“How’s Zambia?” It seems to be the only question I get asked these days and yet I have a lot of trouble answering it.
On the one hand, I spend my evenings pondering all that I’ve left behind – the friends, the beach, the life I love that I won’t see for another year. Then there’s my re-entry into Africa, where the frustrations of the street compete with the shiny luxury shopping complexes for the title of most uncomfortable surroundings. Add to this, the extortionate cost of living that makes Australia seem like a cheap holiday destination, and it isn’t a particularly cheerful picture.
On the other hand, there are the people who, in a matter of minutes, are able to turn your life on its head and get you dreaming and excited about all the possibilities. One of these people was Mulenga Kapwepwe, a down-to-earth woman who just happens to be a playwright, author, cultural expert and political mediator, oh, and the daughter of the freedom fighter who was responsible for giving Zambia its name. Yet, there are also less “famous” but equally amazing people – songstress Claudia, hard-working Alex, BitterSweet poets and smiling Erica. In fact, Zambians must be some of the smiliest people I’ve ever met (not smelliest, as my spellcheck wants me to write). Smiles beget smiles, which beget positivity….and possibilities.
Yet it’s not just the locals that are getting me to think big. This also seems to apply to the few expats I’ve met in my first week, one of which goes by the name of Kathy. A friend of a friend of a friend type deal, I met Kathy when I escaped the confines of my hotel and crashed a private dinner between her and another Aussie volunteer. Kathy works as the global head of Design, Monitoring & Evaluation for World Vision, providing support to only those disasters that affect a million people or more. Needless to say, she had some pretty interesting things to say, and when you consider her community-led approach and her passion around resilience, I was flooded with a sense of hope.
That conversation then led on to discussions about other amazing jobs out there for people like me – think global storyteller for UNICEF, or advisor to fledgling social enterprises in vulnerable Australian communities. In the time it took to slurp down some salmon sashimi (Yes, this is Lusaka), I had gone from missing my sleepy hometown and lamenting my flailing generalist work experience, to viewing it as a launchpad for a life of adventure, positivity and possibilities. I do love possibilities, and if Zambia can bring that, I might just love it after all.