Zambia December 28, 2017 – January 8, 2018
My last meal before departing MSP was a quick stop at Lucky 13 Pub with Mike and Louise. I was nervous about making all my connections, so was uselessly filling up with doubtful self-talk. Thankfully, my flight to London/Heathrow was uneventful and even seemed to speed by. It helped that I had a daughter-mother duo who were setting out on a month-long trip through Europe to visit Christmas markets. Daughter Erica teaches at a High-Tech High elementary school in San Marcos (language immersion/Spanish), not far from where Matt and Elizabeth live and work. Even though I was flying across the Atlantic, meeting these two women made me feel that the world is small and that good people are everywhere.
London-Heathrow is a glistening airport full of high-end shopping, comfortable seating, fine restaurants and lounges that offer spa amenities – massages, manicures, and pedicures – as well as small rooms with comfortable beds. I had an eight-hour layover, so decided to rent a bed for a three-hour nap. My little space had a sink, toilet, and shower and allowed me to catch up on some much-needed sleep, and even take a shower before the next leg of the trip. In the final 4 hours of my layover I found a seat at La Puccina Italian Restaurant and ate some dinner while working on my course syllabi, courtesy of the airports free wi-fi. The notion that I was vulnerable to a computer virus or hacking never crossed my mind. The place was so plush.
In sharp contrast, the Addis Ababa International Airport is quite diverse, but ever so dirty and disorganized. I sat for three hours in an area lined with chairs, all facing a single direction – sort of like cattle lined up for slaughter. An airport attendant screamed departing flights over a loud-speaker while a woman and her boyfriend took turns staring creepily at me. At one point, I turned and just stared back at the guy. Weirdos. Gate 1A was the departure gate for both Lusaka, Zambia and Harare, Zimbabwe, which was confusing for most of us. The attendant told us that the gate number didn’t matter - “Look at the zone number on your tickets and form a line!” We zone 4 folks were herded onto a bus and taken to a plane that we hoped was going to Lusaka. I got on the correct flight, but my area of the plane to Lusaka was a temporary ED unit because the poor guy in front of me suffered a seizure!
Nomads Court Lodges afforded me some rest before the flight to Solwezi the next morning. They had a pool, large garden area, and offered an inexpensive room with living area, kitchenette, and king-size bed for about $80.00. I spent the afternoon trying to get hooked into wifi, but couldn’t seem to connect. I didn’t think that the problem was anything beyond my lack of technical ability, but suspected something more serious had infiltrated my system when my phone started misbehaving. I helplessly tried to find the root of the problem, and after a fit-filled evening of searching through my mac’s console and terminal, there seemed to be enough suspicious activity to contact Mike and tell him to monitor my bank accounts. I sent a Whatsapp message to both Mike and Madeline, but only Madeline received the message. It was so frustrating to feel that my privacy was invaded; I could feel my heart racing and was shaking with worry. I shut everything down and asked Mike to monitor my accounts. It could have been a virus, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Madeline looked just beautiful. She was grateful for me being there and I was grateful to find her thriving and happy. Almost immediately after picking me up, the three of us headed for Chimfunshi, a chimp refuge about 3 hours north of Solwezi (outside of Chingola). We didn’t know what to expect from the refuge, but wanted to see Dobby – Madeline and Chaz’s little rescue-pet monkey. Sylvia Siddle met us and showed us to our cottage before arranging a meeting with the chimps. We watched several of them during feeding time and witnessed several very human-like moments that ranged from fighting to care-taking.
At the end of our day, we gathered all the Christmas presents that I brought and sat under the gazebo in the central part of the camp. I had fun watching them open “luxury” goods like pop tarts and Emergen-C, which they really appreciated! Madeline had brought along food that we prepared in the camp kitchen; pasta, caprese salad, garlic bread, and red wine made for a wonderful meal!
The following day, we had our unforgettable walk with the chimps. Sylvia told us to take off all our jewelry and gave us overalls with big pockets that we filled with bread and dog food. Dominic, one of the staff members, led us into the enclosure and asked us to sit down on a log and wait for Cindy, Dee Dee, and Sims, three of Sylvia’s hand-raised chimps. We didn’t have to wait long before the three of them lumbered out and began rooting through our pockets. The three of them knew the drill because they didn’t waste time raiding our pockets, which I suppose was planned to help them trust us a bit more before our walk in the woods. Cindy was more attentive and interested in people than the other two. She would find mushrooms on the walk and would hand them to us so that we would hand feed her. Even though Sims ran off and Dee Dee only occasionally would join us, Cindy stayed with us the entire time. She even took turns riding piggy-back on Chaz and Madeline.
