Wednesday, 31 October 2012

We Have Arrived in Zambia!

The Journey
After 4 days and over 2,400 km of driving, we have arrived in the beautiful country of Zambia. It was quite the journey! We left on Thursday morning at 4:00 am and drove the entire day, only stopping for gas and bathroom breaks. We didn’t even have time to grab a meal! The reason we were on such a strict timeline is because it is unsafe to drive in most parts of Africa in the dark. It’s not necessarily that the highway is littered with people looking to jack us but, rather, the danger lies in humungous potholes and donkeys, cows or even elephants being on the road! Our new vehicle was packed to the max, so much so that one of the back window seats had to be folded down for extra storage space and I couldn’t see out the rear window. This left Kristi and Daytona crammed into the other window seat and the small middle seat, where they sat for the entire journey. What troopers! Luckily, they’re married, so it avoided any potential awkwardness of being all up in each other’s biznazz.

Imagine traveling 3 days like this!
The first day of driving took us up South Africa to the border of Botswana. In Africa, you must cross through two separate immigration offices at each border crossing – one to leave a country and another to enter the other country. These were often long and painful, especially with it being 40+ degrees outside (the highest temperature reading on our car during the trip was 43 degrees!). We spent the trip following behind Dan, a member of the South Africa Regional Support Team, who had with him five other Hands people. Luckily for us, Dan had made the drive to Zambia several times before so he was a seasoned vet at knowing what to do at each border crossing. This proved invaluable as it would have been an absolute gong show trying to do it on our own!

Elephant crossing! (in Botswana) 
Monkeys at the Botswana border
When we got off the ferry and crossed over into Zambia from Botswana, we were literally swarmed by a pack of men, trying to be our “agent” for the Zambian immigration process. These unofficial agents offer to be your guide through the process and expect a rather hefty sum for their services. They were super aggressive, akin to a bunch of vultures that smelt easy, light-skinned prey. We could see why they might be needed, though. The entire process is not exactly straight forward, nor are there any clear directions as to what you need to do. This is where Dan came in handy. The entire Zambian border process took us over two hours, mostly to deal with Zambian vehicle requirements, which was painful enough for Dan and I (Byron), but must have been all the more painful for everybody else that had to sit and wait at the vehicles, fending off the vultures in 40+ degree heat. The saving grace of the day was that we ended up getting 6 months of insurance (each vehicle must have local insurance) for the price of 3, simply due to an error that the insurance guy was too lazy (or it would have been too much hassle) to correct. For those of you that know me (Byron), you know how much I love getting a good deal!

The ferry from Botswana to Zambia
The 'official' border crossing in Zambia
The process at the border crossings really highlighted how unofficial everything is in Africa, even when it comes to things like immigration and insurance – things that are quite “official” in Western culture. Even the presence of all those “agents” trying to come alongside you and help you can be quite unnerving and overwhelming. Fortunately, we were able to do everything on our own and without getting hassled too much!

Accommodations Along the Way
Our accommodations along the way were … interesting. In Botswana, we stayed in a small town called Palapye, at a place called Camp Itumela. We were given a log cabin to stay in that acted more like a furnace. We had our own bathroom, which had to be accessed from another door outside our room. This caused problems because the outside light between our bedroom and bathroom doors attracted what seemed like thousands of insects and moths, all of which were chomping at the bit to nest in each of our beautiful, long locks every time we passed by. When we went to go wash up for the night, Diane almost lost her mind. In the shower, and also by the toilet, were giant, palm-sized spiders. Also by the toilet was the biggest insect we had ever seen – we weren’t sure if it was a cockroach or a beetle – but it was huge. I (Byron) did my best to convince Diane to block it out and look the other way. After much hesitation, she sucked it up and did her thing. All I could think about was how much more my sister, Cynthia, would have freaked!

