Promises, Promises.

It’s the end of November. Five days of classes remain before finals. It’s cold enough that I need to consistently wear socks. Eww.

Seems like a good time for some nostalgia to kick in. Last week, pretty much everything mentioned in my International Agricultural Development lectures reminded me of something from Zambia. One of the topics we were discussing was human capital. This isn’t relevant to the rest of the post, but I think it’s worth repeating whenever the opportunity arises: the most powerful form of capital any country has is its people. Every country is asset rich, and the goal of development should be to give individuals the opportunity to access their full potential.

Back to stress/lecture/November/sock induced nostalgia.

Quite a few people have asked me when they’re going to get to see pictures from my placement. Most people asked in September, which conveniently is when I intended to write this post before forgetting about it entirely. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that people would want to see said pictures. Unfortunately geography doesn’t allow me to invite everyone who wants to see pictures to sit in my living room and drink tea and look through them with me. Though that sounds lovely. So instead I’m posting some here.

I attempted to cull through the pictures from the summer for the highlights. It was hard. Hard to the point of unsuccessful.

Since I didn’t manage to get the album down to a reasonable size, I decided to attempt some form of loose curation. That also didn’t go very well. But if you want to look at pictures, deal with it. Sorry.

There are 5 sets, 15-30ish pictures a piece, each with a loose theme. There is an obvious, and somewhat unavoidable bias towards pictures from touristy things, simply because you tend to take more pictures in one day on a trip than in one month at work. It’s just how things go. I’d also like to mention that besides the “Work” and “Home” albums, almost all of the pictures were taken by others–I stole a lot of pictures from Eric and Nicole, and the rafting pictures were done by the company.

So, enough of this unnecessary rambling. Here you go:

Work: Dunavant Zambia Ltd.

Home: Katete and Kapala

Mid Placement Retreat and Safari

Miscellaneous Adventures: Lusaka, Ndola, Siansowa


An Anecdote and a Remark from the First Lady: LGBT Rights in Zambia

It was my third day of work with Dunavant. I was at a buyer training session, sitting in a school room with about 30 distributor-buyers and 5 Dunavant employees. I had tried to sit in the back so I could take notes inconspicuously, but that didn’t work out. I was up front with the Dunavant employees, sitting through a session in a language I didn’t understand, relying on a combination of context clues and cotton buying paperwork (which was in English) to follow along. Occasionally I asked one of the guys I was sitting with for a translation, which he was more than willing to provide.

The training sessions are long, and quite frankly, not very interesting. My trusty translator buddy began scrolling through the news on his smartphone. He turned to me and his coworkers and announced that France had legalized same-sex marriage.

My first thought: awesome!

My second thought: Homosexuality is illegal in Zambia, and I do not want to have this conversation with a bunch of coworkers I just met.

He asked me what I thought about it. I replied that I thought it was a good thing, but didn’t offer the justification of my opinion that I may have in a different context.

He asked if Canada allowed same-sex marriage.


I got a bit of a shocked look in response. But why? Are you Christian? 

What are those three things you’re not supposed to bring up in polite conversation? Politics, religion, and sex? How about all three.

I thought about my response for a moment.  I decided I’d rather have a conversation about about constitutional law than human rights. It’s really hard to get super worked up over legal documents–unless you happen to be American.

My response went something like this: The United States has a clause in their constitution mandating the separation of church and state. Canada doesn’t have that concept written into law, but it is a historical and legal precedent that the two remain separate–that the freedom of religion also implies a freedom from religion. You are free to practice your own religion and not be legally bound to adhere to the doctrines of another. 

My colleague listened with interest and said something along the lines of okay, that makes sense.” He told me a bit about Zambia’s political structure–that freedom of religious practice is guaranteed, but the 1996 national constitution declares Zambia a Christian nation, and thus permits the consideration of religious elements in the writing of law.  

We each left the conversation with the same opinions we held upon entering it, but it was nice to be able to engage in a civil conversation during which we actively listened to each other–on a topic where that is often not the case.

The laws against homosexuality are not just antiquated laws remaining on the books in Zambia–they are actually enforced. There are two ongoing trials in which men face up to fourteen year prison sentences.

Thus, it came as a shock when Zambia’s first lady, Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata stated “no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation” during remarks at a UNAIDS event in Lusaka earlier this month.

That is a pretty significant statement considering that earlier this year the minister of Zambian Home Affairs was quoted as saying, “Those advocating gay rights should go to hell, that is not an issue we will tolerate. There will be no such discussion on gay rights. That issue is foreign to this country.”

Kaseba-Sata’s remarks were seemingly received much more warmly in the international community than within Zambia, but it is encouraging to see such remarks made by someone in such a high-profile position.

