It is Tuesday morning at 5am and I am standing in the bustling Lusaka public bus station. It is cold and dark, but the station is full of life – people are preparing to brave the highways of Zambia. Within 5 minutes of my arrival, I have been dragged across the station by multiple men who thought that they would trick me into getting on their bus, only to have me start to speak to them Tonga and deny their attempts. A bit more than cranky, I am pleased to see their faces blossom with surprise and their drunken eyes focus on me as if to say “what the… how… but you are…Misungu!” Yep.
I climb onto the bus, find my undersized seat, pray that my bag has not been removed already and stolen from the cargo hold, pop in my headphones and prepare for the 10 hour trip to Solwezi in the Northwestern Province. I am actually looking forward to the much needed sleep that the swaying motion of the bus will provide. I am just about to pass into dreamland when I hear “Hallelujah! Can I hear you say ‘Amen’? ” No way. No way is there a preacher on this bus right now. The sun hasn’t even started it’s march across the sky and this guy is trying to preach the ‘good word’ on this bus. I am not happy. Even with Chris Martin and guys of Coldplay piping through the headphones, the noise being created by the preacher cannot be overcome. For the next 15 minutes I get to listen to how God will save me if I give, and give, and give. It was quite convenient how after the giving sermon the preacher held out his collection hat. What was even more convenient is that of the 70 people on the bus, there were only a handful of people that didn’t give to the guy. My wallet stayed closed that time, for the preacher at the next stop, and for the preacher after that. After 5 stops and 10 hours of cramped, hot bus riding, my time was up when we arrived in Solwezi later that afternoon. I checked into the lodge and did my best to give the receptionist a kind smile, but judging by the look that she gave me, I needed a shower and bed.
The next morning came and went, as did my departure time for the village of Kisasa – my final destination for the next 10 days. I waited and waited for the call that the driver was on his way, but it never came. Finally after polishing off another Game of Throneschapter, I got the call that I was going to be delayed another day – I was told to be ready at 6am the next morning. By this point, I was starting to get a bit anxious about finally arriving in Kisasa, wondering if it was ever going to happen. Thankfully though, at 6am the next morning, the driver was at the gate of the lodge with a big smile on his face, ready to take me and 5 other World Vision employees into the bush.
Upon my arrival, I am greeted by Dickson on his motorbike. He is sporting the same ear-to-ear smile as almost every other World Vision employee, but his is special in the fact that he has a wonderful gap right in between his two front teeth. He throws me the traditional Zambian handshake and welcomes me to the area. He then informs me that he is in charge of the business trainings in the area and will be one of my partners for the field work. Within a few hours we are flying down the dirt roads towards our meeting with the local World Vision officers for the village of Wanyinwa. We meet the three men in the schoolhouse of the village and discuss our plans for the coming week. We go over the selection process for the participants, how to get supplies, and other logistics of the 4 day workshop. An hour later we are speeding along on the dirt road again, watching the sun set over the countryside and I am now sporting the classic Zambian smile.
That night I am introduced to the rest of the World Vision team in the area,
including Patrick, my other partner in the workshop, and Chasenga, my ‘host’ of sorts. As we settle down after the dusty day of riding and meetings, we are presented with a wonderful, traditional Zambian dinner: nshima, fish, cabbage, and gravy. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of having nshima, it is the Zambian staple food that is eaten every single day. It is the stomach filler, the gut buster, the 5-finger goodness. To describe nshima, one must have eaten Play-doh before – imagine that you are eating fresh Play-doh, then take away all of the fun colorings, remove any taste and eat it with your hands. It is said that if you ask a Zambian if they have eaten today, they will tell you that they haven’t unless they have had their nshima.
The next morning I was on the bus again, heading back towards Solwezi, out of the rural village area, to make my way down to Ndola for the Zambian World Cup qualifying match against Ghana. Because of the nature of the bus system, I have to spend the night in Solwezi in order to catch a bus that gets me to Ndola before game time at 3pm. So I arrive in Solwezi expecting a relaxing evening and a few hours later I am settling into bed with my books. It is just about the moment when I set the mosquito net around my body that I feel a terrible rumbling in my stomach. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that my stomach is in the early stages of revolt and that it is going to be a brutal night.
