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With my time in Zambia over, I headed off to France.

Of course this is much easier to say than to do. My first flight was just after 1 PM, so the cab picked me up at 11 (the Livingstone Airport is quite tiny so this was more than enough time).

After a short flight to Johannesburg, I had about a 7 hour layover. Even with lounge access this is a long time, but with a guitar in tow it would have been difficult to head into the city, plus the airport is not really close to much of anything. So, after 5 weeks of bad nails, well maybe 4, I opted for a manicure and pedicure to pass at least part of the time. Then I headed to the lounge.

My next flight was on EgyptAir to Cairo, not too surprisingly, but somewhat disappointing none the less with two long flights and a layover with them, they are a dry airline. Less comforting was that the plane from JoBurg to Cairo looked like it was about to fall apart, at least the interior was. And the guide for using the video system was anything but user friendly. It just listed the movies in order without a channel number, and you had to count from the top down to figure out which one was where. The system was supposed to have touch screen navigation, but that didn’t really work either. Thankfully, I slept most of the flight.

I then had 5 hours in Cairo, which gave me time to get some breakfast and freshen up a bit as well as get caught up on some personal work. Then I was finally of to Paris. I wish that this plane was what we had on the longer flight, as it was much newer and had much nicer seats.

Finally, I was in the country of my destination, but I still had a long way to go. And upon gathering my luggage and heading off towards the train, I realized that one of the wheels had broken on my bag. Of course I realized this after leaving the baggage area so I couldn’t easily make a claim, I know wheels aren’t generally covered, but the bag was cracked as well, so I will still to try to do this. Note: this makes the score suitcases 2, me 0 for this trip.

This time, I had about 3 hours until my train to Narbonne. But at least I was getting to the last leg of my trip. Finally I was on the TGV, and just had to stay awake to not miss my stop. The rest was easy. My arranged cab driver was there waiting with a sign, and got me safely to the chateau, where I met up with Ihla, owner of Drifter Sister and she got me settled in the little house right next to the castle where I would be staying for the next 6 nights.

And after 37 hours of travel, yes 37, and I didn’t even change a single time zone, I was ready to settle in after essentially losing a day and then some.

But, of course it was around midnight, so I had to be up pretty early again if I didn’t want to miss the outing to Collioure the next day, and I really didn’t want to miss it as it was one of my favorite day trips when I stayed in the castle with one of Ihla’s trips 3 years ago.

Needless to say, I made it, but I will leave the story of that trip for another post.

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It may already be three weeks since I left Zambia, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about Livingstone and the people there almost every day. It was an amazing experience and I hope to be able to do something similar again.

So for this last post on my experiences there, I want to share a bit of what life was like on a daily basis and then talk about how that life led to making very dear friends veery quickly.

As I think I have mentioned, during the time I was in Livingstone I was staying in volunteer house with as many as 40 volunteers. While originally I had hoped to be able to stay with a local family during my time there, I quickly realized that being with other volunteers was also quite valuable.

The location, was the Sunbird Guest House (http://t.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Sunbird-Guest-House/Livingstone/30773?source=adwordsdynamic&network=g&creative=80887456820&adposition=1t1&uniqueclickID=11154187602182511189&sub_keyword=_cat:hostelworld.com&sub_ad=b&sub_publisher=ADW&gclid=CjwKEAjwp56wBRDThOSZ3vqGzmESJABjNaj9I9ZoBJ_gcAJU97eTSz7CWstmSohXQpJ-kfXEfrtNtxoCEo_w_wcB) used by Dream Livingstone Zambia (http://www.dreamlivingstonezambia.com/), the local volunteer organization that handled our placements and the day to day things that needed to be done in Zambia, to house volunteers. IVHQ (https://www.volunteerhq.org/) handled everything prior to my getting to Zambia and does so for projects in many countries.

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Life there could be chaotic at times with 40 people, but there some good places to hang out and chill.

