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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Notes from Zambia

August 1, 2010

The final leg of our journey: touchdown in Mfuwe! Our sense of anticipation and excitement grew as we made the one-hour jaunt to this very rural area east of the capital city. As we flew in, we observed a rather dry landscape dotted with trees and occasional plumes of smoke and patches of scorched earth. We later discovered that, besides being natural occurrences during this dry season, these were also indications of people either setting fire to trees to smoke out beehives or using fire to flush out wildlife for hunting.

Upon disembarking from the plane, we immediately sensed a warmer climate. It was still a little cool, but it was noticeably warmer than that of the higher-elevated Lusaka. We were warmly received at the airport by the local COMACO representatives. At long last, we were finally able to meet Dr. Dale Lewis, program director and major host. After gathering our bags, we were whisked away a short distance down the bumpy road to the small cluster of buildings that we will call our home for the next 18 days. Later in the afternoon, we returned to the airport to pick up Daniel Sheehan, Crop Research Specialist with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, who will spend the next week and a half with us.

After surveying our surroundings and moving our gear into our rooms, we were treated to our first meal of home-cooked Zambian fare: chicken with rice along with a helping of locally grown greens. Most of it was cooked over an open fire, and it was most delicious!

After group reflection, we called it a day, looking forward to meeting more of the COMACO team tomorrow to learn more about this amazing organization.

The Z-Team

July 30 and 31, 2010

After over 22 hours of travel, we have touched down on Zambian soil – exhausted, yet very excited! Our journey across the Atlantic began at 5:30 a.m. on July 30 with a ride to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., a flight to Rome for a crew change and refueling stop (which is always a desirable decision!), then to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We then changed planes and traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe and finally to Lusaka, the capitol of Zambia. As we gazed upon the Ethiopian landscape from the air as well as during our brief time on the ground, we reflected on the long, rich history of this ancient land and how it has made its own unique contribution in shaping our world’s civilization as we know it. However, we all grieved a bit, knowing how, even within its abundant natural resources, the country suffers because a vast array of complicated challenges: some because of the forces of nature and many because of human decisions. The same goes for its neighbor to the south, Zimbabwe.

Our entire group agreed that we received first-class service from the Ethiopian Airlines personnel every step of the way. These many hours in the air allowed us more time to get to know each other better and to focus on our mission. It also presented wonderful opportunities to soak in the rich tapestry of world cultures represented on board as indicated by the cacophony of languages and accents heard and the styles of dress and mannerisms. Although all members of the Z-Team have prior experience in international travel, none had ever experienced the African continent. We met a number of delightful people who hailed from such places as Canada, Zimbabwe, India, the United Kingdom and Zambia as well as a number of Americans who, like us, were headed to different locations on the African continent to work with and provide assistance to various communities.

As we made our way down the stairs of the airplane, we were immediately reminded of our host’s suggestion that we bring sweaters – it was a bit chilly! However, we were warmly received at the Lusaka airport by representatives of our host, COMACO. We were guaranteed that we would be placed in very capable hands, and this promise was indeed fulfilled. Although we were quite weary, we were determined to take advantage of the time that we had in the city to do a bit of sightseeing.

When leaving the airport, we travelled in two new Toyota SUVs on a nice two-lane highway that led from the airport to the inner city of Lusaka. Over drivers informed us that this project was built with funding from the Japanese government. Based off of later experiences, it became apparent how fortunate we were to be travelling on such nice roadways. We made our way through the city where we saw an abundance of markets and people along the side of the roads. At one point we even saw the motorcade of the president of a visiting country. It was not only the markets and poverty-stricken inner city that we saw but also Zambian’s capitol and other government buildings. We saw a huge social economic gap between the wealthy and the financially challenged, with little evidence of a middle-ground. However, one of the first surprises that we saw was a large pivot irrigation system on the edge of the city. One of our drivers informed us that there are many such pivots on large farms across the country. It did not take long for us to notice the high level of hospitality that the people of Zambia show to visitors as well as their fellow citizens.

After an enlightening little tour of the city, we were wishing that we could have spent more time experiencing the markets in a more first-hand approach; but, because of a lack of time, we found ourselves pulling through some large metal gates to a secluded area where we checked into our accommodation for the evening: the Avon Guest House. After we unloaded our gear, we made the short walk to a little restaurant called the Chit-Chat.

Much to our surprise, the dinner menu choices included many familiar meals such as chicken enchilada wraps, pasta, salad and chips (thick potato wedges). We decided to pass our plates around and share our meals. After partaking of this fine local cuisine, it was finally time for some well-deserved shut-eye! The last leg of our journey to Mfuwe will take place tomorrow where we will meet our main site hosts.

The Z-Team


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