Kelly was waiting for us in the small building that is Livingstone airport. I recognised her by the bright yellow t-shirt she was waving in my direction. I had just arrived in Zambia to spend the next month as a volunteer in Africa on The Book Bus, a literacy charity that works in schools in and around Livingstone town.
Livingstone, a small but bustling town, located in southern Zambia, is the adventure capital of Africa. It’s only a few kilometres from Victoria Falls and a great base to start any Africa trip. There’s tons of things to keep you occupied, it’s a very safe place for travellers and has a very British feel so shouldn’t be too much of a culture shock for even the most nervous of travellers. There’s even two big supermarkets where you can buy anything you need, including chocolate (check out Cadbury’s Top Deck – YUM – I’ve told my friend who works for Cadbury’s that this NEEDS to come to the UK) and my favourite, cheese!
We walked outside into the blistering midday heat and placed our bags into a bright blue Toyota taxi, and paid the driver 50,000 ZMK (Zambian Kwacha) or $10 (which is the standard fare and you shouldn’t pay any more than that) to take us into into town.
As we zipped through the countryside I stared in amazement through the open window at the dry golden yellow landscape and I couldn’t believe I was finally in Africa. My 9 month round the world (RTW) trip was just beginning. I was away from my boring commute, away from the stress of work and the craziness of life at home. It felt exhilarating and I felt free, like Dorothy skipping down my metaphorical yellow brick road. Women carrying babies on their backs and bundles on their heads waved as we drove the 15 minutes down dusty and bumpy dirt roads to my new home. I felt truly welcomed.
We arrived at ‘Grubby’s Grotto’ where we would be camping in the grounds of an old colonial house, now a shadow of it’s former glory which could do with a lick of paint. Sweet smelling frangipani trees lined the barbed wire perimeter wall and gave shade from the blistering sun. The place had a tranquil, old world feel and I immediately felt at home.
I couldn’t wait to see the iconic Book Bus, founded by legendary publisher Tom Maschler, the man responsible for bringing Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (amongst others) to the attention of the world. As a result, Quentin is a trustee of the charity and designed the beautiful artwork that adorns the sides of the old Leyland bus. I wasn’t disappointed and I could just imagine how exciting it must be for the children of Livingstone to see the bus pulling into the school gates. I know I would have been overjoyed to see that as a child.
Spending time of the Book Bus is by no means a luxury safari holiday, but it allows you to see the real Africa and work with and amongst people who live there so you gain a real understanding of the local culture.
Kelly showed us to our tents where I met my tent mate, a 37-year-old French Canadian librarian called Marjorie with a cheeky glint in her eyes. The rest of the group consisted of the Hardcastle family – Jim, Helen and their kids Tom (10) and Anna (9), Petrina and Jean, two older ladies, Phoebe a 19-year-old English girl, Struan who I’d met at the airport, our leader Kelly and Aswell the driver.
Before dinner, Marjorie were sitting side by side in our tent. I was a little bit apprehensive about sharing a tent with someone I didn’t know. We chatted and made polite but awkward conversation as I unpacked. I picked up a bottle of sun cream and asked Marjorie “Do you burn?” But my Liverpudlian accent proved too much for her.
“Do you beeern?’
“Do I what? Beern? Ben? Been? What does that mean?”
“I’m asking you do you burn? SUN BURN!”
Giggles erupted from all the other tents. Marjorie and I looked at each other and burst out laughing too. I had a feeling that this was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Later that evening, I lay in my tent, contemplating what the future would hold for me as I was lulled to sleep by the strange and wonderful sounds of the night – dogs barking, crickets chirring, Zambian music softly drifting from somewhere outside the gates and a strange beeping sound that I still, to this day, have not been able to identify. My first day in Zambia had been all that I had hoped and more and I drifted off thinking about my trip to see Victoria Falls the next day.