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That said, life there was not easy, but you got used to things like the following:

  • doing your laundry in a bathtub
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  • sleeping under a net in the top bunk
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  • sharing a tiny fridge and a not very large closet with 2-3 other people
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  • a pretty tiny bathroom – the almost always cold shower wasn’t that bad given how hot it was there
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  • a dining room that was so crowded that it was a constant challenge to get to and from the tables
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  • washing dishes with a sponge that had seen better days a long time ago</li

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  • learning to enjoy instant coffee
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    Yes, it was hard at times. But in comparison to the kids we were working with, it pales dramatically.

    And, if it weren’t hard, the friendships that were made in only a few short days probably would not have happened. I can’t list everyone here who I hope to stay in contest with because if I try to, I know I will miss someone and that would be awful. Thanks to things like Facebook, and other communication options, it is possible to stay in touch.

    And hopefully, as some of us continue to travel, we will have chances to see each other again. Just writing this is making me cry, knowing how much I miss each and every one of you who I spent time with

  • playing cards
  • watching sunsets
  • walking to and from school
  • splurging on expensive dinners
  • going on safari
  • hanging out on the swing
  • stargazing during the power outages
  • whitewater rafting
  • hiking around Victoria Falls
  • singing along with guitars and other instruments
  • exploring the markets
  • discovering village life
  • And doing other things that I am sure I am forgetting.

    Peace, and a hope that we will meet again someday.

    As I get close to writing my last post about my time in Zambia, and move on to posts about France, I wanted to share something that often crossed my mind while I was out walking around Livingstone. Everyday, I would see many signs, that were quite varied in content and in structure.

    With all of these I couldn’t help but be reminded of the song “Signs” released in 1970 by the Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signs_(Five_Man_Electrical_Band_song) ).

    And the sign says, “Long-haired freaky people need not apply.”
    So I tucked all my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why.
    He said “You look like a fine, upstanding young man – I think you’ll do.”
    So I took off my hat and said, “Imagine that! Huh… me, working for you!” Woah-oh-oh.

    Chorus:
    Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.
    Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
    Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?

    And the sign says, “Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight”
    So I jumped on fence and I yelled at the house,
    “Hey! What gives you the right… To put up a fence to keep me out,
    “Or to keep Mother Nature in?
    “If God was here, He’d tell it to your face. ‘Man, you’re some kind of sinner.'”

    Chorus:
    Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.
    Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
    Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?

    “Oh, say now mister, can’t you read?
    “You got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat.
    “You can’t even watch, no, you can’t eat. You ain’t supposed to be here!”
    And the sign says, “You gotta have a membership card to get inside.” Hooh!

    And the sign says “Everybody’s welcome to come in and kneel down and pray.”
    But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
    I didn’t have a penny to pay.
    So I got me a pen and paper and I made up my own little sign.
    I said, “Thank you Lord for thinking about me. I’m alive and doing fine.”

    Chorus x2:
    Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.
    Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
    Do this! Don’t do that! Can’t you read the signs?

    Signs, Signs, Everywhere there’s signs.

    It would take way too long to say something about each of these signs, so instead I’m just going to let you view them and have your own thoughts. Maybe when I get home and have access to the full web site for my blog I will change this to a carousel.

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    And if you are unfamiliar with this song, here’s a link to a revival recording (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mt5geMFCcE&sns=em) as well as an older, possibly the original, one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8_IJ6K4uCg&sns=em).

    For my last weekend in Africa, I decided to return to Chobe once again. I realize that it had only been a month since I was there, but I don’t know when I will be back in Africa and wanted to take in the wildlife one last time.

    This time, the group from the volume house that was going was smaller, there were only four of us, so we had tons of room in the van on the way to the border.

    Upon meeting our guide, we had our quick coffee and pastry and the set out on the boat cruise. For this part of the trip we were not joined by any other folks and we also were tolls tent only 2 others would be joining us for the game drives and camping.

