As usual, Susie’s much better at taking time to send email updates, which I go the lazy route and just post a few pictures and captions from each place. Read below for her update to get a sense of our travels right now. Hope everyone is well!
Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia!
As I’ve begun typing this update it has become pretty long (not a shock), so I’ll give a brief sum-up here up front. After doing quite a bit of research and talking to as many people as we can here in Lusaka, Cat & I have decided to forgo our return trip into Zimbabwe for the time being. Considering the last week’s events (please check into them if you haven’t heard – the recent events are just another example of the complex and painful political experience going on in Zim right now), we have been told that this time in particular is not safe to be in Zimbabwe, and especially Harare where we were heading next. For most of our journey we have been told that although the situation in Zimbabwe is difficult it is safe for tourists, but this past week we have been told that even as tourists it is not smart for us to head there. So I am sad to say that we will not be heading down there as there was so much I wanted to see, but it seems safety first is going to be the rule of the day.
Instead, we are heading straight through Malawi to Mozambique, to explore the northern part of that country for the next couple of weeks. I’ll elaborate on that more below, but for all of you with little time on your hands to read the entire update, that is the game plan for now. We hop a bus to Lilongwe on Thursday morning, getting us into the city around midnight. Then Cat & I will head south and east towards the Mozambique coast, and Brett will head north. We will be sad to lose our traveling partner for the past few weeks!
Now on to the longer version of the update…
Cat, Brett & I have been here in Lusaka for the past three days, checking out the city and being lucky enough to meet up with some wonderful people doing HIV/AIDS research in the area. They have offered us beds at their place, so we have been able to rest easily and free for the past couple of nights. Huge thanks to Danielle, Bob, Michelle and the rest of the team for their kindness and hospitality! The group even took us out on their free day to a nearby water park (can you believe that?) to spend an afternoon sliding and enjoying what would have been a sunny day. Instead in the clouds and threatening thunderstorms, we spent the afternoon making braai (bbq) and making various 6-person configurations heading down one of the big slides. It reminded me of summers in New Jersey. A pretty surreal experience seeing as that we are in Zambia.
Before we arrived here, we were thrilled to be able to spend two nights in a small village outside of Chirundu, which is on the boarder with Zimbabwe. Our guide on our Nomad trip invited us to come and see his family if we were interested, and all three of us were eager to get a taste of a more local experience. The journey was wonderful – our family welcomed us into their home and spent an entire day showing us around their family’s banana farm, the “convergence” where the Zambezi River meets the Kafue River, visiting the local market, and relaxing in the oppressive heat. We were thrilled to meet the family’s grandfather, who is not sure how old he is, but everyone thinks he’s somewhere in his 90s (OLD for Zambia). He was slow to come out of the house, but sat down with us for a while to talk a little bit, smile a lot (grinning to show us his two teeth), and thank us for coming to see him. He is now living alone after his wife died, and the family is having tough time figuring out how to continue taking care of him as he does not want to leave his home.
I loved our visit there – enjoyed rides in the back of the pickup truck and having conversations with folks to hear about some of the local issues that affect them. Land issues are definitely on many people’s mind – we learned that you can acquire land for free in many places in Zambia just by proposing your land use idea to the head man, who then conferrs with the local chief. If they agree it is usually confirmed by the land comission, and you are given your papers for your plot of land. This process seems to have worked well in the past, but it appears that frequently the process is taken advantage – whether by expanding their plot of land (and therefore pushing people out of their homes) without asking permission, or by expanding their land by paying off the head man. We were told that many foreign whites come into Zambia, get cheap or free land through this process then build on the land and sell it to the highest bidder, making them a ton of money and not necessarily investing into the local community. This makes for complex relationships between foreigners and locals. However, at the end of our visit, the brother (who had been complaining to us about the land use problems) told us that we should definitely come back to Zambia to get land and make some money. One day he was condemning the behavior and the next day he was suggesting we do just that.
We waved goodbye to the family in the morning and got on a minibus to Lusaka. In Lusaka we stayed at the Chachacha Backpackers, a friendly and clean spot we were happy to pitch our tent in for the night. There we met a bunch of other great travelers, including Jamie, who started the Peace Pedalers project. He is an incredibly interesting person who is biking around the world for a total of about 8 years (taking some time off to catch up at home for a bit) on a tandem bike. He is creating a “rockumentary” along the way, so he travels with video and camera equipment and does everything from record local concerts to record his own journey along the way. He picks up riders as he goes to join him on the back of his bike, with the hope of building peace through cultural understanding and experience. Cool, huh? You can check out his website at www.peacepedalers.com.
In Lusaka we were also looking forward to meeting back up with Danielle, a HIV/AIDS researcher based in Lusaka. We met Danielle in Windhoek, and we were glad to get in touch with her again when we arrived in Lusaka. Oddly enough, I was put in touch with another couple working in Lusaka before I left Seattle (thanks Jenny & Roque). When I got in touch with Bob & Michelle, it turned out they worked for the same project as Danielle! So even before we arrived in Lusaka we had been in touch with 3 of 8 of the project’s team. Wild, huh? After our first night here the group invited us to stay with them, which has been fabulous. We will be sad to leave them on Thursday morning!
Again, I am disappointed that we won’t be heading down into Zimbabwe, as I have been hearing so much about the wonderful people there as well as the interesting sights to see (was really looking forward to seeing the Great Zimbabwe ruins). But unfortunately as the government in Zimbabwe is pressing harder and harder against any opposition parties, and has recently become more violent in their oppression. The situation in Harare especially has been very hectic since the demonstrations held there on March 11. As we were planning to transfer through Harare to get down to Great Zimbabwe as well as some other nearby sights, it seemed to usthat we should rethink our plans to stay on the safe side. If you’re interested in reading some good blogs about the situation, you can link to them through this article written by the BBC – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6456027.stm.
Although it is sad to miss out on the other places in Zimbabwe, I’m definitely looking forward to Mozambique – the Portugese influence will be a very different experience than the places we have been so far. In planning to get to Mozambique, we’ve had to pick and choose where we want to head, as it covers a ton of territory and is supposed to be fairly difficult to navigate. Add in the recent flooding and cyclones that happened there in Feburary, and you make for a rougher road! But it seems the northern area of the country will be just fine, and I’m looking forward to a dip in the ocean sometime in the near future!
If you’ve survived the read all the way to this point – thanks! So much happens every day here and it’s tough to get even a few of the thoughts I have each day down to share with you all. But know that we’re happy, safe, and looking forward to the road ahead, as usual. Meeting such interesting and kind people along the way enriches the journey we have and ensures we are able to have a variety of perspectives of the places we are along the way.
More photos will come slowly but surely – keep checking the photo site – I hope to have photos up from Botswana and Vic Falls before I leave Lusaka!