In pictures: Learnings from the first 60 days in Zambia (and the that whole last year spent travelling)
*** Author's Edit 1-January-2015 -- pictures removed due to new blog website
With everything that’s happened, it’s hard to believe it’s been 60 days since I left the now very wet world of Vietnam for this hot and dusty Zambia. From bike distributions to safaris, from South Africa to Zimbabwe (which turns out isn't really far), from hostels to a temporary home, and from racquetball to nightclubs – it’s been a fast paced and jam-packed 2 months. Since I left America, I've picked up on a couple of things, and I've written them below. Read at your own discretion...
1) People are people are people, and those people are good.
Having "lived" in 5 countries across 4 continents --- not vacationing, not backpacking, not dressing out of a suitcase, but paying rent on a flat --- this one point is certainly consistent. I've lived nearby (not to be confused with “as” or “with”) the multi-millionaires in Australia, and then months later in electricity-less shacks with the (to be confused with) poverty stricken side of Thailand. Despite all of our cultural differences, we all have the same core. Basic human goodness spans and breaks down any cultural barriers that we've put up amongst ourselves. Too bad the greater population doesn't always see that.
2) The truly broke never complain.
Don't let the lack of income, house, electricity, or occasionally food fool you for these people hating their lives. It's not that they're jumping for joy at their hand, but over many conversations, not once did I hear a complaint about the 10km walk to water, the roof leaking, the pit that serves as a toilet, or the siblings sharing the cot to sleep on. These people were just happy to be alive. A friend was right when she told me to "never mistake poverty for a lack of quality."
3) Seeing how business is run across the globe is the best education I’ve ever received.
And unfortunately, the most expensive. Nothing I learned in my few years of consulting compare to the real-life experiences learnt from trying to grow a business only a few years old. The next step is trying from the ground up...anybody want to start a business?
4) You'll get the most from those in poverty.
Not from those looking for handouts, that is. When I was lost in rural NW Thailand, with no cash and no phone, the first to invite me in for food was a family who barely had any for themselves. How can I eat that? Better yet, how can they give at that point in time? I clearly have a lot more to learn in life, but if I had to guess, when you're down to nearly nothing, you stop caring about what you have, and only about who you're with. After all, being broke is very different from being poor.
5) Your Lonely Planet guide and religion have a lot in common.
6) Don't knock something until you've tried it.
Both come in the form of a book. Both are regularly translated updated into new languages. Both tell you how to maximize your journey. Both give you really fantastic advice, like “Visit the market” and “Don't kill people.” But only the Lonely Planet guidebook was fully written by people who were there. In any case, I've seen and experienced much more by leaving one years ago and not purchasing the other.
I've never tried mayonnaise and I'll continue to knock it, but I'm not talking about food, or music, or sports. I did, however, try Vegemite, and it is horrible. This point is more for the cultures, the people, and the beliefs. Not a day goes by where I'm not surprised, or a preconceived notion gets turned upside down; a previous post mentions that had to pick up my head from hanging it in shame when speaking with the Zambians I've met. Think twice before you forward that next email bashing some other culture (guilty as charged).
7) I like the idea of a kid, and while I'm not ready for that, I do know my child will have a travel fund.
The past 2 months have been spent living with an 18 month-old who spends most of his time --- when not pooping --- dragging steel containers across the tile floor, yelling non-words, or crying. Oh, and he cries. Sometimes when he's not crying, he cries. He probably cries when he poops. The inner (read: outer) nerd in me would say the quantity of whiskey I consume is directly proportional to the tears shed by this child --- which is a lot. But I digress...whenever that time comes (and it has now been postponed about 10 years) my kid will absolutely have a travel fund. And by travel fund, I mean a one-way ticket to anywhere the runt wants to go. I might go as far to say that he might be encouraged to take a year off after high school.
8) There is nothing hotter than a German girl who speaks "good enough" English.
Speaking of making some children...
9) To pack properly, pack, and then remove 75% of what you packed.
My bag has been light over the past few years; for a 6 month span I was right at 5 kg depending on what I was wearing. Your sink and hands makes an excellent washing machine, and just about anything off of the floor plus 24 hours makes a great dryer. The freedom that comes without a lot of baggage is incredible; you can't help but laugh and smile at those with 3 bags in the airport. Tourists… But more importantly, you just don't need it. Who gives a shit if you’re in the same shirt for all the photos? You simply just don't need all the clothes.
10) Get rid of all the other baggage, too.
Unfortunately my backpack isn't all I'd been carrying around, and this other kind was prohibiting me from living every aspect of my life to the fullest. And it wasn't easy to shed, but the sooner I realize that it's probably for the best, the sooner life got more fun.
11) A lack of spirituality should never be confused for a lack of morality.
