Tsalani Bwino means “stay well”, or goodbye, in Nyanja, one of Zambia’s local languages. When I first arrived in Lusaka, I didn’t know how I would spend 2 months here. “There’s nothing to do in Zambia,” a friend helpfully told me when I asked them for some travel advice. It’s true that Lusaka doesn’t have many tourist attractions, and it’s usually used as a stopover point by backpackers on their way to Livingstone or one of the national parks. However, upon arrival my calendar quickly filled with things to do and my time in-country has flown by. It’s now my last week in Zambia before I head out to Malawi to work with 2 partners there. Zambia has been kind to me, and as I reflect on my time in-country, I’d like to share 5 things I did in and around Zambia for any future fellows who serve here.
Cycled (at least) an hour a day
Lusaka is sprawling and medium-term accommodation is hard to come by. I was working with 2 partners fairly distant from each other, and it was impossible to find any accommodation that was close to both. I spent my first week walking an hour each way to the office, but soon tired out of this. Taxis were far too expensive to use every day. I decided that the best option would be to invest in a cheap bike. I bought my bike from a shop downtown, and after an initial period of being petrified by Lusaka traffic patterns, I became inseparable from my “Super Queen.” There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t spend at least an hour navigating on 2 wheels, and I’ve even ridden it to borrower verification (BV) interviews when my field partner’s car wasn’t available.
Hung out in Lusaka
It’s very easy to meet people in town, especially when staying in shared accommodation. People are very friendly and helpful, and I was exposed to a mixture of locals, tourists and expats. I spent my weekends swimming, checking out local markets (Arcades Sunday Market and Soweto Market), and going to some of the many malls. There are also special events such as art exhibitions, live music and poetry evenings, so it’s worth keeping an eye out on social media to see what’s going on in town during your stay.
Watched the President of Zambia speak
In April, I had the opportunity to attend the Agritech Expo in Chisamba. In Zambia, agriculture accounts for 65% of total employment (according to the World Bank). This exposition showcased Zambia’s commitment to improving the livelihoods of farmers, for example, through collaboration with the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU). The President of Zambia, Mr. Edgar Lungu, visited the exposition to deliver a speech, along with other government ministers and representatives from the ZNFU. My group and I managed to get front row seats, and we learned about the government’s role in supporting farmers, as well as some of the major challenges facing the relationship between ZNFU and the government. It was insightful, not just for the speeches but for experiencing traditions observed in the presence of the president. For example, President Lungu arrived in a military helicopter and was transferred to the marquee in a red tractor. Many women wearing chitenges (traditional dresses) bearing the president’s image followed the tractor, singing all the way to the marquee. Every time the president stood during the conference, the whole room would stand up with him. It was an honor to be able to watch such a speech first hand and pick up certain nuances.
Visited other cities/countries
Zambia is a vast country, and there are great bus connections from Lusaka to other parts of Zambia and the surrounding countries. I travelled up and along the Copperbelt Province for my borrower verification interviews, and in my free time I visited other parts of Zambia. Livingstone is a famous tourist destination and home to the Victoria Falls, and a day-long bus ride away from Lusaka. I visited both sides of the falls, to admire the views in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and got soaked walking along Knife Edge Bridge. In Livingstone I tried a strange but delicious dish, crocodile pizza, at the Zambezi Café. During the Easter holidays, I took a long weekend trip to Harare, where I visited Shona rock sculpture gardens and listened to live Congolese rhumba. You might have to bear long travel journeys, but there’s a lot of opportunities for weekend trips from Lusaka, so if you need to get out of the city there’s plenty of destinations to choose from.
Networked with NGOs
Lusaka is home to many NGO offices, and there are many temporary and permanent employees of local and national NGOs staying in town. One of the highlights of my time in Lusaka was learning about the work of other organizations in the social impact space in Zambia. I met representatives from various organizations aside from my partners in Zambia, including the African Education Program (AEP) and FutureSearch Zambia. I visited the nearby town of Kafue over one weekend with AEP’s CEO, Julie-Anne Savarit Cosenza to see the Amos Youth Centre, a youth center which provides academic after-school programs and university scholarships to the local community. It was great to see international organizations supporting the social fabric at a very local level. I also spent a day in a workshop with Mary Kakumbi, director of FutureSearch, observing how entrepreneurial skills are being taught to Zambians. These were great experiences that helped me to understand the social impact ecosystem that Kiva plays in within Zambia.