Articles about her remarks can be found here and here. And then there’s the backlash.

Cool the Engines

I seriously hope y’all know your classic rock. Whatever. I’m flying to Boston today. And then driving to The Shire. But since no one writes songs about, or names their band after, New Hampshire, Boston will have to do.


This song is way to upbeat for my current level of exhaustion.


Debrief was a whirlwind of hellos and goodbyes. I feel blessed to have been able to get to know so many wonderful people through this experience. EWB is a funny little organization—it somehow manages to turn complete strangers into family in an impossibly short period of time.

The overseas portion of the Junior Fellowship program is behind me, but eight months of my contract remain for in-Canada work as an EWB Returned Junior Fellow. This will consist of sharing my experiences with the UBC EWB chapter and the UBC community at large. That’s a fancy way of saying I’m going to hang out and talk to people.

Writing this blog has been an interesting exercise in…well, I don’t really know what. But it was an exercise in something, and I really enjoyed being able to share tidbits of my summer with you. I am hoping to keep this blog from going entirely dormant—I am sure I’ll have some reflection-y obnoxiousness to impose on you in the coming weeks and months, as well as some thoughts on development in general. I can assure you however, that the frequency of posts is about to decrease dramatically. Sorry for spamming you for the past 3.5 months. I do feel badly about that. Hopefully I’ll keep the blog active enough to recommence the obnoxious spamming next time I head overseas.

So until next time, thanks for reading. I am going to take a break from the internet, and possibly reality, for a little while.

If you happen to be in New Hampshire and want to hang out while I’m there, you will find me reading on the beach. Probably Steinbeck if you care to know. I’ll be the one with the crazy farmer’s tan who is completely scandalized by how little clothing North Americans wear during the summer months (I’m allowed to show my knees!?).


We're a good looking bunch.

Team Zambia (formally known as Parasite Mike and the BaDaSs Bunch*) after our victory in the JF Olympics versus Team Malawi at Mid-Placement Retreat. It was a close race all the way, requiring both a freestyle rap battle and a sugar cane eating contest as tie breakers.

*Are you even allowed to footnote captions? Anyways, Mike worked with Rent-to-Own in Zambia this summer, and therefore was not technically on the BDS team. And he had parasites. Like all summer. Also BaDaSs. BDS. Get it? We thought we were clever. Then I typed it and realized that it looks like those obnoxious people on Facebook who refuse to type like a human being.

Photographic Interlude #9

This one time a bunch of JFs decided to go to Livingstone, because we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country without visiting Victoria Falls—a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is classified as the largest waterfall in the world based on its width and height, resulting in the largest falling sheet of water in the world during the rainy season (it is currently dry season, so the water levels are much lower). At 108 metres tall (at its centre), it is approximately twice the height of Niagara Falls. For you engineers and other assorted nerds, its flow rate is approximately 1088 m^3/s. It seemed like something you can’t leave the country without seeing.

So to Livingstone we went. Livingstone is named for David Livingstone, a Scottish explorer and missionary who is believed to be the first European to see the falls, which he named after Queen Victoria. But colonialism is lame, and when you come across a waterfall in Southern Africa named after a British monarch it can’t help give you the howling fantods (10 points for getting the reference). The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders” in reference to the spray from the falls, that typically reaches over 40 m in the air and can be seen from as far as 48 km away. This spray also creates permanent rainbows during the day…and if you go at full moon, creates a lunar rainbow at night, which I honestly didn’t know was a thing until recently.

The falls straddle the Zambia-Zimbabwean border (which I have taken to referring to as “Zim-Zam” in hopes that it will catch on) and can be viewed from either side. Since towns near the falls (Livingstone on and Zam side, Victoria Falls on the Zim side) are touristy as shit, there are lots of things to do—assuming you don’t mind chopping a lot o’ kwacha. We decided to go whitewater rafting. We rafted 28 kilometres down the Zambezi River through 25 rapids ranging from class 1 to 5. There was one class 6 that we had to get out of the water and walk around because it’s too dangerous to raft. We won the best flip of the day category for sure. I realize that so far the title of this post has been awfully misleading. I got carried away…thankfully only figuratively.

TL;DR. Really big waterfall. Fun times. See pictures below. (Rafting pictures and pictures I steal from other people coming soon-ish.)


Look! A waterfall! We may have done some rogue exploring trying to get to the Devil's Pool without a guide...



Handshakes in Zambia are not just for meeting someone for the first time, or the end of job interviews.

They’re for every time you greet someone. So much handshaking.

They are also not your common run-of-the-mill handshake. They’re a Zamshake. That word is probably already copyright protected by Zambeef for some type of drink—don’t sue me please.

