During my time in Zambia I have seen a lot of things. I have been able to travel around the country and meet many different people. If you know anything about Zambian geography, the first place you may think of is Livingstone. Most of you would know this place as the location for Victoria Falls, the widest waterfall in the world. It’s stunning, there’s no doubt about that. The streets are clean, the wildlife is abundant, and you just can’t beat the view of the falls.
I have been to Livingstone twice now, once with my fellow YAVs and once with my family. There is a hotel called the Royal Livingstone there, and every day they serve High Tea. I was able to have High Tea on both occasions. Both times I had a wonderful time talking, drinking tea, eating finger sandwiches, and enjoying the exquisite desserts. Both times, I was left disappointed.
I wasn’t disappointed by the tea itself, or the service, or the atmosphere, all of that was terrific and beautiful. What disappointed me was the realization that when people come to Zambia, sometimes that is all they see.
These tourists come and see the immaculate buildings with high ceilings and fancy furniture. They eat gourmet food from around the world. They walk on sidewalks and across manicured lawns. They speak and hear only English. They relax by a filtered pool, and are served everything they could ever want. This Zambia is neat and shiny and clean. This Zambia is pretty simple.
That’s not my Zambia, and honestly, most Zambians have never seen, and probably will never see that Zambia.
My Zambia is not neat and shiny and clean. When I think of Zambia, I think of children playing in the dirt, drawing hopscotch and pictures with sticks in the sand. I think of women working in the fields wearing gumboots with children tied to their backs. I think of the oversized rat thing that lives in my ceiling, and the spiders that catch and eat the mosquitoes. I think of the struggles that some Zambians go through just to get food on the table. I think of my friends here and how big they smile when I finally pronounce something correctly in Nyanja. I think of the pride in my families’ eyes when I finally make nshima correctly (and didn’t burn myself). I think of the rain coming down for the first time since the dry season started and my host sisters running out to dance in the cool water pouring down. I think of the smiles, the tears, the laughs, and the memories I have had these last 8 months.
My Zambia is filled with imperfections that make it beautiful. My Zambia is full of life and color. My Zambia has brought me some of the greatest struggles I have ever been presented with, and taught me how strong of an individual I am.
My Zambia isn’t neat and clean, but it is so much more complex than what people get to see when they stay in hotels like the Royal Livingstone. There isn’t anything wrong with staying in places like that. It’s beautiful, comfortable, fun, and you can see giraffes ( and other animals) there, but it makes me sad that so many people miss out on the complexity that is the Zambian culture. The complexity that makes Zambians strong and proud of where they come from.
So if you are reading this, and you have never been to Zambia, you should come, but make sure you see some of the imperfections that make Zambia, Zambia.