Today is a travel day to get from Lilongwe to Chipata. The five other Zambia JFs, Anna-Marie the AVC Zambia Team Lead, and I climb onto a bus to take the border. Its not a luxury coach, nor one of the famously poorly maintained mini-buses that are common in much of Africa. Its a hybrid both in comfort, and in size. We squeeze into the back 2 rows and wait as the bus fills before we depart.
By the time the bus is ready to pull out of the station there is a woven sack full of merchant goods stacked precariously on top of a large suitcase on one side, people crammed in the middle, and on the other our mound of backpacks. The leaning tower of luggage hangs over the passengers below and a single fraying rope strapping it place provides me little comfort. Luckily I’m out of the blast radius, so I can turn my attention to a street vender trying to sell me something through the bus window. I have the choice between Jesus stickers or Barbie stickers. I pass. Aye Zikomo - No, thank you.
As we approach Zambia the landscape begins to change. The scattered disjointed hills of Malawi come closer together forming a continuous string of peaks, and the plains give way to large rolling hills. It is this mountain range that leads north the Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. At the buses last stop we get out and take taxis to the border where we wait for customs to give us our visas. The border of Zambia is nothing spectacular. No fireworks, marching bands, or welcoming party with platters of food. There stands a single iron gate, some lazy army guards sitting under a tree, a swarm of money flippers trying to sell you Zambia Kwacha for Malawi Kwacha at a terrible rate, and in the bush line a couple hundred meters away people crossing back and forth illegally.
With a few dusty steps past the gate I am in Zambia – I've spent seven months dreaming about this exact moment. My first steps in Zambia, wow, what would they be like? What would I be feeling? Overwhelming excitement? An eagerness to jump into my placement and start changing the world?! My stomach grumbles, and my first thought is, " I wonder what is for supper tonight…" So much for my grand climactic entry. We taxi yet again into Chipata after crossing.
Our first stop is the bank. I slide my card into the machine and make my request to withdraw 200 dollars. The machine takes a while to think, then moans as if to say, "Oh great, another white tourist making me work" and chokes on a wad 1 Million Zambia Kwatcha. Everyone always dreams of being a millionaire. For me in Zambia it is not a great feeling. Guilt would be the wrong way to describe it; I almost want to say… embarrassing? As discreetly and quickly as possible I slip the stack of 50,000 ZK bills into my bag. I don’t want anyone to notice how much money I have just taken out. Not because I’m scared of being robbed, but because I’m a little uncomfortable with how easily I took out more money than some people live off of in a year. I notice the other JFs are quick to do the same.
After spending some time in the market getting rice and vegetables for supper, we return to the lodge. We eat, sing, and drink Mosi, the local Zambian beer. Mosi is no Keith's. It has an after taste that leaves you wondering if you licked a bar of soap. If you mix it with Fanta though, it's not half bad (only the Mosi half is). Thanks for the tip Raquel.
Tomorrow morning I will be alone for my first time in Africa. I will not have the cushion of support that everyone has provided so far. When they say "welcome to your JF family", they don't lie. They really become as close as family. I think it has something to do with the whole "shared experiences bind us" philosophy. But, faster than we can grow together, tomorrow they leave. The thought is fleeting and exits my mind as soon as Raquel offers me another Mosi and Fanta.