You start in standard handshake position. Then you angle your hand upwards so that you are sort of pivoting about the point between your thumb and index finger. I tried to draw you a diagram in Paint. It didn’t work out.

Then you go back to standard position and either let go, or continue to sort of hold hands for the rest of your conversation.

Really the important takeaway here is that as a Canadian, you get to pretend that you have a secret handshake with complete strangers. And that’s pretty cool.

South Paw

I am left-handed. This has never come to a huge shock to anyone. I’ve always been left-handed. My sister is also left-handed. Logically, our right-handed parents put us in softball and we both pitched and got the bunt sign a lot. Duh. That’s what you do with left-handed children.

I got the occasional comment from my parents—you know, about being “wrong-handed”  and stories about “the olden days” when you weren’t allowed to write with your left hand and whatnot. Standard stuff. 

Apparently Zambians aren’t left-handed. Nope. At first I thought it was weird that everyone at work was commenting on it. And then I started watching. I have literally not seen a single person here write with their left hand in 3.5 months.

People have actually looked at me incredulously and said “You use that hand!? So you can write with both?” Uh, nope. Just the left. I’m pretty dominantly left handed. A few people have actually then looked to judge the legibility of my writing. Which is a little awkward when I’m taking notes about Dunavant projects I consider to be…ahem…opportunities for improvement.

I idiotically tried to find information about left handedness in Zambia before remembering that looking for basic unemployment statistics yielded everything from 15% to 80% to “figures unavailable.” But I did find this article from The Post Online. I’ll save you the trouble of reading it, because it’s lame and poorly written as are most Zambian journalism pieces. The bottom line is: some kids are left handed. Parents, don’t stress out, this is normal and you should love them anyways.

In Transit

I will be spending a lot of time in transit in the next little while.

On Saturday I left Katete for Lusaka.

On Monday I headed from Lusaka to Livingstone. You can’t spend 4 months in Zambia without seeing the Victoria Falls. They won’t let you out of the country.

Thursday will bring me back to Lusaka and our in-country debrief session.

On Friday the BDS/RtO JF Zam crew will be at the airport. Later Zambia. It’s been a time.

Then we’ll be in Johannesburg. With any luck we’ll miss our connection and get to explore a bit.

Then 8 hours in London.

Then two days in Toronto for what is sure to be a brief, jet-lagged, disgustingly emotional reunion with our JF pre-dep group for debrief/re-integration training.

Then I’ll be in Boston. I’m sure customs at Logan Airport will be thrilled with the “countries visited prior to entering the United States” section of my declaration. They’re such a cheery group.

I will spend a whole week in New Hampshire without being on a bus or plane. I plan to spend most of it sleeping.

Then back to Logan. Boston, Montreal, and finally Vancouver.

Between leaving one home in Katete and arriving at another in Vancouver I will have covered over 22 795 km.

That’s over half the circumference of the Earth.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how insane that is? I still have trouble being cynical about all the hassle and whatever involved with travel. Have to deal with security and customs and sit around in the airport for a few hours? To what end?  To sit in a chair and go from South Africa to England in a matter of hours. Sounds worth the minor inconveniences to me. Flight across the pond is delayed an hour? Who cares?  The “pond” is a frigging ocean and you’re going to be flying through the air over it. Seriously.

I like travelling. As in the actual travel part that most people seem to consider the price you pay for getting to where you’re going. I don’t necessarily always express it as enjoyment, but I actually quite like taking buses in Zambia, despite the fact that there is usually someone basically sitting on me, I’m either freezing or a million degrees, and I spend a decent portion of the trip calculating how far we are from Nyimba (the stop on Great East Road that has bathrooms). Overall, I look forward to those bus trips. It’s a great way to see some of the country, to meet people, and mostly to just think.

Similarly, I’m one of those weird people who not only likes flying, but also kind of secretly likes airports. I love overnight flights. I never actually manage to sleep on them, so I’m usually an exhausted bundle of useless by landing, but I like them all the same. I love getting on a plane in the dark and landing as the sun rises.

The great thing about travel is that no one expects anything from you. It’s generally accepted lag time between two destinations. It’s like somehow being in transit steals time from the universe and hands it to you with no restrictions. It’s yours. Literally your only responsibility in an airport, or on a plane or bus is to not annoy other people. (I thought that was a pretty easy thing to manage until I ended up sitting behind a drunk guy on a bus from Katete to Lusaka. He did not follow the only rule. Also, it was 7 am.) Traveling is one of those rare opportunities that allows you to feel precisely no guilt for doing nothing but think.

Deadlines and responsibilities exist on the ground. They exist in places, not between them. For the few short hours you are suspended in an intermediate state, you’re exempt. And it’s wonderful.