Our second night, we stayed at a place called The Zambezi Waterfront, in Livingstone, Zambia. While there, we stayed in tents that had two single beds in them. This is where I (Byron) almost lost it. The guy that led us to our tent warned us to be careful not to allow mosquitoes in. Roger that. What he failed to mention was that there were already hundreds of mosquitoes camped inside our tent, licking their filthy little chops at the sight of Diane’s soft, lush, meaty skin. Being that Zambia is a Malaria zone, this was quite discomforting. We needed to eliminate the problem. Immediately. We grabbed a bottle of Doom from the front desk and Doomed the crap out of those suckers, which seemed to get rid of the problem, but may potentially lead to infertile sperm for Byron. In the evening, I (Byron) went to the communal bathroom to wash up before bed. The problem is that the bathroom had windows that were completely open to the outdoors, meaning that mosquitoes could enter at will. As I sat on the toilet, peacefully minding my own business, all I could see and hear were giant mosquitoes buzzing all around me. Excellent. I sat there, pants around my ankles, frantically waving my arms around, all the while trying to finish my business. Needless to say, business went unfinished, and I was extremely rattled. I went back to our tent, one eye twitching, and said to Diane, “I can’t even take a crap here without worrying about getting Malaria!!!” It’s kind of funny now … but at the time I was going mental!

Victoria Falls!
Despite the rather challenging accommodations, we stayed an extra night in Livingstone so that we could spend the Saturday, which happened to be Diane’s 28th birthday, seeing the world-renowned Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, October is a very hot and dry month for Zambia, which decreases the amount of waterflow at the Falls. Apparently, during the winter months (May or June), the Falls gush with so much water that the mist makes it impossible to see anything else. It was quite the opposite for us. We were able to see a relatively small stream of waterfall but nothing compared to what you would see in pictures. However, the lack of water allowed us to view the grandeur of the canyon, which was pretty impressive in its own right.

Hippos along the Zambezi River

A huge croc in the Zambezi River

Our Baboon Encounter
The real highlight of the Victoria Falls trip was actually the baboons that littered the walking paths and surrounding forest. Some of you may think, “oh how cute!” but we’ve learnt since being in Africa that all monkeys are a force to be reckoned with. Baboons, in particular, are quite mischievous, and can be rather vicious towards humans. On top of that, they have the most disgusting, pink, raw and swollen looking bums you’ll ever see on an animal. In the parking lot, we witnessed one baboon jump up on the back of a pickup truck, rip open the tarp cover and steal bottles of Coke! Not to be outdone, the four of us had our own little run-in with baboons later on in the day. As we strolled down one of the walking paths, we saw two baboons ahead of us. As we approached, the male got up, mounted the female from behind and … well, you can imagine what happened next. There were even graphic sound effects! Naturally, being the mature adults that we are, the four of us stood there, pointing and laughing, and whipped out our cameras to capture this amazing scene of nature. When the male became aware of this invasion of privacy, he was pissed! He got off his woman and started screaming and coming at us. We turned around and ran the other way with the baboon continuing his chase. Luckily, there were some locals on the other side of the fence that advised us to stop running. They told us to pick up a stick and face the baboon and he would cease. We did as we were told. At first, it seemed like the locals gave us false advice for their own entertainment as the baboon kept coming at us. We were ready to run again but, sure enough, the baboon slowed down and veered off into the forest. We decided to brave it and continue on down the path, despite the fact that the female baboon was still there, staring us down. As we approached, we saw that she was holding a glass bottle by the neck, and was tapping it on the ground. All I (Byron) could envision was her smashing the bottle and stabbing one of us with it as we walked by. Luckily, we were able to pass without incident!

Baboons when they were still cute and innocent to us
Baboons being not so cute and innocent!

The Arrival
On the last day (Sunday), we made off for our final lag of the journey, driving 11 hours from Livingstone to Luanshya. Along the way we, surprisingly, avoided being pulled over for a missing rear license plate that had fallen off on the way to Botswana and Byron managed to talk his way out of his first African speeding ticket. Playing the poor missionary card comes in handy sometimes! We arrived at Kachele Farm, Hands’ main hub in Zambia, and were warmly greeted by about 50 Hands volunteers from all over Africa. Over the past week, Kachele Farm was home to Service Center volunteers from each of Hands’ 8 hubs across Africa, attending workshops being put on by Hands’ leadership team. Although a little overwhelming at first, this was an awesome opportunity for us to meet amazing individuals that are valued leaders in their respective countries and communities and are the true face of Hands at Work.

What’s Next
We have 1.5 weeks at the Farm, using the time to get to know everyone who has travelled to Zambia for the workshop, as well as our new Zambian family! Byron also effectively used the time to harass as many Zambians as possible to help him learn Bemba (the local language in our region of Zambia). In this short amount of time, he has managed to memorize a number of phrases and continues to impress the locals with his newfound Bemba skills. In no time, he will be more well-versed in Bemba than Cantonese! Looks like I (Diane) have some catching up to do!

Next stop … our new home in Kitwe! 

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