If you regularly read my blogs then I’m sure by now you will have heard me mention travelling to Africa at some point. This week I want to focus on this opportunity because for me, this was my most life changing experience for multiple reasons. The first being that this was the first time I’d ever traveled alone. I have always had a phobia of planes growing up mainly because of my travel sickness but as a child I would get quite extreme panic attacks and getting on a plane was always quite a difficult thing to do. I have grown out of this luckily but there are still things that bring out the child in me and having to get on a plane even at the age of 19 is one of them. So saying goodbye to my parents at the airport knowing that once I’m through security I am completely alone and getting on a plane with no one to hold my hand, was hard. Little did I know that it would be the most liberating feeling of my life. My independence since has increased tenfold and I can honestly say I came back as a completely new person.
On November 10th 2016 I travelled over to Zambia to visit a friend who’d recently moved over there with her family. As they were unable to access work visas at the time they decided to devote themselves to opening a community centre for young people. The majority of these children do not have access to any form of youth club outside of school so this was highly inspirational to me and something I wanted desperately to be a part of. They provided access to toys, books and support that the children had never even seen before. We worked there multiple times a week from 10-2pm and then later on we would attend rehearsals for a production of the lion king that the children chose to do.
I wish I had been present when the children initally watched the lion king. Kirsty (my friend) and her mother were simply looking for things to keep the children entertained, but for some of them this was the first time they’d even seen a film. By the end of the night the place was crammed and the overwhelming excitement emanating from the kids inspired them to attempt the theatre production. The kids were entirely responsible for the making of the outfits, props and learning the scripts. With kids who come from nothing, this seemed like an impossible task. I arrived four weeks into rehearsals and was brought to tears by how phenomenal it was, how quickly the kids picked up the lines and songs and how incredible their voices sounded. Had I closed my eyes, I could have easily been at the West End.
Now having someone who is providing free accommodation and who has access to a car makes visiting places so much easier and cheaper for me, especially in places such as Zambia where public transportation is almost none existent. This meant that I could experience so much more in my time here.
In my first couple of days we visited Lilayi Elephant Sanctuary which was a beautiful introduction to Africa. Now I was warned before I travelled to Africa that sometimes elephant sanctuaries aren’t all they seem to be. So I was wary heading into this place. But watching those baby elephants come marching through the gates was just incredible and afterwards seeing all the open territory they have to explore reassured me that they are more likely better off in this protected environment. Especially considering that one of them was missing a tail due to a fight with a crocodile. Whether they truly are better off in this place is hard to know, but I all I can do is hope that this is the case. The sanctuary runs on donations so is well worth a visit if you are ever visiting Zambia. The instructors were well trained and could answer any of our questions. They were set on providing us the very best experience that they could, despite the fact that we were the only ones there.
Lilayi Lodge itself is a beautiful 5* hotel that served delicious food on our temporary visit, if you have more money and time I would recommend an overnight stay. With the rooms being in little independent huts it truly is an ideal place to stop if you have the money.
Whilst I was in Africa I visited two different markets, one for the expats which was full of high end designer African products and then one of the locals. Now personally I prefer to purchase from the locals as it means I am supporting the local economy, but I have never quite visited anywhere like this. The stalls were beautiful, full of vibrant colours and hand carved wood. I had never been more eager to spend my money in my whole entire life. But walking through the market I couldn’t take one step before being stopped by guys forcing their products down my throat (not literally), one guy even attempted to trade his authentic wooden comb for the hair band on my wrist, which I ultimately ended up giving him for free simply to escape the endless torture. When purchasing anything I was sure to emphasise that I wanted the local price not the tourist price and Kirsty and her family are well aware that it is always better to send an African friend to buy your goods than go yourself as the price tends to double for those of us with white skin. Understandably of course, the likelihood being that we are tourists with pockets full of money. I salute them for trying their luck.
I have to say the amount of poverty in Zambia breaks my heart, it puts everything into perspective. The begging at the side of the road, the carrying heavy things on their backs for miles and the children wearing odd shoes and ripped clothing. For some reason you don’t really believe the charity advertisements, for some reason it doesn’t seem possible when you are curled up on your warm sofa with a cup of tea that children are drinking water from puddles on the side of the street. It was a harsh reality check for me when I realised that this was and possibly always will be the case unless some drastic things change. I will attach a link to the Save the Children Zambian page and if you ever have an extra couple of pounds then it would be a great way to spend your spare change.
Visiting here I personally believe that these are the places that schools should be taking their pupils, I would say that visiting Zambia has taught me so much more about this planet than any class could ever teach me. It has provided me with a true insight into my own life, how lucky we are to have the education system we have and I know that if I was still in school today I would feel so much more motivated to reach my full potential. Instead of taking us to Disneyland Paris on our educational trips, Africa would surely be more beneficial to us all.
Now on a more happier note, I want to talk about the greatest experience of them all. The one that everyone still asks me about to this day. My walk with the cheetahs. Now this was something that we saved until my last couple of days to really make sure I went out in true Africa style and boy am I glad we did. When we arrived the sun was shining, we would sit out of the car windows watching the animals go by as we drove and it was honestly the perfect start to a perfect day. Usually the Cheetah walk takes place with groups of around 15 people but when we arrived we were the only two taking part. With two cheetahs on the walk this gave us a cheetah each to interact with directly for the full 30 minutes. A once in a lifetime experience made even better. Chaminuka Game Reserve was on the whole a phenomenal experience, the game drive was long and the driver refused to end the trip until we’d seen every animal they had to offer, ostriches, giraffes, elephants, zebras the list was endless.
Ultimately, this trip changed my life. Africa is a must for any traveller and I would highly recommend Zambia if you are after the true African experience. I hope in the future that the imbalance between extreme poverty and wealth is fixed but for now it’s important that we support the local people in any way we can.
Please feel free to watch a video made up of the footage from this experience (This was originally a video designed to say thank you to the Staines family for hosting me and is in no way professionally done).
Donate to Save the Children today: http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.9264209/k.BE52/Zambia.htm
Lots of love, Lottie xoxo