Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Road Trippin' in Northern Zambia.

There’s this wonderful long weekend in July where you can piece together an American holiday (umm, that would be the one you know about…the 4th of July) and then the ever popular Zambian holidays, Heroes Day and Unity Day.  I can’t really tell you what Heroes were celebrated on Heroes Day (nor can any Zambians).  And Unity Day?  I guess Unity Day is a day that people rest.  I can get into that…

Anyway, for this long weekend I headed north.  Having lived in the Western Province for my first year and then “the big city” this last year, I hadn't ventured too far into other parts of Zambia so I was eager to do some snooping around.  Two girlfriends and I had put together a 4 day travel adventure that would have us leaving Lusaka on Friday and returning the following week on Tuesday and driving about 10 hours north (northeast) of Lusaka.  We packed up the car and were ready for our adventure (if you would have seen how many bags of chips we packed you would have thought we were three 13 year old girls going to camp)?  But, really, who can go on a road trip without junk food? 

Anyway, the first night we stayed at our friend’s house (well, her grandmother’s house) in a village just outside of Mpika.  Unfortunately, we arrived quite late and were a bit zombie-like so didn’t get to enjoy much of the village hospitality.  We simply crawled under the blankets and passed out but not before enjoying the stars.  So many stars.  The next morning we had to get up early and get on the road to make it to our next destination for a guided tour.  That very loud rooster who would not quiet down came in handy in waking us up early the next morning.  It took us about 2 hours to drive to the Shiwangandu Manor 
(http://www.shiwangandu.com/).  It’s this strange British colonial house sitting in the middle of nowhere that has a rich history (you can read about the history on the website if you are interested) but basically this adventurous British man landed in Zambia looking for a place to settle as he was also trying to find the border between the Congo and Zambia.  We actually ended up staying at the Impandala farmhouse which sits on the property (about 3km away from the main house).  It was a beautiful old farmhouse with two spacious rooms and a huge kitchen where we could cook our own food (like we needed more food after eating all those chips…)!

There’s a natural hot springs not too far from the farmhouse where we spent the afternoon.  It was pretty spectacular to be able to bask in the warm water and sink your toes in the sand (and I’ll admit we were doing this while drinking a cold beer).  We then drove back to the old farmhouse where we slept almost 12 hours…it was probably the best night of sleep I have had in the last year.  Maybe it was the comfy bed or the quietness or the relaxing day.  Whatever it was…if I need to get a good night’s sleep again I’m definitely going back to the farmhouse.

The next morning we drove back towards Mpika and headed on a little dirt road to a place called Mutinondo (http://www.mutinondozambia.com/main_frame.htm).  It’s this little piece of heaven in the middle of nowhere.  It’s a wilderness area that has all kinds of outdoor activities - you can hike to 3 or 4 natural waterfalls, there are hills (called inselbergs) with natural granite which provided a kind of sparkly distraction.  But mostly there was lots of time to relax, read and sip wine from our balcony with an amazing view.

The only unfortunate part was the freezing cold temperatures at night.  Okay, they probably aren’t that cold but compared to the bliss that we usually live in here in Zambia it was quite cold.  We had to huddle around the fire at night and then quickly jump into bed around 8PM.  Oh, and then there were the bats living in the roof.  Not so pleasant when you have to crawl out of bed to use the outdoor toilet at night.  But, hey, this is Africa.

It was an amazing weekend and hopefully you will enjoy the pictures!  I keep trying to tell you all to get on over here for a visit.  And I promise not to take you to a place with bats…that’s optional on the African tour.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Work. Zimbabwe. And Habibi.

It has been too long since my last post.  The reason?  My life has probably gotten… boring.   I am sort of in a groove at work.  It’s good though.  I am enjoying the challenge and continuing to learn more than I would ever want to know about logistics and supply chain management.  Most of my time is spent in the office, behind a computer, analyzing data and putting that data into reports (not very glamorous or African, huh)?  I do miss being out in the field though and hope to make more time in the future to get my hands dirty not just analyzing data but being part of the collection process. 