    It was quite interesting how much the river had changed in only 3 weeks. We saw a lot less crocodiles, and the hippos were more active. Some of my favorites from this part of the journey are:

  • seeing a fish eagle with a fish in tow
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  • spotting a crocodile with a wide open mouth
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  • and a hippo fight – I can’t include the movie but these are shots before hand
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    We also saw another elephant crossing and and ensuing mud slinging, maybe rye next time you tire of political adds you can remember this picture and smile for a least a short time.

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    And, I saw a few new birds including:

  • the black backed night heron
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  • the goliath heron
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    And I got a couple of good pictures of some old favorites.

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    When we returned to the hotel for lunch, we met the two folks who would be joining us for the rest of our trip. In my opinion, we really lucked out, it was a woman who originally came to Africa as a volunteer years ago who was taking a young girl who was essentially her unofficially adopted granddaughter. So it was great to be joined by folks with similar mind sets as ours.

    Before we reached the park gates we were treated to a great treat of seeing wild (also known as painted) dogs.

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    We then began what turned into a tour of babies (and a few other things) with an elephant nursing and a baby hippo.

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    It seems not matter how many elephants I see, I can’t stop taking photos of them. Not sure what it is, but the results are often pretty cool.

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    The giraffes also work their magic on me fairly often.

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    Near the end of the day we finally spotted some lions, they were pretty far off, but we could see them, especially with our binoculars.

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    A little later we saw one a bit closer, but that was to turn out to be it for the weekend, despite searching (too much in some of our minds) a lot the next day. We did hear them from camp that night, but didn’t see them again.

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    But before heading to camp, we saw a few zebras and had some amazing views of the sunset.

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    At camp, we once again had great food and an awesome fire. In addition, we had a full moon that night to enjoy.

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    Amazingly, it was quite a bit warmer than three weeks earlier, which meant I slept a lot better and was thus ready to go looking, unsuccessfully as noted above, for lions early in the morning.

    Despite searching so much, we did get a few other treats, including an amazing sunrise to go with the sunset from the night before.

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    I was the first to spot both a black backed jackal and a new bird, the southern carmine bee-eater, which was migrating through at this time.

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    And we got a very special treat of seeing a baby giraffe among other giraffe phot ops.

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    Plus a few more zebras and another super cute baby elephant.

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    We also witnessed a very unhappy elephant, the videos of whom I can’t include here, but suffice it to say, there was quite a bit of trumpeting going on.

    Finally, we were treated to one last view of a large group of elephants, yes including a baby, near the river giving us some great photos with reflections in the pools along the banks.

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    One very special afternoon during my stay in Zambia was spent visiting two local villages. And the best part about it was that instead of doing it as a tour such as https://www.afrizim.com/Activities/Livingstone/Village_Tour.asp, we worked with a local from one of the villages whom we met at his stall in the Mukuni market in Livingstone (http://www.zambia-advisor.com/mukuni-park-curio-market.html).

    So, that day, after we were done with our volunteer work, we headed to the market to meet up with Oliver who would both arrange a ride for us to the villages and come with us to guide us and introduce us to people there.

    And the adventure started with the ride, we somehow fit 9 people in a taxi made for 6, and headed out of town. Of course, since we we over the passenger limit we needed to take a detour almost immediately to avoid a traffic inspection point. This involved driving down some very sandy roads which would have been much better handled by a safari jeep, of course that would have cost us a lot more.

    Once we were back on the main road it didn’t take us long to reach the turn off for the village, ands although we were now close to our destination, the rest of the way was more sandy roads so the small distance left took more time that we had already travelled. And the overloaded car struggled a bit as well, with the bumper coming off a few times. Of course, the driver only saw this as a small problem.

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    Before reaching the first village, we stopped at the dry river bed, a sign of just how bad the water situation is these days in the area.

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    I that same area, land was being actively burned in order to make it easier for the villagers to hunt. I really want to do more research into this technique to see if there is some upside to this that they are reaping without knowing about it, such as aiding in the germination of certain seeds in the same way that certain pine seeds are only propagated after a forest fire causing the need for controlled burns or the way prairies need to burn on a regular basis to stay healthy, again calling for assistance now that many natural sources of such fires have been removed.

