Time Flies (Even in Zambia) When You’re Crunching

So much has happened in the two and a half weeks we have been here:

Client: we began the difficult task of figuring out how our client, COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), can become financially sustainable. We are now in crunch mode as we put the finishing touches on our document. We have locked ourselves in meeting rooms of our hotel here in Lusaka many a day and night to get our work done. What we thought would be a much shorter and tighter document than that which was created by last year’s team is turning out to be quite large, already surpassing last year’s document in length.

Zambian Culture: Let me say how nice Zambian people are. On our first day in Lusaka, we were trying to visit a market downtown. We asked a random driver on the street whether the market was walking distance. He laughed and said it was not but would we like a ride? Grateful for the kind offer, we squeezed into this man’s modestly-sized sedan. The driver dropped us off at the market entrance gladly, free of charge. I say free of charge because, it turns out, anyone can give rides and act like a taxi (which is fine as long as they take you to your destination, right?). We briefly contemplated helping COMACO become self-sustainable by outsourcing their vehicles for a few days and turning it into an impromptu taxi service. They’d be financially sustainable in no time because taxis are expensive here.

Speaking of vehicles, the Nissan Patrol that has been lent to us during our stay here is not the most reliable nor smoothest piece of masterful engineering ever made. Every morning, we have to push the car so that it starts. We automatically park the car facing downhill, no matter where we are or how long we are going to be gone for.

We have also taken many a bus ride up and down the Eastern Province and the Southern Province. These are no short bus rides, as Daniel described a few posts ago. They are whole adventures in and of themselves (and that’s just on the bus…or off the bus, when it breaks down). Between one other teammate and I, we have gotten 6 free bananas from kind strangers. Though we tried to pay for them, Zambians refused to take payment. We were gifted delicious bananas by people who don’t have much in the way of income.

What else have we done? We have learned a lot in the process of figuring out how to make honest recommendations to our client. Today, we gave our third and final presentation of our findings to our client’s staff. We hope we did a good job and that the staff got a lot of it; we believe this is the case.

In the midst of furiously finishing this massive audit report today, I went down to a local radio station with one of the COMACO managers and recorded a 15-minute radio feature about COMACO’s product line called It’s Wild! In true Zambian style, we had to go down to the radio station twice because the first one didn’t take.  Apparently, the power went out and the recording we did the first time didn’t take. I have never been on the radio before so go figure I’d be on the radio in Zambia.

Last weekend, we did take a 1.5 day break down in Livingstone where we canoed 20 kilometers down the Zambezi river. It was a lot of fun but somehow I hurt my arm. It’s still swollen and in pain. I also have a rash on both my arms (again). I seem to be much more fragile than I ever imagined. But it was a nice break from our intense work schedule.

Canoeing: In our first 20 minutes of canoeing, we were surprised by a hippo that jumped in the water right in front of us. It scared us pretty good. Hippos are territorial and if you get too close to them, they attack. And they are HUGE. The canoe I was in took a little too long to paddle away (us lefties are smart and creative folks but sometimes uncoordinated, perhaps?). I thought we were done for. We eventually paddled to safety.

Victoria Falls: We got to see Vic Falls in Livingstone. That was incredible. It’s a very wide and impressive waterfall, loud and “smoky” in the sense that the water falls, then rises then falls again, raining down as if it were, well, rain. Our canoeing guide told us that animals sometimes get swept by the river and down the edge of the falls. The bodies of such animals are eaten by villagers. Funny how nature works.

Next steps: Flying home tomorrow.  We have had a great experience and look forward to telling people about our adventures.  We also look forward to applying our new knowledge to future projects and our careers.

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