First impressions. Zambia.

WM Zambia FI 9

Ugandans often told me their country was the greenest in all of Africa but since arriving in Lusaka, I must disagree.

It’s rainy season here in Zambia. It’s bright, it’s humid and it’s very green.

The heat is engulfing. It hits your face the moment you exit the plane and wraps around you like the warmest of blankets.

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A slight breeze sends my hair spiralling and I attempt to tuck it into the waist of my full length skirt – not quite long enough yet. It’s going to be difficult to keep it under control over the next three months.

I carry my hand luggage down the metal staircase and onto the runway. Packed with school resources, games and literature, it requires the attention of two hands. Gripping at its handle, I allow it to bump against my hip with every step I take.

 

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It is not until we enter the airport that it dawns on me we are in East Africa and I begin to understand the sizableness of what lies ahead. Only fifteen hours ago we were sipping cappuccinos from paper cups and riding escalators under giant shards of glass. Now we are tugging at our jumpers and wiping our brows as we push through the crowds of a single storey airport.

Months of training, fundraising, vaccinations and paperwork have lead us here and I cannot wait to get stuck in.

 

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With my neck stretched forward and my eyes bouncing off every corner of the basic, beige arrivals hall, I begin scanning the room for a Restless Development representative. Will we recognise him or her? Will they be stood in one place? Have they come with a vehicle or will we be hopping into a bus?

The sun hits my forehead as we exit the building and there is our assistant programme coordinator standing, smiling and looking relaxed.

She leads us to a four-by-four marked with a Restless Development logo on the side. The driver stacks our belongings into the back of the vehicle and we begin the journey’s final leg on the road.

 

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Norah is excited to show us a typical Zambian street market on the outskirts of the capital and introduce us to traditional foods. She asks us the expected questions: How are we? How was our flight? What are our first impressions?

All the while, my belly is doing somersaults and battling with my eyelids to stay open. I don’t want to miss the sights rushing past beyond the window and I certainly don’t want to appear rude.

 

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The main road from the airport is new. I know this because it is flat and pothole free, dressed with billboards and freshly mowed grass. This is not what I was expecting.

The jeep pulls into a dusty courtyard lined on the right hand side with concrete, cubic shacks, each one painted a different colour. This is what I was expecting.

“Are you hungry guys?” says a small voice from the front seat.

“Yes” we chorus.

We eat barbecue fish grilled on chicken wire and open flames. In accompaniment, small side dishes; fried okra with chillies, shredded rape leaves with tomato and rice.

The flies are impossible to ignore, buzzing around our food in their dozens.

A white plastic tap pokes out of a lilac plastic bucket. A green plastic basin sits underneath to catch the water – a sink. We are encouraged to wash our hands and then shown how to eat nshima, Zambia’s staple food made from ground cornmeal and water. I take a steaming hot white lump, it weighs heavy in my hand. I kneed it into a ball rolling my fingers towards my palm and then make an indentation with my thumb. With this now spoon shaped nshima, I scoop up some rape and relish (which in this case was a tomato and onion based sauce served on the side).

Despite desperately trying to keep an open mind, I cannot say I enjoy my first meal. The flies make me feel uncomfortable and eating with my hands makes me feel queasy but it is something I know I will have to get used to and fast.

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The remainder of the journey goes quickly since my fellow team leaders and I fall in and out of sleep on the back seats on the jeep. Having taken the middle sit, I rest my head on Dina’s shoulder while George is pressed up against the window.

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When we finally arrive at Pilgrim’s Lodge we are met with smiles by our Zambian counterparts, Chola, Hildah and Moses. They are all smartly dressed, in well-pressed shirts and leather shoes. I feel eager to wash after such a long journey and join them in a more formal attire.

The evening is shared with a group meal and a game of cards before we all take a much needed early night in preparation for our first day of team leader training as a six.

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