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    Upon reaching the village we were quite surprised to find that they had prepared lunch for us, I can’t even try to tell you how amazing this is, since they have so little and yet they were so open to sharing what they have. In addition, the food pretty much worked a miracle, my stomach had been off all morning and I hadn’t been able to eat much, but this food, super natural, was a quick cure, and I was able to eat everything that they offered. It was quite a welcome change from all of the highly processed, preservative ladder foods I had been eating for the past weeks.

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    After the meal, we were presented with an interactive demo of how they make the products that they eat. Starting with cord, they shuck it, then grind it multiple times, removing the husks at each step, to yield various products that can be cooked in different ways. The two main items that are produced from the corn are nshima (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nshima), pronounced shee-mah which is formed into a cake like dish which is in a way similar to polenta and another where the grains remain more recognizable.

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    Generally, in Africa, maize is used as a fairly nutritious staple (http://www.africanfoods.co.uk/maize-flour.html).

    In addition, we got to just observer village life and meet a few very new villagers, yes those two girls are twins!

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    After this, we walked to another area of the village, which gave us a sense of just how remote we were, and also showed us more how friendly these people are.

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    And how self-sufficient they are.

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    After this, we headed to another, large village where we meet more friendly people going about their daily tasks.

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    Of course, it was a lot easier to meet folks when most of them are related to your guide. If I remember correctly, Oliver had 24 brothers and sisters, some of whom he didn’t know since they were children of one of his father’s other two wives rather than his mom’s.

    Finally, it was time to leave, and we had a great parting sunset as we made it back out to the main road.

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    The same weekend that I went to the church service, a few of us headed to a local dance presentation on Saturday. We had heard about it from other volunteers and wanted to check it out to both get more of a feeling of the local culture and to do something that wasn’t very expensive.

    We headed there a bit early, since we had heard that there was a market next to it that was only open before the show. As it was a very small market, we had quite some time to kill before the presentation actually started.

    But first, we needed to get our tickets. This was a bit of a challenge, because we had also heard, that as volunteers, we could get in for half price. Of course the woman selling the tickets didn’t want to honor this at first, but we eventually convinced her to give us the reduced rate.

    Even after that, we had some time to wait, and we did so as the only people in the theatre.

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    Even as the performers were warming up, nobody else was coming in, making us wonder if we were going to have a private show.

    Eventually, a few other folks wandered in, and interestingly, continued to wander in throughout most of the show.

    Since I don’t know the significance of any of the dances, I am just including some of the best pictures below.

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    I wish I could add commentary as to the meaning of each of the dances we saw, but nothing like that was provided. I did find this link (
    http://kamangadance.blogspot.fr/2009/08/description-and-demonstration-of_27.html) but I am not sure if any of what is described matches what we saw.

    However, I do want to share one particular story. Shortly after this dancer picked up the pot in his teeth as shown below, he lay down on the stage and put the pot on his stomach. Then another dancer took a very large pole and slammed it into the pot. Later, during our village tour we would see that this was a step in converting corn into nshima.

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    The next part though is the most interesting as the other dancers came into the audience to get “volunteers” to perform the same act. And somehow, probably since I was wearing my chetenga, I was selected. I tried to get out of it, but my “friends” wouldn’t let me and I wound up on stage hammering this large pole into the pot. I tried to be gentle as it was a very strange feeling.

    I don’t have any photos of me in action for this as one of the folks I was with filmed the event on my camera as a video, and I can’t add that to this blog. But I do have this one taken as I was heading towards the stage.

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    Also of interest, was a small girl who was doing her best to imitate the dancers. I am sure I couldn’t do it as well as her, as the isolations that they do in this style of dance are remarkable. I have no idea how they can shake their butts like that without moving anything else. I guess, if you learn it as a kid, you just know how to do it.

    Previously I wrote about how I walked just about everywhere in Zambia, including to and from the school where I was working. But I didn’t include the photos of that route, so this post will give you an idea of what that daily walk was like.