We were happy to see Dobby and hear that he’d been accepted by the other Vervet monkeys at Chimfunshi. Madeline and Chaz said that he’d grown and that his coat looked healthier, but it was obvious that he didn’t recognize them. He came over and drank milk from a bottle from both of them, however. Sylvia said that he had a hard time adjusting at first, mainly because he was so used to being handled and held by Madeline. She told us that not long after Dobby arrived, another Vervet monkey named “Flo” (who was released into the wild) found her way back to the compound and immediately adopted Dobby as her own. Sylvia said that all the Vervet monkeys at Chimfunshi will be released into the wild when Dobby gets big enough to survive.
The best part of the trip was having tea with Sylvia and her legendary mother, Sheila Siddle. We were captivated by the story of Sheila’s family overland trip from the UK to Capetown, South Africa – a six-month vacation (when she was just a child) that turned into a permanent move. She told us that her father built a camper from parts of old army transports, constructing beds for each family member including their dog, as well as out-fitting the contraption with a full kitchen and sight-seeing windows. Sheila explained that Chimfunshi was first a cattle farm that she and her second husband, Dave, had successfully run for several years. Sheila and Dave raised their five children (all from their first marriages) and were planning to retire when their son-in-law game ranger brought them a chimpanzee that was nearly dead. Their success with “Pal” led to more “drop-offs”, which required the expansion and development of Chimfunshi as a refuge for chimpanzees (and other animals).
Sheila also shared her love of her pet hippo “Billy,” whom she described as her greatest protector. Even though hippos are among the most dangerous (and fastest) animals on the earth, Billy fell in love with Sheila and Sheila fell in love with Billy. Evidently, they were almost inseparable; Billy strayed a few times to follow wild hippos passing the farm via the river, but always returned home. Sheila was almost in tears when she told us that poachers sprayed poison on the grass that Billy often ate by the riverside, and how she managed to get up the hill to die at “home.” Sheila and Sylvia think that poachers either wanted her meat or were interested in getting rid of Chimfunshi’s great protector. We were sad to think that this hippo probably would have outlived Sheila, who is currently 86 years old.
We hired a driver to take us from Chimfunshi to Kasempa, where we made our transfer to Mpungu. Madeline and Chaz said that the trip usually takes three times as long on the bus because busses in Zambia have to fill up before they leave the station/parking lot. The indeterminate departure times make for hours of waiting, so we thought it best to lug our belongings with a driver. It was so much fun arriving in the compound and meeting their dogs, Rafiki (friend – in Swahili) and Kilobo (warrior, mighty man, hero - KiKaonde). The dogs squealed and yelped with delight when they saw Chaz and Madeline and didn’t try to bite me. Madeline and I spent the afternoon with the dogs leading us on a long and lovely five-mile walk through the woods that bypassed the market and people, but led through the dense and lush countryside – over streams and under tall canopies. The dogs are extremely fast and hardy, smart and loyal. Because the pups belonged to their neighbor Nathan, they held and cuddled the new pups from the time they were born. When Nathan moved, he left one of the pups – Kilobo – with Madeline and Chaz, and took the others to his new location. Within a week, 8-week-old Rafiki appeared at their doorstep all covered in mud. Nathan had his hands full, so was happy to give another pup a home. After the walk, we spent a good deal of time talking about how we might get the dogs to the US when their Peace Corps stint is up.
I slept in, so felt fully recovered from my trip. Madeline had mentioned that she really wanted me to see two of their most successful projects in the village, so our first visit was to Ba Gateson in Mpungu-South. Gateson had some success with fish farming before Madeline and Chaz got to Mpungu, but his jealous Zambian neighbors destroyed his dam, which effectively dried up his ponds. One of Madeline and Chaz’s first undertakings when they arrived in Mpungu was to help Gateson and friends rebuild the dam and construct furrows for new ponds (which Mike and I saw in August 2016). This time, I saw an impressive number of reconstructed or new ponds – 14 in all, varying in size from 10 X 15 meters to 20 X 30 meters.
