Updated: Mar 31
In August 2016, I, as well as 5 of my school-friends, had the opportunity to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Zambia, in order to visit all the Funsani projects that our school supports in person. During our stay, we were immediately immersed in a completely unique and extremely different culture than what we have here at home. And in this short account, I will try and explain what we had the pleasure of experiencing:
The minute we stepped onto Zambian soil I can distinctly remember a whole load of people volunteering to bring our bags to our travelling bus and helping us. This attitude in Zambian people is actually something extremely distinctive that we came to know, and would constantly experience during our 2 week stay. This is because Zambians are extremely kind by nature; it is built into their culture and is something extremely natural and normal to them. At every opportunity that I can recall, we would receive laughs, smiles and excited waves from them. In fact, if you take a step back you will realise that despite many people living in sad or difficult conditions, the people are amazingly happy and calm.
If I was to talk about the general culture we experienced, I would say that with great contrast to England, Zambia has held firm to its traditional, and uniquely African, cultural heritage. This is why during our visit we did not only learn about Zambia itself but also of Africa as a whole.
African art and colours, for example, were things that we were constantly subjected to. This is because we would often go and visit the markets, where we would converse with the store holders, shake their hand in Zambian fashion and then attempt to haggle with them over their intricate works of art celebrating their country, wildlife or colours unique to Zambia and Africa.
Other items we would repeatedly see in these market stores would be traditional, African-styled clothes (patterned and bright coloured flow-y pants, shorts, shirts, shawls, shoes and football jersey’s). Among these items we would often find “Chitenge” which is an essential piece of clothing and a very fashionable piece of beautiful fabric that you wrap around your waist.
All these clothes screamed “Africa” and were supposedly aimed at tourists. The beautiful thing was, however, that all around you, the women would be sporting similar clothes in their day-to-day life. This was amazing because all together it looks incredibly beautiful and I remember that despite our long bus rides (sometimes full-day ones to get from Livingstone to Kiambi) we would never get bored as we would just be able to watch scenes of a beautiful foreign landscape, filled with people wearing bright, patterned clothes, just going about their day. And you just couldn’t take your eyes off the images and people we would pass. (Of course it was nice that every now and then you would also see a zebra, a baboon or a giraffe too). In Zambia, the linguistic diversity was also really quite impressive, as we learnt that there are over 72 different languages in Zambia alone (With Nyanja, Bemba, Lozi, Luanda, Luvale,Tonga, and Tumbuka being the main ones).
We could obviously not speak any Zambian languages (despite the random occasional words that we did pick up), but there was never an awkward moment while speaking to the people and children we met. Even if there was, and we didn’t know what to say, we could just start dancing instead.
This is because there is a culture of dancing and singing in Zambia like I’ve never seen before. We were taught relatively early on in our trip by some Zambian school-children at Maanu Mbwami school; an interactive dance which involved singing, called: “Do it like I do”. After that at any given moment, in absolutely any village we visited, if one of us were to start singing “Do it like I do” we would almost always, without fail, hear someone reply to us: “I do, I do” and before long the whole town would be singing and dancing with us in an enormous circle, it was always an amazing experience. We communicated through song and dance, even though we did not speak the same language and didn’t have the same backgrounds at all. It was really quite beautiful.
We also got the chance to taste traditional Zambian food cooked for us especially, which included beans, fermented vegetables, chicken and most importantly “nshima”. “Nshima” is very traditional in Zambia and is their staple food. It consists of maize (corn), that is dried and pounded, and to which boiling water is added. It is then cooked to a consistency of thickened mashed potatoes and is served in large bowls. We were taught while eating, that you should eat with your hands. However using your nshima, you can pick up all the greasy elements on your plate and mop up any sauces. Nshima is therefore; the edible Zambian equivalent of a spoon, and really quite brilliant.
To conclude quite simply, I’d just want to say that Zambia was for me, and for all of us I’m sure, the biggest culture-shock that I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. And that given the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat to sing and dance and say hello to all the friends that we left behind in the beautiful, bright, friendly, colourful Zambia that I have grown to love.