    Since school started at 8:30, and the walk could take up to an hour, this meant that it was necessary to be out the door around 7:30. The good part about that was that it was still fairly cool as the sun was just starting to heat things up for the day.

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    The first part of the journey was down this sandy side road, until reaching the corner where this partially completed house was a guide guidepost for finding the turn back later in the day.

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    Upon turning onto the main road, the surface changed dramatically, as did the traffic, as large trucks would come whizzing past often. Thankfully, normally we walked on the other side of the drainage ditch, only vying for space with the trucks when we wanted to hail a taxi.

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    And, for the trip to school, we were only on this road for about 10 minutes (when going to town we stayed on it all the way there). The next step was to take a right, and cross the road (nowhere near as daunting as in India) at the aforementioned water tank.

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    We then were on a quieter road, though it did have its traffic, including folks who liked to go very fast, thus getting slowed down on various speed bumps along the way. And our next right turn could easily be identified by the car wash on the corner.

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    After this, we had another decent walk before coming to our next right turn at a corner that for some reason that we never discovered, could be flooded by running water despite it being dry season. Of course, both of these last two roads, not being main roads, were not quite as well paved as this shot close to that sometimes water turn shows.

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    We then had a short jog before a left turn that was just before the sign above the road that sent folks on their way as they headed to the airport hopefully after a wonderful stay.

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    At this point, we had another good walk before getting to the final stages of the trip. And this turn was marked with a sign for Gloria’s Bed and Breakfast, easy to remember things that have the same name as a friend.

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    Although, by turning right again, we headed on the opposite direction. And here things changed again as there as a little bridge that went over a swampy area where by then end of my stay had me being accompanied by a chorus of frogs. They were singing so much, they almost sounded like woodpeckers sometimes.

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    At this point, we just had to head past the barbershop to our next right which was onto the road where the school was located.

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    So, while maybe not as memorable as “turning left at oblivion and right at the cow” in India, but noting the route markers during the walk to the school on first day proved to be helpful in the coming weeks.

    I must admit, when I first looked at the activity list for weekend excursions while I was in Zambia, the whitewater raft trip was not high on the list. My thought process was that I have done that elsewhere and could spend my money on better more local things.

    Boy am I glad I was convinced otherwise. The rafting trip was the best I have ever done, and the rapids were so much more intense than anything I had seen before.

    The trip consisted of 25 rapids, technically 24 since one was a class VI (http://wildwater.com/rafting-lingo/) and thus we had to portage around it. We tackled 10 of them, including the portage one, before lunch, and the rest after.

    Before we set out, we were fitted with safety gear and given an overview of what to expect and how to stay safe. While all of this was good information, it also served as a means to increase the anxiousness factor.

    For more information on each of these rapids, you can check out http://www.zambezirafting.com/livingstone-zambia/zambezi-river-rapid-guide.html. However, not all of the rapids are in there, so you might have to look elsewhere as well. But, if for no other reason, take a look to see the names folks have given to these rapids, and imagine hearing those names as you are about to enter into one challenging it to let you stay afloat.

    I don’t have a lot of photos, since I have them on a thumb drive and can’t load that onto my iPad, but I was able to have someone send the following to me.

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    Of course I don’t know where each of these were taken, so I will just have to summarize the trip in words.

    We started at the Boiling Pot, after hiking down to it, clothed in life vests and helmets, with paddles in tow. After getting into our rafts and balancing our weight we pushed off to get a briefing from our guide of what he would be telling us to do over the next few hours.

    We went over paddling, both forwards and backwards ad how to throw our weight around the raft when needed. But most importantly, as you might be able to see from the photos above, we went over the “down” command, which meant to get into the raft and hold on to the attached rope as we were about to bit hit by a wave and possibly tossed upside down.