Ba Musoni (another fish farmer from Mpungu South) and his family, as well as several of Ba Gateson’s family members, joined us at the ponds. We fed the fish termites and maize so that we could see the size of the fish, which were ready for “cropping” (harvesting). Gateson seemed to need advice about how and where they would sell all the fish. He was hoping to find a market in the boma (Kasempa), but communication with the Department of Fisheries was sketchy. Madeline and Chaz encouraged him not to wait for fear he would lose money, and offered several ideas on how he might sell his fish in Mpungu. They suggested that he make an announcement at the local churches that they would sell their fresh fish in the market immediately after services. He could also dry whatever he doesn’t sell and still make a profit. They tried to impress on Gateson and his family how important it was to keep coming up with new ideas on how to sell their product, rather than just give up.
Ba Gateson accompanied us on the trail back to home. He addressed me as “mum” and asked how things were at home. I was impressed that this rural Zambian fisherman knew enough about Donald Trump to make conversation in English, no less. I couldn’t help but admire his gentle hospitality and demeanor, which left a deep impression on me in 2016 when I met him for the first time. He also respects Madeline, which is unusual in this patriarchal culture.
The clouds were thickening, so we decided to make only a brief stop to see Ba Trina and Ba Jameson on our way home. We left their place when it was sprinkling and were lucky that the deluge didn’t start until we turned down the lane to their house. The rains here are incredibly intense, so it was nice to be inside and planning dinner. Madeline has become an expert at using wood-fueled braziers for both baking and cooking and makes all sorts of breads, cakes, and even cinnamon rolls. For our New Year’s meal, she made handmade tortillas, which we filled with a soya and vegetables – absolutely delicious. We tried to watch a movie after dinner, but I fell asleep before the credits turned up the title.
There was no tossing and turning the entire night before my birthday - a gift for which I was very grateful! I slept in a bit later than usual and walked bleary-eyed into their living area to the two of them singing “Happy Birthday”! I glanced down to see that Madeline had made a GIGANTIC white, frosted layer cake decorated with fresh mangoes! She told me that they had something special planned near the marketplace, so we packed up the cake and a few other things and walked toward the town center. The HIV/AIDS support group had planned an honorary program to thank Chaz, Madeline, and me for the solar fridge and sewing machine that the group purchased with money from the sale of their hand-crafted items at Newman last summer. It was great to meet all of them and see the pride and preparation that went into this special program!
Two of the men alternated in English/Kikaonde with special introductions of all those in attendance, including the sub-chief and his wife. There were words of thanks and songs by the villagers; they also asked me to lead a song and say a few words to all of them. We sang the “Navajo Peace Song” and I told them how proud I was of them for making school uniforms and other clothing, as well as selling drinks that were chilled to cold with their solar fridge. It was ironic that the man leading the ceremony was caught embezzling from the group. Madeline said that they were coming up short in profits, and after an “accounting” of what was bought/sold, they had enough evidence to accuse the guy of skimming kwatcha from the group’s profits. She said that they had a meeting to discuss evidence against him, but that the members of the group chose to forgive him. Donning wire-rimmed glasses, dressing quite nicely, and speaking almost perfect English, he gave the impression that he is trustworthy enough. It was good that Chaz came up with an alternative solution for manning the store, suggesting a cooperative that requires each person/family in the new cooperative to take shifts in the “store.”
When the “program” ended, the women busied themselves with preparing a nshima meal for us. We sang more songs while we waited. When the meal was ready, Madeline told them all that it was my birthday and asked them to join in “Happy Birthday.” Even though they “sort of” knew the song, it was clear that birthdays aren’t anything special in rural Zambia. Many people don’t know when they were born and they don’t have money to spend on gifts. I almost felt silly drawing attention to my special day, so was happy to have Madeline’s cake be the center of attention. Everyone enjoyed her special treat and even took home extra pieces for family members. It was great!
