Time to leave.

It’s just about time to leave Zambia, which has been my home for the last 4 weeks. On Tuesday I fly back to Johannesburg where I stay for a night before flying onwards to Delhi (via Abu Dhabi) on Wednesday.

I’ve had a blast. Of course I have. 4 weeks. 1 month. It sounds like a long time but it’s not really. It’s gone so quick. It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since I was arriving here in the back of a pick up with 7 other newbies, all excited for our adventure, not knowing what to expect. It’s been an incredible experience. Chocked full of laughter, lions, children, culture, sun, dust, African wildlife, beer, cold showers, chocolate, waterfalls and bungee jumping.

I’ve learnt a lot; about myself and other people. About Zambia and it’s animals, people and communities. I’m so pleased I did it. So pleased I had that epiphany in that meeting at work just before Christmas. That’s when I knew I had to do something. More specifically, it was then that I knew that part of that doing something was to come to Africa to do some volunteering. I have no regrets at all. None whatsoever. I have so many new memories now that I will treasure forever. I can’t write them all down but here’s just a small selection:

  • The great English vs American pronunciation debate. It never got boring.
  • Riding around in the back of a pick up to get to places. Sometimes stood up, sometimes sat down, sometimes sat on the edge, sun and wind blasting our faces. It reminded me of being little and my Dad’s red pick up that he used to have. Not sure whether I ever sat and rode around in the back though.
  • Andrew washing his hands with toilet cleaner after Firebreak. So funny, especially when we then spent the evening waiting to see if his hands would either a) start to peel b) go red c) burn or d) fall off. Luckily, they didn’t.
  • Nino (sp?) is boy in Spanish. It also means lady bits here in Zambia in one of their local languages.
  • Jamie falling off his chair while we were playing Pictionary. Loudest noise ever.
  • Emily’s inappropriate guesses in Pictionary and her slightly disturbing competitive streak.
  • Finding out what an Eiffel Tower is. No, not the structure in Paris. The rude version.
  • Hi-fiving more times than I can remember. I’m a big fan of high-fiving, I know some people hate it but I LOVE it, it’s so much fun. And over here, the kids love it too. In.My.Element.
  • Knowing that the sun will shine every day and it won’t rain. Ok, so it’s cold in the morning but the sun is already out and by mid-morning it gets hot. Consistent weather; still a novelty. Not sure what India will be like as it’s monsoon season when I’m there so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
  • Nights out in Livingstone; many funny or interesting things happened the two times I went out. So good to let our hair down and have some fun and check out the local nightlife. Beer pong, dancing, prostitutes, sunglasses, shots, it was all there.
  • African dancing at culture day – I had so much fun doing this, I could have done it all afternoon. Dancing their traditional dances in the sun to the African drums was just magical. I loved it.
  • Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. It was my second jump (the first was Bloukrans Bridge in South AFrican in 2011) and although not as terrifying or high as that one, it still got the adrenalin pumping and was such a rush. Beautiful scenery, the sun was shining and we had beers afterwards. What a way to spend a Friday.
  • There’s a line on the Vic Falls bridge where Zambia ends and Zimbabwe begins (we already had to go through border control before that though) so technically I can say I’ve been to Zimbabwe too. Although over here it’s just called Zim. Getting with the local lingo.
  • Playing games with the kids at Kids Club. These were so much fun, the kids get really excited and I got to be a kid again for a bit. Kids are so carefree and we got to enjoy that too. Real adult life can sometimes get dull, boring, serious and sensible. Lets not forget to have fun, blast away the cobwebs and laugh LOTS. We can learn a lot from children, just as they can learn from us.
  • Seeing wildlife every day. And I mean every day. Whether it’s elephants, baboons, hippos, giraffes, impala, monkeys or birds, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I’ve not seen something. Not sure I’d ever get bored of it, although you do get used to seeing elephants just wander on by. Or baboons and monkeys running around. Never thought I’d be saying that.
  • Seeing the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets and stars in the night sky. African sunsets are well known, and there’s a reason for that. They’re just breathtaking. Everyone should see one, at least just once. You just can’t beat it. And the stars, out here, in the middle of the bush with no light pollution, are just amazing. We can see the Milky Way; it’s so clear. The stars shine so bright, and there’s shooting stars too. A couple of nights we just laid outside on the grass and watched the stars. Nothing else to do or see, no interruptions, just enjoying the stars. Sometimes the best things in life are free.
  • Sharing the running love; I ended up running with a couple of different people, getting them running. I hope this carries on throughout my travels.
  • Meeting and making new friends. I’ve met a lot of people out here, they’re a great bunch from all over the world; I’ve laughed lots and learnt loads. I hope we all keep in touch. And next year, when I get back home, we WILL have that UK reunion.

Part of my trip away is trying to figure out what I want to do work-wise. I don’t say career because I’ve never been particularly career minded, rather, I’ve just wanted to get jobs that I enjoy, that challenge me, and that I can do well in. I’m not particularly bothered about following a set path, or getting to the top (whatever the ‘top’ is). As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing and it’s enabling me to live the life I want, rather than a life I have to, then I’m happy. I can say, after this trip, that there’s two jobs I can rule out. Teacher and firefighter. I’ve really enjoyed the teaching over here, it’s been a great challenge, rewarding and I’ve relished any minute of it. But, I couldn’t do it full time. It’s exhausting, frustrating and just not for me. But, it has reminded me how much I love training. I used to do a lot when I worked for the Police and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. So, that’s a possibility.