    After that it was time to tackle rapid #1 – The Wall. Before this and every other rapid, our guide would brief us on what to expect, down to the specific commands he expected to give. So we, or at least I, put nervousness aside, and we took on the challenge. And it was good, we stayed upright and had a fun ride, getting a bit close to the edge of the canyon, but didn’t suffer any scrapes or scratches.

    The story wasn’t quite the same for rapid #2 – The Bridge, aptly named as it is right under the famous bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe, that has sent many thrill seekers plummeting via bungee jumping and gorge swinging. Somehow, despite this being a class III rapid, well maybe III+, we flipped. In a way this was good, as it got it over with early in so I wasn’t nervous about it happening. And it really wasn’t that bad, I was able to hand onto the raft, and was not one of the folks who wound up in the air pocket under it, so all I had to do was hang on as we continued floating, fast, downstream, until the guide could help me back into the raft. This stunt, got us the name, Zambezi Rove Swimming Team, from one of the other guides,

    After this, we did fairly well on the next few rapids, and never flipped again for the rest of the trip. That said, we did almost flip with the raft getting up online side and thus dumping most of us out once, and a few folks getting bounced out on a later rapid. However, if you look at the video of this, it almost looks as of they dove out on purpose. I can’t recall exactly which rapids these happened on, and just like I can’t get to the photos, I can’t see the video right now to check. Once I am home, I may remember to update this post with these details.

    As for that class VI rapid, I recall it being a proper waterfall instead of a rapid, and am very glad we had to walk along side it. For that matter, one of the rafts that was sent over it empty, flipped of its own accord.

    After the portage, only rapid #10 – The Gnashing Jaws Of Death remained before lunch. Well, there was also a chance to jump off of one off the rocks along the shore, but I opted not to do so given how much I really dislike heights.

    Lunch was quick, but a good chance to get some food and reapply the sunblock before heading off to conquer 15 more rapids. While his may sound like quite the challenge, in reality most of the hard ones were behind us. There was a least one class IV left, but no more class V ones. And for part of the time e had a long stretch with no rapids where we tethered two rafts together and were able to drift along without helmets.

    But that isn’t to say that it wasn’t fun. Some of the class III ones were fairly challenging and gave us a good soak. Plus, we were able to swim rapid #24, a class I rapid, and that was quite an experience. Thankfully nobody spotted the crocodile on shore until after we had done this.

    All in all it was a great experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is ever I the area. And if you are, make sure to do it soon, as there is apparently quit a lot of activity around adding a dam to the river to generate electricity, and this would wipe out quite a number of the rapids (http://www.canoekayak.com/news/environment/proposed-zambezi-river-dam-puts-prime-stretch-whitewater-risk/). I really hope that a better solution can be found, as I would like to think that we have finally figured out that messing with Mother Nature does not pay off.

    It seems that no matter where one goes I the world, shopping is part of any trip. And despite having very full bags, there was no exception to that rule in Zambia. I had to be good, and severely limit my purchases, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t look around and experience the various offerings.

    The first market that one finds in Livingstone is the Mukuni market. It is where the folks from the surrounding villages sell there artistic goods.

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    With 50 individual stalls, there are many opportunities to buy, as well as many vendors vying for your attention to purchase their goods over somebody else’s. However, when you need change and they don’t have it, there always seems of be a sister or an aunt nearby that can help. Sometimes they have change, but other times they try to get you to take more things home with you instead of providing the money.

    Not too far away from Mukuni is a more local market with things folks need on a daily basis, as well as many shops with backpacks and purses, and some with hardware items. I didn’t shop there often, but it was always interesting to wander through that street to get a feel for the local vibe.

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    For anything that I wanted to buy to supplement the food provide at the volunteer house, I would generally go to ShopRite. There were two of them, and the one that we frequented was quite new and very large with a fantastic selection.

    Other than these places, on two occasions a group of us set on to find a specific vendor or market.

    The first of these forays was to find the friend of one of the workers in the house who made some quite nice beaded jewelry and a few other similar things. Getting there was a challenge given that the hand drawn map we were following wasn’t quite to scale.