I took several pictures of the group because I didn’t want to forget the very special people who were in attendance. A young woman, Jetrina Motika, recited a poem about AIDS. Standing confidently in front of the whole group, she recited a memorized poem about the pain, suffering, and ostracization of those with HIV. She was eloquent and memorable. “Mary” is another veritable character who takes an entire day each quarter to walk to the boma to pick up her HIV medication. She wanted me to take a picture of her holding her medication so that her “friends” in La Crosse would know that she takes it regularly. One of the primary purposes of the HIV/AIDS support group (and it’s store) is to provide funds that will pay the taxi fee to/from Kasempa for people who need ARVs (anti-retro-viral therapy).
Our walk home from this marvelous party included a stop at Alex Kyembe’s house. We sat in their living room and had a long conversation about a variety of things. The conversation was philosophical and deep; Alex listened attentively, sometimes putting his head down while rubbing his face, as if conjuring up a thought. The subject of race came up and his response was typically inclusive, “One flower by itself isn’t beautiful, but all flowers together are beautiful.” Their home doesn’t have running water or electricity, but was nicely decorated by Mpungu standards; and their children and grandchildren were eager to try out their English, proudly sharing their school accomplishments. I know that Alex and his wife (who I knew only as Mrs. Kyembe) are the sole healthcare providers in the entire village (which includes a few thousand people). He works long hours delivering babies and treating people for malaria and shares his deep faith without sounding righteous and judgmental. It is clear that it helps him to clarify the meaning and purpose in his life.
Alex and his wife told me how hard Madeline and Chaz have worked for the people in Mpungu; he didn’t want to focus on the future when they would inevitably be gone, but rather wanted to share his gratitude for how much they helped him at the clinic and with the HIV/AIDS support group. I couldn’t keep the tears back when Mrs. Kyembe gave me a rug that she had been working on for me. She had hand-stitched the word “welcome” and then apologized that her English wasn’t better. We were all so overcome with emotion in those few graced moments. Alex Kyembe is probably as close to a living saint as I will ever get.
I consider myself lucky that we only took the bus once – four hours from Kasempa to Solwezi. Alex Kyembe had arranged for a driver to take us to Kasempa, but with limited kwatcha, we needed to pay the cheaper bus fare to Solwezi. When our taxi driver dropped us at the station, the bus was almost full and ready to leave, but there were arguments ensuing about the state of the bus. A few of the men grabbed their belongings and refused to ride, which should have been our first clue. The driver tried to start the bus, but it only puttered and struggled to move, spewing exhaust into the bus as passengers screamed to get the windows open. We made a loop, turned around, and everyone transferred to another bus – better than the first, but still a wreck. The trip didn’t seem that long and was even sort of interesting. Whenever the bus stops, scores of kids run up to the windows selling nuts, fruits, drinks, and water (that consists of old plastic bottles filled with tap/bore hole water). We bought some bananas and hard-boiled eggs for about 5 kwatcha (50 cents).
After checking into our hotel, Madeline and I walked to the Peace Corps provincial house to pick up a few things. One of her friends was a computer science major, so had some good advice for me regarding my computer issues. We watched a vigorous storm for the remainder of the afternoon and finally called a cab to Kwesu for dinner. Zambian taxi drivers are quite deft at steering clear of potholes, and it’s a wonder that the city streets aren’t paved. It wasn’t uncommon to see men with wheel barrows filling potholes with rocks.
Madeline and Chaz described their long and harrowing bus trips from the village to Lusaka as we waited for the plane to Lusaka/Livingstone. They couldn’t help comparing the bus to the plane, saying that they appreciated not having to deal with a possible breakdown, lack of air conditioning, and bodies packed closely together. After only one hour of flight time, our driver from Jollyboys Backpacker Hostel was at the Livingstone Airport to pick us up. We got settled in the hotel and caught a taxi to see Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.
The falls were spectacular, especially dramatic because of the increased rainfall at this time of the year. We walked two of the three main trails and took several pictures and short videos. On the way back to Livingstone, we decided to get a drink at the Royale Livingstone Hotel. Situated on the Zambezi River, just up river from the falls, the five-star hotel is one of the swankiest places that I saw in Zambia, or anywhere, for that matter. We knew we didn’t belong there, but couldn’t resist pretending – ordering fancy drinks and taking several pictures of the mist rising from the falls. We admired the gorgeous sunset from the Royale Livingstone’s riverside bar and caught a hotel shuttle back to Livingstone. Dinner at Olga’s Italian Restaurant capped our fantastic first day.
