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Archive for January, 2012

Zambia

Zambia is one of those places I didn’t expect to visit anytime soon.

So far away from Ghana I knew little about it except for the famed Victoria Falls, or Mosi o Tunya, the smoke that thunders, as locals call it. But even the view of the falls is rumored to better on the Zimbabwean side. When the opportunity came, however, I jumped on it, driven by the excitement of experiencing a new country so far away from my West African neighborhood.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Zambia is so amazing I’m surprised I hadn’t heard much of it before. That in many ways is the story of this continent: a great land sparingly understood and a story barely half told.

The most amazing part about Zambia is the people. Most travelers will find Africans across the continent friendly, but there is a marked difference between tourist hospitality and genuine welcome, between smiles and truly tangible warmth. The Zambian people I met embodied the latter, and showed that East and Southern African people are not all as reclusive as their reputation suggests.

Livingstone

I spent about a week in Zambia, mostly in Lusaka, but I travelled to the north western border going through Ndola, Zambia’s copper mining capital and staying in Chililabombwe, a small town a few miles from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It took nine hours by bus, but the road was good. It became greener and denser the farther up north we went, which left me a bit disoriented (in West Africa, it’s generally the opposite; it’s drier and more desert like as you head north), but also excited. Images and stories of Congolese tropical rainforests so dense they appeared untouched since the Carboniferous period, inhabited by pigmies and rare chimpanzees and teeming with life, flooded my mind. The landscape in Zambia isn’t quite like this – not with all the copper mines – but certainly hinted at what it must have been like before.

I went as far south as the Zimbabwe border, to that well preserved, charming town named after one of the few pre colonial Englishmen

Africans still love – for good reason — David Livingstone. Livingstone fought and campaigned to end the slave trade and was the first European to see the falls, which he named after the queen. By the time I left Zambia, I’d seen a good swath of its sparsely populated western half.

In Lusaka, I went to dinner at one of the many malls in town called Arcades, which looked like the kind you see off the highway in New Jersey. Zambians seem to like shopping American style because I saw about four such malls. It was a Wednesday night and it was packed with young people even after it had rained. The service was great, the waitress was hitting on me and she suggested she would show me

mall in Lusaka

around town after work. Of course I tipped her well; great service is something you won’t usually get in Ghana. After dinner, I went to sit in the lounge area. Two women sat to my left. They were beautiful, just like many of the Zambian women I had already seen. It said much that Africa’s most beautiful aren’t just Ethiopians, Senegalese and Cape Verdeans.

I couldn’t figure out how to talk to them though, until I realized I couldn’t figure out how to load up airtime on my Zambian number. Soon, they were telling me about the city and things to do. They said they were flight attendants, and I didn’t readily believe them. They looked it but saying you’re a flight attendant sounds a great line if you’re hanging out in a lounge and talking to a stranger with an American accent. They had been temporarily laid off because Zambezi airlines, an airline operating in Zambia, had been grounded by the government for faulty planes. They were thinking of going back to school or getting another job. I nodded away.

Four guys joined us eventually. They had been sitting at the other end of the lounge. “Dude, we were wondering why it took you so long to talk to these girls,” one of them said to me. I cracked up. They knew the girls from school and confirmed their story. My cynicism thawed, but the guys advised me it hadn’t entirely been misplaced; not every good looking lady is a flight attendant. Soon there were ten of us, raising glasses – to what I can’t remember– like old friends from high school. They took me to a couple more spots around the mall. I got back to the hotel, located on a quiet, tree lined part of town – Rose Park I hear it’s called — around 1.30am Thursday morning. In this city, it was easy to forget I was a stranger.

That night set the tone for the rest of my time in Zambia. Everywhere I went it was easy to make friends. People just cared about showing you a good time in a country they’re proud of. The warmth Ghanaians tend to be known for was rich here. I often felt Zambians were similar to Ghanaians. Maybe it’s because they watch a lot of Ghanaian (and Nigerian) movies; most people readily recognized my first name. One lady nicknamed Kwasi Johnson, after a character she’d seen in a movie. Maybe it’s because I felt so at home.

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