3am rolls around and I have gotten about 30 minutes of sleep in between shivering under my covers and bolting to the bathroom. Even after months of traveling and hardening my stomach against some pretty nasty conditions, I am struggling to keep my sanity while I work through this attack. The only thing that is keeping me going is what I read in a book written by adventurer Bear Grylls “if you get the stomach bug, just let nature take its course and try to enjoy the ride.” By the time my alarm went off at 5am for my bus to Ndola, I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t handle a 6 hour bus ride and that I was going to have to miss the match. This was the low point. I was in the fetal position, trying to force my stomach to calm down by sheer will power, all the while knowing that I am in the middle of some strange town and missing the World Cup match.
A few hours later I texted my friends to tell them that I wouldn’t be making it to the match. Being good friends, they told me in a variation of British and New Zealand slang that I was just being a little girl. As I sat on my bed, looking at my phone, I realized that this chance was not going to come around ever again. I thought about what my friends back home would do and the lengths I have gone in the past to make it to Michigan Football and Detroit Red Wings games. I was not going to let this illness beat me. So I grab some vitamins, take a handful of pills, force down some water, say a prayer, and sit my ass down on a bus headed towards Ndola. I couldn’t even be mad at the preachers this time because I was concentrating so hard on not losing whatever I had left all over the guy sitting next to me.
It was all worth it.
The Chipolopolo Boys, Zambia’s national soccer team who are also the AfricaCup reigning champions, played a wonderful game against Ghana and won in spectacular fashion. As I sat amongst my friends and 40,000 other Zambians all screaming and blowing their vuvuzelas, I couldn’t help but smile and think about how adventures usually include taking the good with the bad. There was complete pandamonium in and around the stadium, but I was loving every second of it.
Two days later I had moved a few hundred kilometers back to Kisasa and was standing in front of 20 community members from the village of Wanyinwa giving a lesson on basic business skills. All of my prep work was finally coming together
and the workshop had begun. For the following 3 days I worked with local World Vision staff and did our best to equip 20 entrepreneurs in Wanyinwa with the tools that they needed to make their vague dreams about starting a business, a reality. We worked with men and women, young and old, small business owners and goat farmers – all in the effort to empower their community and not let the mine destroy their entire way of life.
I must admit, it is a bit difficult to sum up the entire expereince in this blog here, especially since I just finished writing a 12 page report. How do I tell you about the expresssion on the participant’s faces when they finally understood the mathmatics behind the cash flow statement? How do I describe the conversation that took place when we started to discuss the difference between inactive and active businesses? How best do I portray the women in the group and the concern they expressed when they were told to name their businesses because they didn’t know if they should include their husband’s name in the title?
All of these events, and many more, took place during my time in Kisasa and Wanyinwa. Whether it was learning to cook traditional nshima or going on evening runs that turned into running competitions with groups of school children, I was doing exactly what I had set out to do on this Grand Adventure. I was pushing my comfort zone and experiencing a culture so far from my own that I could barely tell which way was up.
I’ll leave you with one thought for today:
What if once a month you went and completely exposed yourself to another culture for a few hours? It doesn’t have to be on a volunteer basis and it doesn’t have to be some big operation. You could just go to a local, family run, authentic restaurant and chat with the owners over their favorite dish. You could go to a different church. You could go learn salsa dancing. You could honestly do anything, just as long as it breaks from the norm. What if my grandparents got their news, once a month, from the Daily Show with John Stewarton Comedy Central instead of Fox News. What if my healthy friends spent a day going through physical rehab training at a local hospital? Imagine what our world would look like if people took a few hours every once and a while to appreciate the ‘other perspective.’
Chew on that one for a while…
Current Location: Kisasa, Zambia
Click > Business Plan Training Report < for a copy of my final report on the ‘Build a Business’ Workshop!