It seems there's a natural progression with "comfortable topics" that most people follow when chatting with someone they've just met. Spirituality is always a fun topic; whenever the word "atheist" comes out of my mouth, eyebrows go up. The gentlemen in this photo is a field mechanic, and when I was visiting with him, he "thanked the Lord" for "providing his job" so he can make a "moral and honest living." A Buddhist and a monk told me more or less the same thing in temples and monasteries I visited in Asia (the monk, not so much on the job part). So who's right, who's wrong, or is anyone either? I reckon either (A) morality precedes spirituality or (B) you "get" morality when when you get your spirituality membership card in the mail. Oh, and it doesn't matter who sent your card, so long as it's marked spiritual. I'm going with option A.
12) You have not “been out” until you've been to a rural African nightclub.
Don’t think this one needs too much explanation…but imagine a place with dirt floors, cheap drinks, live music, a straw roof, no closing time, and a beautiful moonlit sky over it in which you can actually see some stars.
13) Everyone should own a bicycle.
There's aren't too many inventions that are nearly 2 centuries old that are so simple and have remained nearly unchanged. Selling my car for a bicycle was one of the best decisions I've ever made; choosing to sell and distribute bicycles for a living is up there, too. But I'm not sure if I get more joy out of seeing the students receive the bicycles, or watching the rest of their family react. A bicycle can impact much more than the person on its 2 wheels. And just so you know, everyone we give a bicycle to signs a contract stating who can use it (direct family only) and that they will stay in school; if either are broken, they forfeit the bike!
14) It’s the little things you miss.
It’s not electricity, reliable Internet, or a car that I miss, it’s being able to buy non-spray, good ole stick deodorant. Q-tips. A loofa. Yes, a loofa. JIF peanut butter. And watching college football live from a stadium.
15) Writing, even if to yourself, is incredibly healthy.
Flashing back to high-school, I remember reading a quote by Socrates: "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” When I read that nearly a decade ago, I was almost positive I knew everything. But since I left America, I've quickly learned how little I knew and even moreso how little I still know. And that's why I started writing, not so much for people to read, but so I won't forget what's on my mind. You probably won't tell anyone, but try it out, you'd be surprised.
16) A book or anything outdoors will always provide more entertainment than any TV or phone ever will.
In my first 6 weeks in Lusaka, I powered through about 12 books, and I'm from Georgia --- they don't teach us to read there. This was in addition to my weekly work, racquetball, and tennis schedule, plus the occasional bar and streaming late night football games (some things you just can't give up). It's been years now since I've owned a TV, but there’s Netflix and Hulu, so not having Internet has forced me to read and learn anything I can get my hands on. This is something I've always tried to do, but this overdrive lately has been especially fruitful for my personal development.
17) You don't have to be an "adult" to make a difference.
A few weeks ago, I went to a bike distribution with Qhubeka, our brand of Buffalo Bicycles in South Africa. I heard the story of this girl who climbed Kilimanjaro to raise money for 10 bikes. "A free trip to Kili + some good PR" was the first thing I thought (guess I still need to work on those preconceived notions...). Turns out, this 11-year old decided on her own accord that she wanted to hike Kilimanjaro, pay for it herself (well, by her mom), and to motivate her, she'd raise money along the way. An amount that ended up being about 10 bikes worth. Here, she gets a big hug from one of the girls who received a bike that day.
18) Expecting nothing is the way to go.
My expectations with people and what we in America would call “normality” versus my time spent travelling is a downhill battle. When I moved abroad, I expected certain things to just “happen” because, well, they always had. This is America, after all, dammit! Wait, oh shit, it's not anymore. So, when I moved to Thailand I started lowering my expectations. The issue there is that you still leave yourself room to be disappointed. It wasn't until living in Zambia --- and it didn't take long --- that I finally just said “fuck it” and went with life as it came to me. Nothing surprises me anymore, and I'm never disappointed, because I stopped expecting anything should work the way it should. Life is much better and less stressful this way.
19) America isn't all it’s cracked up to be.
Look, I'm not hopping on a flight to live in some places around the Middle East --- just not somewhere I want to be now. But if you are some fanatic that refuses to believe that we're slipping as the world's greatest country, you're probably too busy between working and going to church to realize what's going on. I love America, but there are a heaps of things we could learn from other countries: work ethic, financial management, and education, just to name a few. Combine financial management while pursuing an education and we're off the charts mad.
20) The world is not that big.
Just kidding, it's fucking massive. Last I checked, about 150 million sq. km of land. And crossing a very small portion of those lands has netted me about 2 pages left in my passport, but there’s no way I'd consider myself a “seasoned traveler.” I could move to a new place every week and still not cover half the places on this incredible planet. That said, and taking away its physical properties, the world’s actually not that big. If you disagree with me, then take a year off. You’d be amazed with what you have in common with the rest of the world.