Want a challenge? Try getting people on the phone in Zambia. I spent three hours this morning calling a list of about 20 people I want to talk to. I spoke to exactly one of them.

You really grow to appreciate things like voice mail, call transfers, and “Press 1 to continue” when you get to a place like this. Problems with either my cell network or the land lines left me out of touch off and on all morning. The Zambia phone book lists two, three, or even eight phone numbers for each major business — since at any given moment, one or more of them might be out. About half the numbers I had were “not in service,” despite being listed for major organizations in a 2002 phone book.

By afternoon, I just started showing up at offices unannounced. I got mostly confused receptions. All I have to show for my day is one interview set up for tomorrow and some worn shoe-leather.

(One thing I’ve noticed since I got here, and really noticed today: Either my hearing’s shot or Zambians are very quiet talkers. And I know it’s not the former, since the Bob Marley comes through loud and clear. [Actually, it’s a lot of Dr. Dre and Snoop tonight, which is an improvement. As Snoop might say, Ain’t nothin’ but a Z-thang, baby. Belo is the company that pays me.] That and the thick Nyanja/Bemba/Lozi accents make this seem like a non-English-speaking country at times.)

For those curious about what to expect in the near future, I’m staying in Lusaka until Friday. I expect to then head south to Livingstone, home of massive Victoria Falls. I’ll be splitting my time between great sadness (lots of orphans and dying kids — Livingstone has the highest HIV rate of any city in Zambia) and (reader warning: approaching mood shift) silly joy.

See, one of my stories is a travel piece on Vic Falls’ emergence as the “extreme sports” capital of Africa. The area around the falls has, among other things, the world’s highest-rated raftable white water rapids and the world’s tallest bungee jumps (from the amazing gorge railway bridge, more than 300 feet up). Among the other attractions: riverboarding, kayaking, jetboating, microlight/ultralight flights, and sky diving.

But what I’m really excited about is the the Zambezi swing. It’s like a cross between a bungee jump and the world’s largest tree swing — with a running start. It sounds tremendous. (Please, no one tell my grandmother I’m doing this.)

There’s a legitimate angle to the story, too — how Zambia and Zimbabwe have always fought over Victoria Falls, and how Zimbabwe’s historically won the battle (most people think they’re in Zim when they’re actually mostly in Zam, and most of the tourists have always gone to the Zim side). And how that’s reversing now with Zimbabwe’s “troubles” scaring away rich European white folks.

A perfectly legitimate story. But you and I know it’ll mostly be about me screaming bloody murder and jumping off cliffs on a rubber band.

21 October 2003



Comments

21 October | 23:00  |  Carol

Josh,
We've seen this "swing", and I hope somebody videotapes your leap so that you can review it in private someday when your child wants to___ (pick one: play with matches, drive a motorcycle, swim in a bayou).

22 October | 3:39  |  karen

"But you and I know it'll mostly be about me screaming bloody murder and jumping off cliffs on a rubber band."


oh, dear god. it must be a guy thing.



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    Remember Me?




Welcome to zambiastories.com, the online journal I kept during the six weeks I spent in Zambia in 2003 as part of a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. The entries below are in reverse chronological order — most recent on top, oldest on bottom.

To learn more about my trip and this site, check the About page. If you have any comments or questions, email me.

Stories

11 Jul 2004: Where the only growth industry is death; AIDS destroys scarce resources as well as family members

12 Sep 2004: A lesson in dying; Once a refuge from AIDS, Zambia’s schools are now its latest victims

Photos

Links

About this site | Contact | Photos

Calendar

10 Oct 2003: Leave for London
11 Oct 2003: Leave for Zambia
12 Oct 2003: Arrive in Lusaka
22 Nov 2003: Leave for London
22 Nov 2003: Back to Washington

Disclaimer

Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer.

 
© 2003 Joshua Benton