Yesterday was probably the longest day of my life. I am writing this from an Internet cafe in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia - and I love it. We've only been here just over 30 hours - but the place is incredible. I will start at the beginning.
My parents drove me to Heathrow Terminal 5 (in typical Jenko fashion with plenty of time to spare) and met up with John who was in my group. Having said farewell to my parents we grabbed a coffee before meeting up with the rest of Group 2: Hayley, Kym, Rachael, Kerry, Charles, Tim, Gabby and Amanda. We then lounged around terminal 5 before I spotted someone who looked strangely familar. I eventually placed their face and realised it was Tel Ben Haim who plays for Manchester City. Having done some celeb stalking with John and Charles I realised the whole team were here before departing for their pre season tour. Amongst the other famous players I'd seen on Match Of The Day on a regular basis were Craig Bellamy (boo hiss), Shay Given and Petrov who was purchasing a pack of Cherry Drops from WH Smith.
We boarded the flight and were all dispersed throughout the plane. I was sitting next to Charles (the Chief) and a Zambian girl who was studying in London called Grace. After a short delay we set off for Lusaka. There was a fine selection of films which will hopefully keep me busy upon return to sunny sunny Essex whilst I did watch 17 Again and He's Not That Into You.
The flight was good except I didn't sleep much and consequently was very tired throughout yesterday. We touched down at Lusaka airport (which is tiny and wasn't expecting another arrival for 6 hours) at 7 in the morning. We were warmly greeted by the two permanent staff members looking out for us during all 3 groups placements, Rona, who I knew very well from Stirling and Naomi, from Durham Uni. Also there to meet us was George, who is a prominent member of EduSport, one of the two NGOs the Sport Students will be working for, Freda who is the housemaid and very nice and John who is Rona's boyfriend who'd I'd met a couple of times previously. He is a Photography student from Edinburgh Napia who had promised to help me improve my own photography.
The house we are staying in is grand. Apparently the house the last group were staying in for 4/5ths of their stay was a disaster and didn't have hot running water and had cockroaches and ants roaming around the kitchen in a fairly noncholant manner. Seemingly it was disguisting and in comparison, we are staying in a palace. It's very very nice and our group is getting on like a house on fire which is better than can be expected of a group of teenage early 20 students from different Universities across Britain.
OK so a little more about Zambia - it's completely different to anything I've ever experienced in my life. Firstly, there is very little concept of quening - which I found to be very annoying today getting food! Secondly, a Merzonger is a term for a white person, which gets shouted at you a lot, not in a deeming manner, but there are just stating a fact as it's fairly rare for white people and tourists to be visiting the slums and compounds of Lusaka. Everyone is very very friendly and will often just make conversation with you because you are white. Everyone dresses very smartly aswell, regardless of whether they are employed or not. Because 80% are without fixed employment, people will often offer you a price for a lift to save you getting a taxi and simply honk your horn to know if you are interested.
I had a surreal experience when getting charcoal yesterday for a BBQ we were having. There was about 6 of us who went and we went at around 5.50 and headed just up a few meangdering roads before finding something which could only be described as chaos by myself, it was almost a different world. Tiny streets are packed with people on either side trying to sell you (at an inflated price when they assume because you are a merzonger you are rich) an array of foods we would never imagine eating including rats amongst others!
But what made the whole experience so surreal was the fact all eyes are on you. I've discovered there are usually two reactions to a merzonger in such a remote part of Lusaka and that is either of suspicion or that of delight and suprise. Everyone of the second reactions sparks near hilaritiy and smiles - it's so very very strange to experience that. What you're feeling is very hard to describe because I don't think there is a word for it, but perhaps overwhelmed is the nearest fit to summing it all up. Kids will follow you for miles simply to see you. Some kids will often dare others to touch the Merzonger to see what happens! Whats strange is there was this whole little world just a 5 minute walk away from where we were staying.
After I brought a bag of charcoal back us lads spent a good 30 minutes trying to emulate the success of cave men by creating fire - needless to say, it was a fairly epic failure. Eventually however, we did, but not without the help of deorderant and 4 other able hands and minds. It was a good barby. Everyone was shattered and although we had promisied ourselves to make a real night of it - we found ourselves putting up our mossie nets at 10.30 to settle in for the night - let me tell you that process is a lot harder than it sounds and we eventually got into our sleeping bags at around 11.
Today we got up, had a spot of breakfast and came into town to visit the two NGO offices (EduSport and Sport In Action). We did so and Celvin (one of the peer leaders at EduSport, who acts like a real gent and a proper man, but in actual fact is only 15 - he's a legend!) said we should visit one of the compounds that one of the pairs will be working throughout their placement. We hitched a lift on the back of a 4x4 open ended truck. Let me tell you that would not be allowed by any stretch of the imagination back home. The sight would have been funny for a local - 15 merzongers cramped on the back of this truck. Anyway, the truck took us through the streets of Lusaka and we gathered a first hand experience of the lifestyle, culture and ways of livivng. The school we visited went crazy to see us and rushed out their classes to say hello. I took some pictures and they knew the sketch of posing. What's funny is what they loved more was seeing it again and they all had a look and laughed at the technology and photo - it was incredible. We went through the slums and met some other peer leaders Moses and Sikiwu who told me she wants to go on and study journalism at Windsor, which is a local college.
We played football and spoke to many of the children in the vast stretches of dust that the children had adopted as playing grounds. They were all very outgoing and more than happy to say hello and wave to us all. Some however, were slightly more shy! Since then we've had some lunch and now I'm writing this blog up. I need to keep this blog updated because we are going to be doing and experiencing so much and so much varity that I will need to remind myself of everything before I forget it all. As the media student, there have already been a number of possible opportunities like seeing the TV Stations and writing for the two NGOs. It is very promising and exciting and some of the photos I've gathered after just 30 hours are incredible. I'm so syched to get started on the project!
Tonight we are going to soak up some traditional Zambian food at a local lesiure resort and taste the local Zambian beers. If the rest of the project is half as good as the first day and a half - then it's going to be the best time of my life.
Signing off - a Merzonger in Zambia.
Peace and love !