And firefighter? It’s something I fleetingly thought about last year. But, after taking part in fire break where we were practically stood in the middle of a roaring fire trying to beat it out, while the thick smoke made it hard to breathe or see, I’ve ruled it out. Obviously it’s not the same at all, but now every time I smell smoke since that first week’s fire break I feel panicky. I really do think it’s scarred me a little bit, it was so horrific, and so that’s definitely one job I couldn’t do now.

Being here has opened my eyes up yet again to new cultures, communities and ways of life that are so different to mine. It’s made me appreciate the things and people I have, and reaffirmed my values and motivations in life. I’m not particularly interesting in things, I’m all about the experiences. I want to help people and make a difference. I know I can’t change the world but I hope I can make a little difference. I hope I have made a little difference while I’m here. I guess I’ll never know for sure but I gave it my best shot.

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Zambia internship.

I’ve realised that my photo a day of my travels might not work. Although I’m taking lots of pictures I can’t really upload them here because the wifi isn’t great and WordPress doesn’t like it and keeps timing out. I’ll still take pictures and when I get to good wifi places I’ll share some of them, and I’ll try to keep a record of my photos a day so I can upload them when I get good wifi but this might be tricky. Some will be on my phone, some will be on my big camera and I might forget which ones I’ve taken and what day they will be for. So, I’ll see how I go for a couple of weeks and decide whether it’s something to carry on with.

I’n the meantime I’m just going to try to blog every few days with what I’ve been up to. Still a record and I’ll still try to keep it interesting.

So I’ve started my internship. This week is really just an induction, so I’ve been spending time learning about the charity I’m placed with, which is ALERT (African Lion & Environmental Research Trust). They run a 4 stage rehabilitation program for lions to increase the numbers in the wild, as African lions are decreasing in numbers rapidly. I’m based in the Mosi-O-Tunya National Park in Zambia, near to the river Zambezi. They also run community and other conservation projects. I’m on an Education and Rural Community Development internship, which means I’ll be mainly teaching children in 3 local schools though lessons and reading, conservation and kids clubs. This week me and Abby (another intern) will be visiting the schools and watching how the clubs are run so we know what we’re doing next week. I’ll admit it; I’m a fair bit terrified. I’ve never taught kids or had much to do with them, let alone ones in a completely different continent! So it’s going to be a bit of a challenge. But, it’s always good to step out of the comfort zone every now and then. And this is definitely doing that. Got to be good for me. I hope.

I’ve been on a couple of lion walks too so far, with 5 month old lion cubs. The cubs are in stage 1 of the rehabilitation program and get taken on walks to get them used to their surroundings. They are very cute, but still dangerous. They want to play a lot, but their playing would hurt us with their sharp claws and paws. We had a few safety briefings, have to walk with a stick and be alert at all times. It’s pretty damn amazing though, being so close to them; even touching them. They look like big kittens with such cute little faces.

Because we’re in a national park, there’s quite a bit of wildlife around. As we were driving up the road to get here (incidentally in the back of a pick up truck; very African) a couple of African elephants just strolled across the road. Totally surreal. And monkeys and baboons just run around outside like birds and pigeons back in the UK. And tonight, just as I was writing this, a couple of giraffes walked across the field, only about 200 metres from where I was sitting. I love giraffes, so that was pretty damn cool.

What’s not so cool is the massive spider in my room. When I say massive, I mean massive. About the size of my hand. Including fingers. I saw it last night on the ceiling. This morning it was gone. I’m not thinking about where it might be now. Luckily I have a mosquito net as this should also keep spiders from jumping on me while I’m asleep. It won’t stop them from crawling in my shoes though so I’m making sure I put them upside down when I take them off and check them before I put them on. I’m also checking my bed and under the bed for snakes. Because snakes are rife here too. Apparently one time a snake crawled up a womans leg in the shower. Shit.

I also helped out with Donkey Drop today. This involved taking a chopped up donkey from the back of a pick up, putting it in the meat prep area, weighing it and then putting the bits in a freezer. Pretty nasty but it’s a necessary job because it’s the lion food. Lots of blood and body parts flying everywhere.

Everyone is really nice but I have to admit I’m missing home a bit. Already. It’s surprised me a bit actually, normally I’ve been fine when I’m away before. Maybe it’s because I know how long for. Maybe it’s because I know that it’s the start of a life change, a different routine and I’m out of sorts trying to adjust. Maybe it’s because this time I’d quite like to share some of these things with people. At the same time, in person not just in photos and over the internet. I’ll get over it I’m sure. And it doesn’t help that I’m not sure how much, if any, running I’ll be able to do. We can’t walk around in the park by ourselves because it’s too dangerous because of the animals (we even need to walk with a guide to go to bed after dark in the different buildings) so there isn’t really anywhere to go. I could possibly go in Livingstone but that’s about 15 mins by car and I don’t know how often I will go and if so, it will probably be the middle of the day so way too hot. So this might be 4 weeks without running.

And that’s a sad thought. And makes me realise just how important running and fitness is to me now. Hopefully in India things will be better. Although probably just as hot.