Photo by Bekah Wright
Goodbye. The word catches in the throat. We’d said it a lot lately in the bush while moving between The Bushcamp Company’s various camps. And now, we were making our way back to Mfuwe Lodge and, ultimately, out of the bush. Then home. Home. What a strange, faraway place that seemed.
The breathtaking, three-hour drive back to the lodge we’d heard so much about was just that. Yet, few words were spoken. The impalas went about their day. I’ll admit, I was disappointed. Hadn’t we bonded? Weren’t they going to miss me as much as I them? The warthogs barely spared me a glance. The hyenas… Well, I’m pretty sure they were laughing hysterically over my rabbit poop escapade.
Photo courtesy of The Bushcamp Company
The terrain passed all too quickly and a familiar sign indicated we were back at Mfuwe Lodge. “After lunch…” Manda Chisanga, our guide began. We all nodded. Siesta. Yes, we knew the routine by heart now. “…You might want to visit the spa,” he finished. Say what? Spa? It made perfect sense. The spa at Mfuwe Lodge was the perfect vehicle for midwifing us one step closer to civilization.
Later, whilst lying on a massage table in the open-air spa, I stared out at two hippos cooling off in the lagoon, my thoughts drifting to Chindeni Camp and the famous hippo duo there. Goodbye, Chindeni. Goodbye, hippos. Goodbye, Eden. “Miss…” a gentle pat alerted the massage was over. “You might want to take a nap back in your chalet. They’ve scheduled a visit to the schools en route to the airport this afternoon.” Good idea, I thought, already halfway asleep. Back in the room, upon hitting the pillows, I was out.
“You’ve caught it.” The words startled me awake from a siesta slumber. Hot from the Zambian heat, my mind searched for the meaning of the utterance, first thoughts turning to bodily appendages, wondering if a malaria-carrying insect had bitten me. Shaking the sleep from my head, I stumbled to the door. Had someone come to collect my luggage? Not yet. They were steps away from doing the honors. “Sorry to be late!” the publicist member of our throng both apologized and prodded simultaneously.
Image courtesy of The Bushcamp Company
Still pondering the words that had awoken me, I was loaded into a Land Rover, watching, as in short order, the gate of South Luangwa National Park became a speck in the distance. The village of Mfuwe, which had been cast in twilight upon our arrival, was now full bustle in the afternoon sun. Roadside vegetable stands were hawking their wares, hair saloons were ushering in clients and Tribal Textile employees were wheeling their bicycles in from lunch. So this is what Mfuwe looked like during the day.
The Land Rover pulled down a dirt road, for a second reminding me of the bush and making my heart skip a beat. But no, we were visiting one of several schools The Bushcamp Company works closely with through its community and conservation programs. And then I heard it, much like the voice that had awoken me from my dream – angels singing. I glanced around the vehicle to see if anyone else noticed. “That’s a local choir rehearsing,” Lisa Gower explained as we passed the group gathered under a tree.
Moments later, we were surrounded by children, many of them jumping up and down shouting, “Mama Lisa!” Gower, who’d come to Zambia for a visit several years ago, had ended up staying and devoting her life to the schools there. A laying-on of many little hands occurred as the students, on their lunch break, excitedly showed us their campus. Seeing photos of themselves on our digital cameras was like producing a bit of magic. Getting behind the wheel of the parked Land Rover – sheer heaven.
Standing away from the little ones was an older student, whose name I learned was Margaret. She appeared disinterested in the goings-on. Yet when I flashed her a smile, I noticed her hiding one of her own behind the palm of her hand. Later, I asked Mama Lisa, “Which authors do the girls here read to connect to as they’re growing up?” Laughing as two boys swung from her arms she replied, “Whoever is on the curriculum.”
It was time for lunch. Each student, who must bring their own bowl, stood in line at the steel drum for their serving of porridge. The scene reminded me of our mornings before safari around the fire. How I’d miss those. “We should go and let them eat lunch. Otherwise, they’ll just want to hang out with you,” Lisa said. And so… we left.
As the Land Rover bumped down the dirt road I remained turned around in my seat, my eyes trained on the school. Just like the bush and Zambia’s wildlife, in under an hour, the people of Mfuwe had caught a permanent place in my heart.
Welcome, Zambia, as I bring you home with me.
Next: Yes, the Falling Into Zambia series is complete. As an afterword – Bekah is sponsoring a student at the schools in Mfuwe. She’s also starting a writing program for the girls there, so a new generation of Zambian storytellers’ voices can be heard both there and in the US. Stay tuned...