Anyway, I have managed to make some time to travel these past couple of months (you can’t live here and not make time to travel).  I went to Zimbabwe to an amazing music, arts and theater festival called HIFA (www.hifa.co.zw). It’s an international event hosted every year showcasing local, regional and international music, fashion, dance, and theater talent.  I was terribly impressed with the caliber of talent showcased and couldn’t get over the organization of the festival.  Having lived in Zambia for a couple of years this has not been my experience in general.  There was a legendary concert here in Zambia last year (okay, maybe not legendary but pretty epic) which was not quite as organized.  The concert started 5 or 6 hours late, had one portable toilet for hundreds of attendees and even though you paid for a ticket, no one was actually checking tickets.  I do love Zambia though...oh, and did you hear about the WHO report on Zambia and our drinking habits?  Go ahead and read...
But my most exciting news to share is that I have been taking care of the most amazing dog these past couple of months.  Habibi (which means “my beloved” in Arabic) is a Tibetan Terrier and is one of a kind…I don’t know if I’m going to want to give him back to his family (who has been in the states for the last few months).  He has been a lovely little distraction and made me remember why I loved having a dog in my life. I'm posting a few pictures from my Zimbabwe trip so enjoy...and here's Habibi. :)

Habibi.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Running is not a Religion, it is a Place.

So if you haven't heard of this amazing runner, Dr. George Sheehan, you should read a bit about his story and his passion for running - and living.  He ran the world's first sub-five-minute mile by a 50 year old and went on to run an impressive laundry list of runs in his lifetime...but was more impressive was his philosophy on running.  During my Peace Corps service I started running,  Throughout my life, I was always interested in health and wellness but my love of running was rekindled during my time living in a remote South African village.  I can’t really say what sparked this love affair with running but I do know running helped me stay sane during my service.  I loved getting up early in the morning and running along the village roads in the quiet mornings.  It was my time to really clear my head and create some space.  When I was feeling frustrated or stressed out or happy or sad, I would lace up my shoes and run.  George Sheehan once implied that running was a religion but what he was trying to say was that it's a place where you can completely lose yourself and commune with God and yourself.  Here's the short essay if you are interested -http://www.georgesheehan.com/running_religion.html

When I started running, I randomly was participating in a few marathons here and there…South Africa is rich with running events.  Not so much in the villages but in the large communities.  So I did a few marathons and then this crazy ultra marathon (which is where you run the distance of two marathons).  I loved all of these events – not because I’m really any good but because it gave me a chance to be part of a community of like-minded people who love running as much as I do.  Anyway, when I left South Africa I have continued running. I typically run here in the mornings before most people are up and before there are cars on the road (because there aren’t that many sidewalks so your risk of dying is much lower).  I haven’t really done any races because, well, there aren’t any here in Zambia.  So a few months ago I decided I would go back to South Africa and run a couple this year.  Thus, last weekend I traveled back to Johannesburg to run in my first marathon in over a year.  It gave me the chance to see old friends, get my hair cut (very important since Zambia is not to connected to good hair stylists) and ultimately run in this marathon.  I was pleased with the run but really I don’t care how I do…I run because I love it.  Because it's sorta like my religion.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Obrigada, Brazil.

Happy 2014!  I was lucky enough to ring in the New Year in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This was my first time in South America and without a doubt I am already anxious to come back and see more - our time here was too short.  I am reminded every time I travel how very little I know about the world, really.  One of my biggest regrets is probably not starting to travel earlier in my life.  I feel like being able to visit other places and see even just a small part of the world is such a valuable opportunity.  Yes, it can be a bit daunting to leave your comfort zone and try to figure out how to move around but it's worth the time and effort.  I hope that I continue to have the opportunity to travel around this crazy world as much as I possibly can...

