August 26th, 2013
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So first of all, yes, I made it safely to Zambia. Hello from Africa!
Second: My aunt thinks I should mention that I have just traveled extensively and am quite tired and jet-lagged. So, you’ll have to excuse the thematic ADHD of this post. To be fair, there is a lot to talk about.
I’m posting from my aunt’s house, which is about ten miles southeast of Lusaka. Lusaka, for the record, is the capitol of Zambia, and it’s where I’ll be spending the majority of my time. It’s right in the middle of Zambia, and Zambia is flat.
Anyways, I’m staying here accidentally-on-purpose. As a Watson proposal, this wouldn’t fly – you’re not allowed to visit any countries where you have relatives. Zambia was in the original proposal because at the time, my aunt lived in Botswana. I’m not sure if I would have been allowed to come if I just promised not to spend any time with them… but whatever the case, this isn’t a Watson anymore, and I am spending time with them. I was planning on visiting, at least, but with the “Ready, Shoot, Aim” mentality of Zambikes, I felt a lot safer starting out here and moving there than vice versa. That being said, I do plan on moving into Zambikes’s guest house at some point.
So, a bit about the current state of Zambikes. Dustin McBride is the president and a co-founder. When I wrote my Watson proposal, he was in Zambia, heading Zambikes. Since then, he has moved to Uganda to start a division there called C.A. Bikes. So I will not spend much time with him.
My contact here is a fellow named Mwewa Chikamba, who is from Kitwe, Zambia, with a degree from Zimbabwe. We haven’t actually met yet, as he’s very busy – the cause of all the commotion you may have read about in my last post, and the reason I feel safer staying with my cousins for now. To be clear: I’m not trying to speak down to him or his capabilities. Most of Zambikes’ employees have their work cut out for them. That’s why I’m here.
I do, however, have a phone setup (thanks Caleb! – one of my cousins who left his SIM card here for a job in the US) so he should expect some phone calls later today if he doesn’t call me first. I’m also going to stop by the shop tomorrow, assuming the address on Google Maps is accurate. As I said countless times in India and Guate, I’m not here to sit on my butt. At this point, I’m not worried… I’m rather enjoying having a relaxing day, actually. I mean, it feels like it’s been a full day, even though it’s only past noon… I guess travel does that to you.
Oh. So travel. All the people I sat next to were awesome. I flew from Minneapolis to Chicago, then to London-Heathrow, then to Lusaka. On the flight to Chicago, I met a military veteran named Bob, and we talked the whole flight. Everything from sales (relevant because of my recent experiences at Abamath) to psychology (a degree I will get if I go back to school) to bicycles (duh). He was a really interesting guy, and had some good stories to share. He had recently gotten a job at the Veterans’ Association as a “Peer –“ someone who offers support and teaches classes to veterans having trouble coping with civilian life. If you’re reading this, hey Bob! It was great to talk to you.
The flight to Heathrow, and Heathrow itself, was one of the most oddly diverse experiences of my life. I say “oddly” because it was quite obviously diverse, but not in the way I’m used to. I’m used to “diversity” meaning, you know, “different skin color,” “different income bracket,” “different language,” etc. EG, when I went to India, there was a wide variety in all of those areas. Obviously there’s more to diversity than those items, but usually they are involved. On the flight to Heathrow, as a generalization, all the people on board were white, middle class, and spoke English. To be more specific, it felt like we were all family – only we had different accents. I don’t know – I felt, somehow, accepted. Not that I didn’t feel accepted in India.
(excuse me while I struggle with my words. I guess this is what happens when you don’t blog on a regular basis for a while)
Okay, so not everyone spoke English. There were, I thought, a surprising number of francophones (either that, or there aren’t any direct flights to Paris), and even some who didn’t speak English. I say this knowing full well, of course, that francophones sometimes pretend they don’t speak English, but my evidence is this: Being unable to communicate with a flight attendant.
Which brings me to my next point: Why the Dutch are awesome. When I flew Royal Dutch to India, between six flight attendants, they spoke English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Hindi. When I flew American into Heathrow, the crew only spoke English. I know it’s “our country” and all, but I just think there were enough francophones that AA could be bothered to hire one french-speaking flight attendant… *sigh* anyways.
For the record, French is probably my best second language, and yet I have never spoken it to anyone. I kinda forgot I spoke it, actually – I ended up asking some francophones for the time by pointing at my wrist, instead of just saying “Quel heure et-il?” During the entire flight, of course, all the French I knew came flooding back to me. Too bad Zambia is British.
