FIELD NOTES

Crocodiles, giant ants and the African cup of nations

When I initially wrote my diary entry, the monsoons were hitting Lusaka with a ferocity that can only be described as biblical. Divya was on the balcony watching the world go by as the trees seemed to bend to the pressures from the heavens above, and I was sitting on our bed in an Indian hotel in the heart of Lusaka, still coming to terms with my life journey – how did I end up here?  The day before I was sat with President Michael Sata having an open conversation about the future of the country and his own experience of living in the UK, (in fact Bromley a borough close to mine), where he spoke candidly about the shifting face of politics that is now becoming the natural norm across the world. Little would I expect that his predictions about sudden global changes would come true in 2019 many years after his death.

Little would I expect that his predictions about sudden global changes would come true in 2019 many years after his death.

Zambia was one of the most fascinating journeys we had been on and it all started when President Michael Sata had invited us for an unscripted public conversation with him and his aides about the real situation in the country. The President whose own personal life was full of unimaginable perseverance, was a leader with a remarkable vision for his people, but also one whose British humour would only appear once he felt comfortable in your company. He would jokingly mock the Birmingham accent that had apparently slipped from my mouth.  He was visibly aged but mentally alert and by the time we had finished our conversation, I felt he revealed much more than he anticipated. You got the sense he was one who was at ease with his own decisions and not manoeuvred to serve others – as has been the case with some.

The entire Presidential palace itself was a marvel to look at, with zebra roaming freely within its grounds and the occasional sound of peacocks ensuring their beauty was recognised by the security guards who roamed the perimeter.

Zambia has indeed been a revealing location; it was home to many Global Indians with immaculate hand-carved Hindu temples often appearing in locations that would surprise many. Freedom of religious worship was apparent and despite its smaller number of Indians in comparison to its East African cousins, the community here under the supervision of President Michael Sata, were not only recognised but celebrated as an integral part of society. You did not feel any division of ethnicities that was unfortunately familiar territory in the region.

It was also a country where unbeknown to us, we ate Crocodile and were pleasantly surprised. Although for Divya’s sake I still maintain it was fish…

It would not be fair to mention Zambia without the mention of the illustrious Victoria Falls and more precisely the Devils Cliff which lays precariously next to its drop.  Known by some locals as the Smokey Mountain due to the force of water spray that hits into the air – it is a natural wonder that you feel cleanses your inner good, and trust me, after the time we had in Zambia including an attempted carjacking, a mysterious phone call from the Vice President and witnessing the drug issues in the region, it was something that was reassuringly needed.

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