Anyway, Brazil.  Where to start?  Heather and I tried to explore as much as possible of the two cities we visited.  We spent our first week in Salvador which is the capital of Bahia and sits on the Atlantic Ocean in the eastern part of Brazil.  We stayed with a friend there who had previously lived in Lusaka and was gracious enough to let us stay in his summer home (he lives in Brasilia but is from a small town outside of Salvador so goes there to visit family).  We didn't have a car to get around and since his place was located outside of the actual city centre it was a bit difficult to get around but we managed after a few adventures. Unfortunately, neither of us speak Portuguese (Heather can manage much better than she will admit and could at least get us food and taxis which proved to be very helpful) but I was of no help.  I did figure out a few key phrases like "thank you" and "do you speak English" and "I don't speak Portuguese" but to have a meaningful conversation?  Impossible.  But, we were able to visit the beautiful beach of Barra and also went to the historic centre of Pelourinho which was spectacular.  We spent Christmas on the beach in Salvador (one of many days spent on the beach)!  But on Christmas day the beach was packed with families playing, drinking and making merry.  It was fun to be part of the celebration!

After leaving Salvador, we made our way to Rio de Janeiro to spend a week. Heather had been there a couple of times before so had a friend who graciously allowed us to stay in his home.  We spent New Year's Eve among hundreds of thousands of people who sit on the beach in Copacabana and watch fireworks and drink champagne.  Then people just walk along the beach basically all night!?  It's like a giant moving party with people everywhere...it's really amazing to see.  We joined in for a while and then took refuge at a house party.  Turned out to be a truly memorable night.  This night was among many other nights in Rio which were filled with fun adventures and drinking caipirinhas (Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaca, lime and sugar).  Quite tasty and a drink I will try to recreate when I go back home.

During the day we visited Sugarloaf Mountain which offered spectacular views of the city, the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemor) which is this huge statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks the entire city of Rio de Janeiro and is considered the largest art deco statue in the world, visited amazing neighborhoods like Lapa and Saint Teresa, and made our way up the Escadaria Selaron (stairs of Lapa) which are beautifully decorated stairs.

I have to tell you though that it was hot.  Basically you would shower to go out and end up covered in sweat within 5 minutes of being outside.  The lovely thing about this city though is that everyone is free.  Meaning they wear what they want and no one is uptight about their appearance.  So even if you are sweating away at least you are doing it among people that don't seem to mind too much...

I loved my time in Brazil.  I definitely want to come back again...I mean the World Cup is right around the corner??  And there is also Carnival??  So many good times to be had in Brazil.  I've tried to put up a few pictures so please take a look.  And, again, wishing you all a happy, happy new year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. But not in Africa.

I’m sorry for my lack of posts.  Life has been hectic.  Anyway, I’m getting ready to leave on another adventure.  Surprisingly this one will not be in Africa.  I’m going to be spending the holidays this year in South America.  Brazil to be more exact.  I decided to tackle another continent.  Not because I don’t love my beautiful Africa.  It’s just that the cost of getting anywhere within the continent is crazy.  It’s almost cheaper to move off of the continent than to move within (at least trying to fly anywhere).  So, a friend talked me into meeting her in Rio de Janeiro (honestly, it wasn’t that hard to convince me…)!  We will spend a few days in Rio and then fly to Salvador where we’ll spend Christmas.  But, of course we have to go back to Rio where we will spend New Year's at one of the "1000 Places to See Before You Die."



I will report back in January with lots of pictures and stories but until then…sending my love and wishing you all a happy holiday season!  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Liuwa Plains.

This past weekend I made a whirlwind trip back to the Western Province.  It was a crazy undertaking but worth the effort.  Last year I had failed to see this mass migration of wildebeests (the 2nd largest in Southern Africa) which happens in the Liuwa Plain National Park (this game park is situated about 3 hours outside of Mongu  near the Angola border) and I was bound and determined to make the journey this year.  So, with a 3 day weekend in front of us my brave friends Simon and Shannon agreed to accompany me to find some wildebeests.