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    But the walk was interesting, allowing us to see a new area of the town, and thus giving us more of a feel of local life. This was especially so since here we saw many less taxis as just about everyone was walking to get where they needed to be.

    In the end we found it and bought many of the things he had. By the time we finished making our purchases, we were surrounded by 10-15 kids bouncing on tires with excitement of seeing 3 mzungus in their neighborhood.

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    He also sold his paintings, but given the lack of wall space that I have back home, I avoided buying these there or at any of the other markets.

    The other spot that we visited was another local market, Maramba.

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    Similar to the local market I mentioned earlier, this market had many things folks would need on a daily basis.

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    In addition, and the main reason we went there, they sell chitenge (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitenge) very cheap there. For example, the cheapest ones are 7-8 kwacha there and 30 or more pat Mukuni, depending on your bargaining skills.

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    Since I don’t plan on wearing these back home as designed, the less expensive, synthetic, ones will be turned into other clothing items and the more expensive, silkier ones will be used as scarves.

    In the end, I don’t think I bought too much, for a change, and was able to get everything into my bags for the trip onward.

    Now that I have finished my 5 weeks of volunteering, boy did it go fast, and have left Zambia, I will share many of the thoughts I had over those weeks about what I was doing and the state of education in Zambia.

    I mentioned before that the school where I was assigned was Nekacheya (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nekacheya-School/240718149402486).

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    As I was working on there I kept thinking about how my mom always said that if she hadn’t been a nurse she would have been an English teacher, so I guess in a way it may have been my destiny to take on this type of a role.

    I am pretty sure that I had some hesitations when I first found out that I was assigned to a private school, but it turns out that even though the kids going there come from families who can afford the tuition of I believe 900 kwacha per year (currently the exchange rate is about 10 kwacha per US dollar), it doesn’t mean that the school has the resources that come to mind when we think of private schools in first world countries.

    You can see this the moment you step through the gates and see that the school, like many others in Zambia, is being run out of a converted house (and the houses there are not large) with extra rooms built along the fence out of particle board.

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    And you continue to see it as you step into the classrooms where 3 students share a very small desk and there are close to 30 kids in each class. Here is one big difference between Nechachaya and the public schools, in the public schools there can be 80 in a classroom.

    You also notice it as you try to write something on the chalkboard, as it is covered in so many layers of old chalk that it takes great skill to write dark enough for the students to see what you are writing while not breaking a price of chalk with every other word you write.

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    And you need to use the board, since there do not seem to be enough books for the kids nor is there an easy way to create materials to hand out to the kids as worksheets. I got creative with this during my time there, having them work in groups so that I could make one copy of 3 worksheets and have them copy them into their books as the first step do doing the work.

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    I also made multiple copies by hand on more than one occasion, but did resort to walking into town to get copies made for a few exercises that were just too hard to write out by hand. The staff at the volunteer house was able to print one copy for me to make this work.

    In addition, I did a lot of searching the internet to find ideas of activities that could be done without handouts. The favorite of these was adjective bingo, where they each made a 5×5 grid in their workbooks and out either a noun or an adjective in each square (always using either all nouns or all adjectives). Then I would call out the other type of word, and hey would look for places where the word worked with something in the grid, and when they cot 5 across or 5 down they could shout out bingo and read their matches out to the rest of the class.

    Another thing that worked well was noun, verb and adjective jeopardy (I didn’t make them answer in question form, but the questions got harder as the point value increased). It was interested to see the two classes use different strategies. The seventh graders tried to jump on the 500 point questions right away, and struggled a bit. The fifth and sixth grades decided to pit the girls against the boys and started out with easier questions. Well, at least the girls agreed that they were easier as the racked up point after point leaving he buys in the dust, eventually skunking them.

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    I also used a relay race the last week where they had to tag team writing sentences on the board with adjectives pulled out of a bag.

