Visit Zambia, but know these four things…

The entire African continent had always been a mystery to me, shrouded in stories of violence, disease, oppression, and famine. It is likely that I would still hold tightly to those negative connotations had I not lived there for three years. Of course there will always be places, maybe even entire countries, that require more caution or even avoidance, but I can’t think of anywhere in the world that I would travel where I would never be concerned about my personal safety – so why not give Africa a chance?

Zambia, whose capital is Lusaka, is a land-locked, sub-Saharan country about the size of Texas that is largely peaceful and welcoming of foreigners. The bigger cities are by far more populated and westernized, but real life happens in the rural communities – communities where life happens in the absence of electricity and running water. There are three seasons: the rainy season from late October through April is warm and an intense growing season, the cold season from May through July is windy and the leaves fall from the trees, and the hot season from August until the beginning of the rainy season. Southern Province is home to Victoria Falls and there are several game reserves throughout the country. There are a plethora of geckos throughout the country, but the reserves are likely to be the only places where you will see any wildlife beyond the random monkey or snake.

There is a bit of a learning curve for westerners visiting Zambia. Here are a few things to know.

  1. Slower pace of…everything:

There is no hurry in Zambia. Some of the slower pace could be attributed to the lack of technology available for maximum efficiency, but really people just don’t seem to see a need to rush. There is simply a general acceptance that everything, or anything, will happen when it happens. This is definitely not a ‘conquer the world’ mentality, but it is very easy to slip into – and surprisingly difficult to let go of.

  1. Mass transportation:

For the most part it is not too difficult to move about in Zambia – as long as you aren’t in any sort of hurry. The roads in Zambia are mostly in disrepair and hard on any vehicle, but coach-style buses are usually available in all the bigger towns where you can easily travel to the next town or across the country. Bigger cities also have mini-buses that move about the city as well as plenty of taxis.
*Mini-buses are van-size vehicles that pack passengers in so tight that the door will barely close and won’t leave until every seat is occupied.
** Taxis are usually personal vehicles, except in the biggest cities, such as Lusaka and Livingstone, where there are actual cab companies.

  1. High visibility:

Having white skin in the US means that you are practically invisible; white skin in Zambia means that you are highly visible – everyone notices you. There is nothing you can do to blend in, don’t fight it. Just smile and be friendly. Greet people in a Zambian tribal language. Bemba and Nyanja are the most common tribal languages throughout the country.  Here are a few basic words in both of these languages.

English                        Bemba                                                       Nyanja
Hello                           Mwapoleeni                                              Bwanji
How are you?            Muli Shaani (moo-lee shaw-knee)       Muli bwanji (moo-lee bwan-gee)
Thank you                  Natotela (naw-toe-tell-a)                       Zikomo (zee-co-mow)

  1. Public intoxication:

There are no laws against public intoxication or when you can buy alcohol. It is not outside the realm of possibilities to encounter a drunken person at any time of the day, but it is more likely to happen from supper time on into the night. Many of the publicly intoxicated people are men and the alcohol seems to make them bolder and sometimes confrontational. Move about in groups after dark and move away from someone who is drunk.

Caution is always requisite when travelling, whether it is across the globe or much closer to home. Zambia is a country full of friendly, sociable people. English is the official language of the country so it is not too difficult to find someone to whom you can easily communicate. Don’t underestimate the power of a friendly smile and a local greeting. Hop on a bus and see the countryside!

Mwendi chiwahi (mwin-dee chi-wah-hee)
(‘travel well’ in Lunda, the tribal language of the Mwinilunga area in Northwestern Province).

For more information about travelling to Zambia visit:

US State Department

Zambia Tourism

Zambia Department of Immigration

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