My very first big trip abroad was in 1989 when I was still a teenager. I was sent to Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa to stay with some friends of my grandparents. At the time I was not too excited about going as it wasn’t my choice and I thought how much fun could I have staying with friends of my grandparents. However, on the plane ride over things were looking up. I was seated next to an Indian man that had been in the United States going to Penn State University and was on his way home to visit with his parents. Turns out his parents had moved to Lusaka Zambia, the same place I was going, and his mother taught in an international school at the same school of the people I was going to be staying with, what were the odds of that?!
So he offered to be my guide while I was staying in Zambia and I thought what better way to see the area than with a local. I was surprised that most of the expats living there were British and had introduced a lot of British customs to the natives. Zambia is where I watched my first polo game and had my first ‘tea’, well hot tea that is which I wasn’t too fond of at that time, and goose pate (goose liver) that was actually delicious to my surprise. Another very noticeable cultural oddity to me was that women were not allowed to go out alone, which being the extremely independent female that I am and having quite the adverse reaction to authority I found this totally unacceptable. However I did have my new guide to take me around so it felt more like two friends having fun than being forced to drag a man around with me or face a fine.
One night I was invited by my new friend to his parents house for a dinner party. I didn’t think it through completely as they were originally from India and curry dishes were always a staple. I decided to give it try and as I suspected curry is something for me personally to stay very far away from. I have never been so sick on food before in my life! The point is I do try new things, if you don’t try then you will never know if you like it or not.
Some other new food items I got to try include some interesting native ones such as nshima which is a type of cornmeal mixed with water and boiled to be a thick substance that the natives use to eat other foods mainly soupy types. This dish was too dry for my taste and really didn’t have much flavor at all. Another one that I enjoyed immensely is called Samosa, which is actually an Indian dish. It is a fried pie sort of meal stuffed with different ingredients such as potatoes, chicken, beef, pork etc. The beef one was so good I couldn’t get enough of them. I have actually recreated these at home and they were pretty good but still not as good as what I had in Zambia. (see recipe below)
There was one dish that I will never forget however, I did forget the name, maybe because I blocked it from memory it was so cringe-worthy. It reminded me of seaweed and I think what did it for me was the fact that while I was still holding the end of it with my fingers, I could feel the rest of it in my throat and stomach. Not a pleasant experience on that one. For the most part the people I was staying with had their butler cook most of the meals at home and he cook a lot of American type of dishes. We did however go to one really nice restaurant, I can’t remember
what I ate there I just remember a sign on the wall as we entered that read “Animals are welcomed, Children are not” ah yes welcome to Africa, my kind of place!
The next place I went was a wildlife refuge and stayed in a hut with elephant grass for a roof and a mosquito net over the bed for very obvious reasons I would find out later. What a joy lying in bed and listening to the calls of the zebras, elephants, and hyenas while monkeys ran across the roof playing with one another. I had the best time here getting to see so much of the African wildlife by a walking tour as well as by vehicle. (see below the type of hut I stayed in at the park)
While on a night move in our safari vehicle I got to see one of my favorite African animals eating their favorite meal with the family…hyenas. Call me crazy I think they are beautiful and the way they sound like they’re laughing just cracks me up. Another favorite, the beautiful leopard which I was told was one animal that was very elusive and that we probably wouldn’t see one. Well on the same night seeing the hyenas we were riding along and I looked down on the road where we were driving and there were two baby leopards. Our guide stopped the vehicle so we could get a good look and I don’t know what came over me I jumped out of the vehicle to pet them! Our guide went insane, screaming at me in a foreign language and grabbing his rifle haha when he calmed down he said in English “are you crazy? the mother could be lying in the trees waiting to jump out and kill you!” Well I wasn’t thinking about that.
On our walking safari our guides carried rifles
just in case the wildlife got a little too wild. We got to the river where we had to get into a canoe to get across and made a few attempts. We ended up turning around and coming back at least three times due to all the hippos and crocodiles in our path. If you know anything about the hippo, they may look like they are cute and slow but they are actually one of the most vicious and fast animals on land and water. There was quite the anxiety there thinking we would be thrown out of the boat and eaten by multiple predators at any moment.
Later on my friend would take me to the bazaar where the locals had their handmade items. There was such an abundance of talent with beautiful artwork, sculptures, and basketry and the best part was my friend said they like to trade their work for items like ink pens and fishing flies which was very hard to believe but most would trade for items not money. I bought some fantastic artwork there along with several hand carved masks and beautiful baskets. Definitely worth visiting the bazaar if you make it over.
I also was able to go to one of the native villages where people lived in a type of mud hut with elephant grass on the roofs. The people were dressed in typical native dress and jewelry which their ancestors had probably worn something very similar thousands of years before. They were so friendly and welcoming and couldn’t wait to show us everything in their village, their food, the jewelry, how they made their artwork, how they made the roofs on their homes. All the children would run up to us and they loved touching my hair. It was a good visit for a day.
The friends of the family I was staying with later decided to take me over to Zimbabwe to show me the famous Victoria Falls. The drive there was quite the adventure in itself. Turns out there was some sort of civil war going on in the region and in those countries when the military stops your vehicle and tells you to drive them somewhere you have to comply or risk some unpleasantness shortly after saying no. I also found out one night after being stopped by a military tank that there was a curfew and I had violated it, how interesting. These are the things you should find out about before you violate laws in foreign countries.