    The reason I go into so much detail on this is that I don’t think they get to experience things like this when the regular teachers are in charge. Instead, they learn (well at least memorize things) by repeating them numerous times after the teacher, louder with each repetition. It is likely that this at least partially comes back to not having resources, but I think it is also due to a lack of the teachers getting exposed to more modern teaching methods.

    This manifested itself in other ways as well. Every day at the start of class they all go through a ritual greeting of the teacher where they have to stand up when they are greater and recite “Good morning teacher _____.” And upon being asked how they are, continue the recitation with “Fine. And how are you?”

    And, I doubt that any of the teachers, at least at the 5th-7th grade levels I was teaching, would sit at a students desk with them when helping them understand some of the mistakes they made. Plus, I don’t think the kids get much credit for trying, or getting part of what they are working on right. I would always try to find something that they did well to try to build up there confidence to keep trying to figure out the things that they still needed to learn.

    This brings me to one of the major points that I want to make. As much as it is helpful to come in as a volunteer and work with these kids for a few weeks here and there, what is really needed is some sort of train the teachers program to up skill the permanent residents so as to provide these kinds of learning opportunities all of the time. Please don’t take this the wrong way, it’s not that the teachers are bad or that they don’t mean well, they just haven’t been exposed to modern teaching techniques and are only doing what thy know.

    It also goes beyond teaching techniques. I don’t know how much education is needed to be a teacher in Zambia, but my guess is that it isn’t much based on what I saw. I don’t want to give specifics, because I don’t want to call any single individuals out publicly, but on multiple occasions I witnessed some teachers exhibiting skills at a lesser level that what one would think they should have. Again, I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, it’s not that I don’t think they could do better, it’s just that they have not had the opportunities themselves to learn at the levels needed to bring change to the system.

    Add to this the fact that some of the books that I was given to use as references to figure out what I should be teaching had mistakes in them. If the books are wrong, how can we expect the teachers to teach the right things?

    So, you might be curious what exactly I was teaching at this level. These pictures show the list I compiled based on the books I mentioned above.

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    From this, I focused mostly on
    – nouns, verbs, adjectives
    – conjunctions
    – prepositions
    – sentences structure and punctuation
    – creative writing
    – reading comprehension

    For all of the areas, there we’re wide ranges of comprehension in my classes. But I think the two areas where I noticed this the most were the last two. When writing essays, some kids would have an entire page written before others were able to pen a single sentence. For reading a few in each class had read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on their own before we read it out loud to them in class for listening comprehension, while others had a hard time pulling the meaning out of some fairly simple picture books.

    Essentially, there were many Tim Gunn “make it work” moments, and every time it did work, you felt amazing. You also felt great whenever there was an aha moment, the best one that I remember was when I asked about Veruca Salt from “Charlie” and a very quiet student observed that she was addicted. Quite pleasantly surprised by this response, as I hadn’t thought of being spoiled as an addiction, but it definitely is a great way to look at it, I complemented her on her answer and was very touched as she began grinning from ear to ear.

    Somehow, if Zambia wants to be able to compete in the world, these discrepancies will need to be addressed. Hopefully in some other way than not letting kids continue in school after grade 7 if they don’t pass a standard exam. This years exams are from October 12-16, so if you think of it. Send good vibes to the 7th graders in Zambia that week.

    Sadly, given Zambia’s economic struggles as the (x) poorest nation in the world. And the fact that this is probably going to get worse given the recent rapid decrease in the value of the kwacha. It was 7.8 per US dollar when I arrived at the beginning of August and there are predictions that it will move to 12 or maybe even 15 per US dollar in the near future. I don’t see any major changes from within being possible any time soon

    In then end, the whole thing just breaks my heart. These kids are amazing and super sweet, that I hope there is a way for them to have a brighter future. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like right now.

    But for now, this is what we have, many opportunities for folks to go to places like this and become international teachers, helping in what ever way possible, and most likely changing (for the better) as a person during the process.

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    And for those of you that I will come into contact with upon my return home, don’t be surprised
    if I reach out to you to help this tiny, yet amazing place in even a small way.

    Wendy

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