Anyways, on the flight to Heathrow, I sat next to a Tibetan ex-pat. That is, she had been kicked out of Tibet about 65 years ago and hadn’t been able to go back yet. She was living a good life in the UK, but missed her home. Also, she squirted salad dressing all over me. Someone needs to design sterile containers that can depressurize as the altitude increases. Hm…
On the flight to Lusaka, I sat next to an Indian fellow who was an auditor for World Vision, a global microfinancer. Get this: For a living, he flies around to all the things they are financing and decides whether or not to continue financing them. Okay, while that job could be brutal, it also sounds awesome. I mean, not only does he work for a microfancing company, but he gets to fly all over the world on their dime and see all the finance projects in person. How cool is that? I was totally jealous. Also I took his card because he’s going to help me start a company in India. Right, Lauce? That’s what I tell myself. Truth be told, I still have a lot to learn. He did have some advice for me though – think rural. I tend to agree, especially with regards to India, but that’s another story.
So, back on topic… shall we?
I got way better at packing. I remember for the flight to India, my bag weighed in at 52 pounds. I had to carry my bike lock in my backpack to keep from paying the $150 overweight baggage fee. In Guatemala, I mentioned the SkyCap guy was awesome and said my bag weighed “about 48 pounds…” but I think we both knew it weighed much more than that. But for Zambia? I bought a new suitcase after AA destroyed mine on the way home from Guate. This suitcase is smaller. And I only half-filled it.
That’s right. I actually had to add stuff to my suitcase. And even then, it only weighed in at 26 lbs. My backpack was practically empty – computer, book, jacket, sandwiches.
I’m just saying… world travel does things to you.
(I did forget one thing: I was supposed to bring a charger for a Zune to my cousin. You can’t buy them in Zambia. Don’t know how I’m going to fix that one. Oops. But hey, it could be worse).
– – –
Okay, so let’s talk about Zambia. That’s why you’re here, right?
Well, as you might guess, I don’t have that much experience with it yet. I’ve driven from the airport to my aunt’s house, and to be completely honest, my aunt’s house is pretty sheltered. Her and her husband work for Flying Mission, a service organization that functions in a few countries around the world (their website lists Botswana, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the US). The idea is that they provide pilots that connect volunteers to the people they want to serve. So right in our yard is an airstrip. It’s nothing major (it’s not paved), but it’s still pretty cool. My aunt tells me a story about a doctor – well, every doctor, really – who won’t drive out to a village to treat someone. The reason is that it might be a two day drive, and by the time they get back, ten people have died, because they were the only doctor at X hospital. With a plane, however, they can get there and back in less than a day. Flying Mission doesn’t only transport doctors, but you get the idea. If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit them on the web at flyingmission.org.
Anyways, this “isn’t Zambia,” I don’t think. My aunt just ran through the list of other Flying Mission workers, who either live nearby or live in the guest house (which is next door) often, and they are pretty much all Caucasian. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great environment, especially for a global volunteer such as myself. But you can see why I’d want to stay at the guest house (answer: for the experience).
Driving to the airstrip, however, I noticed quite a few things. Most of what I noticed, I think, comes from my experience in India and Guatemala. I know the people walking on the side of the road are going to school or work. I know they’d get there faster if they had a bike. And hey, the cool thing is, I even saw some Zambikes.
(this is the part where I’d post all my photos if they didn’t take so long to upload)
I saw people carrying things on bikes.
I saw streetside shops.
I saw a divide between where the people with money shop and where the people without money shop.
I saw cheap mass transit.
Here it is.
And yea, I’m well aware I’m making a few assumptions. I confirmed as much as I could with my aunt as we drove through. I was pretty proud of myself for not thinking any of it was “weird –” the only thing I hadn’t experienced before was that everyone was African, instead of Guatemalan or Indian. And yea, I know there’s work to be done.
I probed my aunt as much as I could about bicycle enterprising in Zambia. She doesn’t work much with bicycles, except when they have to be flown places, so I want to thank her for putting up with all the questions I couldn’t ask Zambikes just yet. She had been a small part of a distribution one time, however, and had an opinion on the matter. In short, bicycles are great, and everybody wants them, but there has to be a system for distributing them. In particular, there has to be a system for distributing them fairly. Apparently a bicycle was given to someone, and then another was accidentally given to their wife. Soon enough, everybody and their wife wanted a bicycle – that is, two bicycles per family, when one might be almost as effective and yet affect twice as many families.
I still have to probe into where the money for this sort of thing comes from. There’s always donations, obviously, but that doesn’t seem terribly sustainable. I tried to pry it out of Mr. Microfinance on the plane, but it didn’t work out so well. Namely, I think it ended up sounding like I wanted him to give me a business idea, when I was just trying to learn more about Social Enterprising in general. I guess this is the part of the learning process where I look foolish for a bit. Oh, well. I did explain to him why it didn’t make sense to me – that, when microfinancing, one expects small returns, so one would expect small investments. That was when he handed me his card and told me to call him when I had a business model I wanted to run by him.
So, that’s where things stand. I’ll spend the rest of the day today hanging out with my aunt and cousin, trying to stay awake in order to battle my jet lag (if I can just make it to 8 PM, I bet I’ll wake up at a reasonable hour tomorrow, and then it’s set). If Zambikes hasn’t called me by tomorrow, I’ll venture down there and get the ball rolling.