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


21 October | 23:00  |  Carol

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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