour pulls you into a middle of a dance circle your legs begin to move (or jump up and down like a clown, I totally call that dancing). Spirits reached unbelievable heights as the bongo procession clocked over the two hour mark, and audience participation had long-since become mandatory. Pictures don’t do the experience justice. Moments that I’ll never forget.
Never have I been anywhere that requires so much warning of the dangers that are ever-present in the environment. I had jabs for four different potential risks before even setting foot on an aeroplane, with the added requirement of a drug to be taken daily to ward off Malaria. This just goes to show the scale and magnitude of the difference in the world that we live in, yet the people are as kind, humble and pleasant as I would ever hope to meet back at home. It just goes to show that it’s not where you’re from, but who you are as a person, and I’ve met some amazing local people already.
These are just a handful of first experiences that I’ve stumbled across in my first week in the country. The most exciting thing for me is that we have been stuck in a fairly western-styled lodge doing training for most of the days. Who knows what experiences i will face next, once I’ve moved in with my Zambian host family and start to experience real Zambian life. Perhaps in nine weeks time I might even fit in amongst the locals. I’ll get to work on my Nyanja right away!