Madeline, Chaz, and I had breakfast at Kubu Coffee before Madeline and I set out on a day alone together. Chaz wanted to do some writing and thought it would be nice for us to have some time alone. We decided to see Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe, so caught a taxi to Zambia site and then walked a few miles to the border. The checkpoint was frustratingly inefficient. More and more people were packing into the building, but no one was being checked through. After 45 minutes of smelly sweaty, stinky bodies, I was able to get a KAZA visa, which allows tourists to cross the border into Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.
I wondered if the falls would be more dramatic from Zimbabwe (because they were so gorgeous from Zambia) and wasn’t disappointed! There seemed to be more mist and less people (which is a nice combination on a hot day), not to mention DOZENS of monkeys and their tiny babies. They seemed to grow in numbers as we walked further and further, yet didn’t show any distress at the presence of humans. Some of them were sucking on human garbage (chip bags and the like), so I’m guessing that they’ve figured out that where there are humans, there’s a treat to be had. I’m not sure if they’re considered pests or not, but could easily say they were far less pesky than the African men who kept asking Madeline if she would pose in their “selfies” (because they evidently like to post pictures on Facebook of themselves with young white women.)
We walked back into Zambia through the same border control, only to have the same slow-poke of guard stamp our passports and smile, “It’s you again. I hope you had a nice time.” We had missed the “Boiling Pot” trail the day before and had some time, so trekked down into the gorge. The foliage we deep and lush, wet and tropical and we made the sometimes steep descent. People were wearing dress shoes and flip flops and wondering why they were having a tough time. I could only attribute my slow pace to my age and was glad when Madeline would stop long enough for me to catch up. As got close to the “Boiling Pot,” we started noticing baboons – mothers with their babies, younger baboons playing with each other, and big males getting groomed. Just as monkeys were everywhere on the Zimbabwe side, baboons were in the trees, on the rocks, and even on the trail in Zambia.
It was a hot day, so anyone under 25 was jumping into the pools that were formed by the rocks at the river’s edge at the end of the trail. We enjoyed watching the kids mess around in the water and had an exceptional view of the bungee jumpers from the bridge. We saved our swimming for the Jollyboys pool before our meal out at the Zambezi Café. We ordered a large platter of meat with the most succulent crocodile that I have ever tasted. My only memory of crocodile was chewy and rubbery at a Cajun-style restaurant that I seemed to have forgotten. This was a tasty cross between chicken and fish – really delicious.
The first day that we got to Jollyboys, Madeline and Chaz recommended that we look at some of the activities that the resort offers. They told me that one-day safaris were fairly cheap, so we reserved three places on a one-day safari at Chobe National Park in Botswana. A driver met us at Jollyboys at 7:00am and took us to the Botswana border, taking care of stamping our passports (which was a very nice change from the previous day in Zimbabwe). Our driver, Isaiah, was very good at pointing out the landscape on our hour drive to the ferry, where we crossed the Zambezi with views of four different African countries – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana. Once we were safely across the river, an articulate tour guide by the name of Fraybie drove us to “Coffee Buzz” for breakfast.
The morning safari was on a big, flat riverboat down the Zambezi. There wasn’t much to see early on in the cruise and I was beginning to think that we were only going to see a few random birds. As we moved slowly down the river, however, more and more wildlife began to immerge. There were impala and water buffalo, as well as hippos – a mother with her baby, an ostracized male doing “penance” in a pool, and a few stray males on land. What was really impressive was the number of elephants that we saw! When we spotted them at a distance, I remember feeling impatient with the driver (who wanted to point out two African Bald Eagles), thinking that the elephants would disappear before we could snap a few pictures. I couldn’t have been more wrong! There were, at the very least, between 30 – 40 elephants playing in the waters – mothers and babies; and then further down, a group of “bachelor males” who weren’t allowed to be with the females (or risk a tussle with the dominant male). The bird life and crocodiles only added to our amazing boat ride, which was capped with a tasty buffet back at “Coffee Buzz.”