So once we get to the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, we had to check in with the border guards and answer a bunch of questions about why we were crossing the border, how long we were staying and so on. One of the guards asked to see my passport, I said passport? why would I need a passport on me to cross the border? Well that set off a bad reaction with the guard and before I knew it they were threatening to arrest me. Luckily the people I was staying with had a small discussion in the corner and probably some money exchanging to keep me out of the pokey. Anyway when we finally arrived at Victoria Falls it was absolutely breathtaking and as many natural wonders are pictures cannot do it justice. They told me that the water had been up in recent months and this was one of the fullest they had seen the falls in years so I went at a good time. They had a bridge that connected two areas of land in front of the falls so you could get fairly close to it, however to get close to it was to be drowned in water from the mist. A fun fact is this particular picture of the falls is of a scene that was actually used in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.
Another fun thing for me was being able to drive a stick shift on the left side of the road. I thought it would be harder driving but it wasn’t. Using the left hand to shift the gears was definitely a different feel but I did it surprisingly well. I was a little apprehensive driving on the other side of the road due to all the native people that walked and when vehicles went by them they would get out in the road and try to force you to stop and give them a ride, that is until my friend said ‘oh don’t worry about it you can run them over here and not worry about a ticket’ WHAT??!! are you serious I said but apparently that is a socially acceptable attitude there. Very strange just how different social norms and cultures can be from country to country.
Some other things to be mindful of while visiting this area of the world, besides the military and police, is thieves who routinely will steal where they can, of course this is no different than traveling to any country, local thieves will always target tourist as they feel the tourist are carrying a lot of cash or may have a lot of jewelry thinking they are very rich to be able to travel. Spiders! Very large spiders will be lurking around inside buildings, hotels, homes and so on. One night while lying in bed I felt something large and rather heavy crawling on my blanket towards my face. I immediately grab the top of the blanket and shook it very hard and then heard something hit the wall. I hollered for the people I was staying with, when they came into my bedroom I said could you turn on the light a minute please. When the light came on there was no sign of the spider however my door had been open so he could have ran out before my host came in. That’s when they were telling me about these large spiders and told me they were harmless but they said the lizards will bite…great but back to sleep I went anyway.
Another minor issue is water for showers.
I don’t know if things have really improved that much since I was there as this area remains to be a very poor country that has suffered from violence, war, and dictatorships. Water was something you could only get twice a day and only during certain times of the day so you had to schedule your showers.
Monkeys are so fascinating to watch and can be quite funny, but be very careful around them while visiting here. They will appear friendly and will come up to you with no fear, they will even take food right out of your hand but when the food runs out, these monkeys have an attitude to rival a 2 year old brat and they will attack you! The larger baboons are not only rather vicious they are also quite the little thieves. They will steal from your vehicle and from your person so watch out and be aware when they are around.
If you have children make sure if you visit the local crocodile farm where they raise them from babies that you watch your children carefully. When I visited there it was very fascinating to see them up close. They were so much bigger than I expected. The workers there explained that there had been several children that had died at this facility due to parent negligence. Eaten alive by the crocodiles! Remember this is a foreign country and you cannot sue everybody for everything there as people do in the
United States. They will tell you it was your fault and you should have been watching your children better. Well they do have a point. They do allow you to hold the babies though which was pretty cool. Notice this small crocodile I’m holding in this picture, he may look very small and nonthreatening however, they are quite strong and I had a hard time holding on to him plus he beat me to death with his tail.
I would advise anyone traveling here to take extra care of not only what you say and do but take care that you don’t hurt yourself bad enough to seek medical care at the hospital. I took a tour of the hospital to see the conditions. When I visited here so many years ago I had never traveled outside the US before and really didn’t know much about the world and the conditions in which people lived outside the US I mean after all I was only 19 at the time. The hospital was quite an eye-opening experience for me. Aids/HIV was just really getting to a fever in the country, remember this is in the 80’s, no one knew much about it and when I went through that hospital I could not believe what I was seeing. Hospital beds would have 2 and 3 people in them, blood would be all over the floor, people were walking through it. Fluids were draining out of people everywhere onto the floor, people would have already died laying there but no one had removed them yet, which brings me to the unforgettable smell of death and disease. What a site it was and something I will never forget. If you want a reality check then visit the hospitals in some third world country to get a better perspective on your own life and just how great you have it living in the United States. If you are a little squeamish then I wouldn’t recommend it.
As far as religion goes, many people have been converted to Christianity in this area due to the high number of missionaries. Ancestral native religions however are still noticeable and practiced throughout the country. People seemed to be very tolerate overall and the interactions I had from civilians were very pleasant. As I said before the military and local police were a different story but this was during a civil war skirmish when I was there. It is definitely a trip worth taking if for nothing else than to go to the wildlife refuges and to Victoria Falls. I would love to go again and I’m sure I would have different perspectives now compared to those of visiting as a young gal of 19. Things are very different than that of a full grown mind.
Please feel free to share your experiences wherever you may have traveled or ask questions about something you want to know more about. Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences.