It started out innocently enough. Lwendo, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, invited us to her house in the Village. She had a community that wanted to start their own school because they would get cut off from the main school during the rainy season. Of course we could help! We could easily share with them some basic information and give them the contacts that they would need to take action on their plan. The date was set, we would come for a visit and meet the community.
We traveled out to Lwendo’s Village in the back of an old pick up truck. We told the driver who we were visiting and they very kindly dropped us off along the main road before their final stop at the school. This way, we wouldn’t have to walk very far with our packs. We arrived to Lwendo’s house as the sunset, said our hellos and greetings to the entire host family, poured ourselves some strong after-transport level drinks and started setting up our tent in the disappearing light of the day, which quickly turned into pitch black.
I should have known something was up. We turned up to the local clinic the next morning at 10, when I would usually start my day of work in the Village. A nurse had volunteered to take us out to the community, since Lwendo wasn’t exactly sure of the path to take. The nurse looked at her watch and looked back at us disapprovingly. She said we should have left hours ago. I past it off as the over-exaggeration of someone who wanted to drive home the point that yes, we were late.
We should have left hours ago.
It always takes a bit longer to get somewhere when you are walking through the Zambian bush. You must greet everyone you meet on the path. And there is a long tradition of greetings you must ask and enquire about, including my favorite question: What have you eaten? As you can imagine, the list of mandatory greetings are extremely thorough. Not only must you greet everyone on the path, but if someone from a house nearby sees you, there is a 99% chance that they will shout at you and invite you over for the long list of greetings and depending on the time of day, a drink or even lunch.
Even taking this additional greeting and chatting time into account, we should have left hours ago.
At about hour 2 of walking, I started to wonder how far away this particular community was. Probably something I should have asked at the beginning, right? Well, most people would ask this first. But I hate walking and I really hate knowing how far I might need to walk. This is when the complaining and whining really kicks in for me, no matter how hard I fight it. My internal mind can’t handle knowing distances and everyone knows it.
The heat of the afternoon really kicks in now as we continue on hour 3 of walking, we should have left hours ago.
As we get hotter and hotter because, at this point, we have run out of water, we start meeting more and more people from the community that requested we come for a visit. We must be close! And finally, out of nowhere, we round a bend in the path and the river appears below us. The river isn’t that large at the moment, it slowly and quietly flows across the fallen cement bridge that was built years ago and washed away quickly after that. We make our way safely across the fallen bridge and up the hill where the Village is waiting for us at the Headman’s house.
Phheewww!!!!! We really, really should have left hours ago!
In true Zambian Village fashion, even though we are REALLY late, only half of the school committee is there. We are bustled into the chikuta around a small card table and given the largest wooden carved stools that they have. We are fed dried peanuts, chibwantu – a homemade maize drink and someone refills our water bottles for us from the river. But, you’re thinking, did you filter that river water? No, we didn’t came prepared in case you haven’t realized that yet. We’ll risk a stomach bug for hydration. Plus, it only slightly tasted like soap since it was collected right next to a woman doing her washing.
We start many conversations about the community and why they would like their own school. It makes sense, they have plenty of kids, it’s a very VERY long walk to do twice a day for young children, and during the rainy season no one can cross the river. We share information about how they can get started, what things they will need in place and who they can talk to within the Ministry of Education to register their new community school. We encourage them to take action and make a change for their community and their kids!
Despite walking forever to get there, we then go on a tour of the Village. We see onion patches, collect some garlic from another field and even meet the largest farmer in the area and see his overflowing maize bins. All I can think about is the fact that I have to walk all the way back to get to my tent.
We’ve rested a bit, refilled our water bottles again for the walk home, said our good byes, gave out phone numbers to keep in contact and we’re again on our way. I’m leaning into the absurdity of having to walk this much now, I’m laughing out loud at nothing in particular and making the others laugh too. I keep hoping that an ox cart will come up behind us on the narrow path and magically be going in the same direction as we are. It never happens. But we do meet an ox cart that is traveling to where we just came from, not helpful but we did meet another of the school committee members who was on the back of that ox cart.
As nightfall sets in, we are still walking, but are so close. I can hear families finishing their days and cooking dinner. And the smells of those dinners are intoxicating after a long day of walking. Finally, we arrive. Dusty, dirty, weary but laughing. We quickly get the fire ready and make a giant pot of simple pasta to eat. We pour ourselves drinks. We continue to laugh at the hilarity of a simple visit to a community who wants a school.
We walked 18 kilometres. That’s 11 miles.