Fraybie was our driver/game ranger through Chobe National Park - animated and knowledgeable, he made phone calls to other game rangers when he didn’t have ready answers for some of the safari guests. We didn’t see much wildlife for the first 15 minutes of the drive into the park, but Fraybie assured us to just pay attention and keep watchful eyes. We saw mongoose (in a bush – at least he said they were there), some interesting birds (which weren’t really that interesting), and then drove down by the shores of the Zambezi for what was to be a feast for the eyes. There dozens more elephants playing in the mud (which Fraybie said acted as their “sunscreen”), eating grass, and spraying one another. We also saw a sizeable hippo family move from their mud pit into the greater river, water buffalo, impala, antelope, and a male sable antelope (which Fraybie said is one of the few antelopes that lions can’t seem to capture and kill). We were lucky to see three lions taking a nap in the shade and were told that it was better to see them asleep than awake. Fraybie was noticing fresh lion tracks and said that the dominant male may have been “out with a female.” He pointed out the carcass of a giraffe, which had been killed by lions and picked clean just last week. On the way out of the park, a mother warthog crossed the road in front of our vehicle followed by four little baby warthogs (really cute, by the way). Almost immediately, an elephant roared and charged; I couldn’t tell whether it was after us or despised warthogs.
Madeline and Chaz said that they only saw a few elephants when they were with Chaz’s Dad, Jorgen, in November 2016. Fraybie said that drought conditions were drawing animals toward the river, which made viewing that much more spectacular. It seemed appropriate that the end of the day be a shared poolside reading of Sheila Siddle’s book, “In My Family Tree.” Since our trip to Chimfunshi, we took turns reading chapters of her fascinating story, finishing the book on the day of our safari through Chobe National Park. (Did I forget to mention the yummy sushi at Ocean Beach?)
Today was the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which we celebrated at St. Theresa of the Little Flower, a Catholic Church just a few blocks from Jollyboys. I thought it started at 8:45am (because that was on the sign outside the church), but learned that it really started at 9:00am! It turned out to be quite the celebration – a choir of high school kids sang, while elementary-aged girls danced to the music. Ah, the music! They sang loud and long, often accompanying their singing with dancing. The processional included the dancers, several altar boys, liturgical ministers, the deacon and priest. The choir sang and opening hymn, but the whole congregation erupted during the Gloria. People were ululating randomly and everyone in the congregation was swaying/dancing, even if they weren’t singing. Preparation of the Gifts was especially cool because people brought their gifts forward rather than drop money in a basket. They danced their “change” up and back to their seats, followed by people who brought of material goods – flour, sugar, eggs, etc. The sermon lasted a full 45 minutes (which was long, but impassioned) but the fantastic music brought everyone back into the spirit of the liturgy. I went up to the balcony during the second collection so that I could get a video of the girls dancing and all the people swaying. It was an uplifting and glorious 2 ½ hours!
The temps for the day were going to soar into the 90s, so Madeline and I decided to put our swimsuits on under our shorts and head for one last adventure at Victoria Falls. We took trails where we could stand in the mist and not mind getting wet. I purposely didn’t bring my camera because I planned on getting really wet! We were set on getting into one of the pools at the end of “Boiling Pot” trail, so made that our purpose. There were plenty of baboons again, this time more familiar than the two days before. They didn’t deter us as we soon found our way close to the water’s edge. Madeline had mentioned going to Devil’s Pool with Jorgen, but I told her that I wouldn’t be able to stomach sitting in a pool at the top of the falls. Sitting in the shallow pools with easy rapids was a better alternative. It was also free…and lasted as long as we wanted to sit. It was sort of funny to watch people go by – some who turned to see us, while others walked on by. Many laughed and took a picture, which made us both laugh. We decided to call it quits when my foot started cramping – making it all the more ridiculous.
Baboons were all over the trail, so it was sort of a trick trying to avoid stepping on their tales. My final dinner with Chaz and Madeline was at Zest – artfully prepared skewered meat with rice and sauces. It was a pleasant way to end my unforgettable trip to Zambia.
Every link on the trip home went without a hitch. From the moment I said goodbye to Madeline and Chaz, every connection was on time and stress free. Considering the number of connections and length of total travel time (Livingstone to Lusaka – one hour, Lusaka to Addis Ababa – 4 hours, Addis Ababa to Paris CDG – 7 hours, and Paris CDG to MSP – 8.5 hours), I can’t help but be grateful.