I’m going to be as honest as possible: I have never been the most patriotic person you will find. Maybe, because of the fact that I lived outside my home country for so long that I never really felt like I belonged whenever I came back, there has always been a tether that was missing. So, towards the back end of 2020 when the opportunity came to go to the deep rurals on a voter’s registration exercise, I jumped straight to it, but I can guarantee you it was not for love of the state. As you might remember, I had just started to take a swing at being an artist full time and you don’t have to be a career specialist to know that art won’t pay the bills right off the bat. I went in for the paycheck, but what I got out of it was much, much more.
My reservations aside, Zambia is a beautiful country with so much to see: from the great waterfalls to the wildlife, from the mountains to the lakes and freshwater beaches, the vibrant culture and historical sites, it really is a must-visit destination. But, because of my availability in the past, there is still much of the place that I need to experience. So, as the bus that I was on chartered north, there was a welcomed element of adventure coupled with my general love of travelling that kept me giddy for most of the journey. The year was long and weary and breaking out of the routine was a needed escape. Still, I knew deep down that what I was on was the furthest thing from a vacation, but I resolved that I would enjoy the moment and worry about the stress when the stress came. And my, what a treat I was in for. The Muchinga Escarpment especially was a sight to behold, the white cliffs rather reminiscent of the welcoming figures of Dover. The thick vegetation of the north also brought about a forest feel and kind of made me feel like an explorer of sorts. With my iPod and comfy slippers handy. But as all good things do, the journey soon came to an end, and that’s when the real adventure began.
My job was to go to some of the most remote areas in Chinsali district registering people to vote for Zambia’s upcoming elections. Sounds straightforward, right? Well, for the most part, it was, but as I said, for a city mouse like me, it was the small details that made life a challenge. Like the way how there was no electricity or running water at my first post. By this point, indoor plumbing was a distant dream, so of course, I had to adjust accordingly. 5 am baths in a nearby river soon became my favorite part of the day, even in spite of how cold the water was. And the team I found there was very friendly too, so it didn’t take long before I was up to speed. The hours were long and the work monotonous, but I appreciated getting to step out of my own little world and experience life from other people’s perspectives.
As I moved from post to post, I started to notice small patterns here and there, especially around how different life in the country is from my life. Like the way everyone over the age of 18 seemed to be married and/or had children, the way so many people looked older than their age, how almost no one had a phone and even fewer could write. I guess, even though I had an idea, I never really knew just how simple their lives were. But it really got me thinking and I came to realize that simple may not be the worst thing in the world. They certainly have way fewer things to worry about than I do, sitting here mulling over if my blog will have the reach I’d want it to or if I’m simply talking to myself. It would be nice to have the single goal of making sure there is food on the table and not stressing about where all the money for paying all the bills is going to come from. But then if I know myself, I would never have real peace in my heart if I stayed in the same village all my life and never went out and saw and experienced the world. In the end, in the words of Jermaine Lamar Cole, there is no such thing as a life that’s better than yours, so you have to love yours. You never know what someone’s highs and lows are and likewise, they don’t know what you’re going through either, so make the most of what you’ve got and everything else is in the air.
Another one of the many lessons I learned is that humans can adapt to almost anything, and while I’m not suggesting that we should accept whatever situation we find ourselves in, sometimes you just have to roll with it. Every time I went to a new post, I didn’t like it at first, but with time I grew to see the bright side of every place and by the time I was leaving, there was just a tinge of wistfulness in my heart. Stark contrast with how reserved I was when I just got there. I had to tell myself to simply live in the moment because that’s the only thing you have full control of.
I learned a truckload of other things along the way and would that I could tell you all about it, but I guess we’ll do that another time. It was a very memorable trip, and a memorable trip wouldn’t be complete without something actually memorable to tell the kids about. Mine was getting malaria in the closing stages and for a brief period of time, wondering if the same fate of many of the early explorers of the region was waiting for me, but thankfully I pulled through and made the eventful trip home, filled with a burst tire, feverish malaria after-effects and a near accident in the deep of the night. But I made it. And I made it at least bringing back a greater appreciation for the state of my birth and maybe, just maybe, the willingness to do more for it than what has previously been the case.