We got up at 3:30AM Saturday morning and proceeded to get lost trying to get out of Lusaka.  Luckily, Simon is a good navigator and led the charge so we quickly found our way to the very straight and boring road to Mongu.  We had to meet our guide into the plains by 11AM in Mongu so we were a bit under pressure but we successfully managed.  Shannon was already in Mongu so picked up provisions (complete with tomato sauce, cutlery, green peppers and other random items).  Unfortunately, we later learned we had nothing to cook with but we managed to beg and borrow from other campmates to make a one-pot wonder meal…but I digress.  Anyway, after successfully arriving in Mongu, we immediately left on our next leg of the journey with our guide (you need a 4x4 to maneuver in the park) and headed south to Kalabo.  The road was…let’s see how do I describe the road to Kalabo?  A bit bouncy?  It’s this crazy road that’s being constructed through the plains and it keeps getting washed away during rainy season.  We had fun being launched around the land cruiser (no napping for me) and then bargaining with the construction workers to cross the somewhat constructed bridge because the pontoon was broken.  We ended up giving them a half-eaten loaf of bread in return for allowing us to cross the bridge which may or may not collapse at any moment as cars cross.  Ahh, this is Africa.

Pulling into Kalabo we paid for our campsite in the park (after chasing down the worker who was supposed to be working in the tourist information center but was off attending church) and boarded another pontoon to get into the park.  This park is remote…but beautiful.  It’s just open space.  I don’t think my pictures will truly capture the beauty.  And we quickly found wildebeests.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see thousands of them as anticipated (just hundreds).  Apparently their journey into the park from Angola is delayed a bit…but it was still pretty spectacular.  We also saw the largest hyenas I’ve ever seen.  And a jackal.  And bubble fish, a water monitor and amazingly large birds (I have no idea what kinds).  There are lions in the park but we failed to find them?  Those sneaky lions. 


We had a great time camping with very little equipment, skewering green peppers to try to cook over the fire, and drinking some wine under the stars.  The best part was showering after arriving back in Mongu (we were pretty disgusting) and then watching the sunset over the plains and getting to see old friends who I miss terribly.  It was a good weekend.  I feel lucky that I get to continue to have these adventures in Africa.    

Monday, October 21, 2013

Going back to Mongu.

So this past weekend I went home. Back to Mongu.  So I say I went home because as we were driving into town, that’s what it felt like, going home.  It was this overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  And it’s not like I’ve been gone for that long.  It’s only been a little over a month.  But I have all of these feelings wrapped up in Mongu.  My friends, colleagues, community....as much as I have loved making the move to Lusaka, I've missed living in small town Zambia this past month.  I went back for my friend’s going away party.  She was one of my closest friends in Mongu and I will miss her ‘too much’ as we say here.  We had a crazy weekend dancing at the Mongu clubs, having a braii on the plains, watching the Makishi perform and just generally enjoying a weekend away.  I’m grateful that I can still go back occasionally to visit.  I'm sure as more time passes it will be easier.  Lusaka will start to feel like home.  But, for now, I still love this little western town.

Here are a couple of pictures from the weekend.  In Zambia, the Luvale people hold the 'Makishi festival' to mark the end of the an initiation period. We had the opportunity to see some of the Makishi perform the afternoon of my friend's going away party in the Mongu plains which was really interesting.  Boys (usually ages 8-12) are taken into the bush for 1–2 months where they undergo several rites of passage into manhood. These involve learning certain survival skills, learning about women and how to be a good husband, learning about fatherhood, and also they are circumcised. To celebrate the boys' completion of their initiation the Makishi festival welcomes them back to the village as men. The night before boys from the village take their masks to the graveyard and sleep there, allowing the spirits of their ancestors to enter them. The following evening they appear in the village with their masks. Although the other members of the community know roughly who is taking part, they do not know who is under which mask. The masks represent specific characters.  I've posted a few pictures in my photo album if you get a chance to take a look (more to come soon so keep checking back...)!

The plains of Mongu.  
One of the Makishi.