My 2 years as a child Expat in Zambia
I was 8 years old when we moved to Africa. For a kid born and raised in rural Quebec, it was the most extreme change in environment imaginable.
We had always been different from everyone else in our little town. My dad’s family had emigrated to Quebec from Germany when he was very young. He went back to Germany for university studies and met my mom. A year later they came back to Quebec and had me. From the beginning I stuck out like a sore thumb with my white hair and the funny German clothing my mom made me wear. How many little kids in Quebec run around in leather lederhosen or German knitted sweaters?
One day my parents told me that we would be moving to Zambia, something to do with my dad’s job. I had no idea where that was and wasn’t happy – when you’re a kid the last thing you want to do is leave your friends and everything that you’re used to. I was especially unhappy when I started have to take English lessons from our next door neighbor. I still remember sitting there, close to tears, while my friends were outside playing street hockey.
In 1974 we left Quebec and arrived in Zambia’s capital (and largest city), Lusaka. Zambia, previously North Rhodesia, had gained independence from the UK in 1964. Dependent on copper mined in the north of the country, it was a stable country in a rough neighborhood; across the border to the south Mugabe was fighting the white government of Southern Rhodesia (which would become Zimbabwe after independence in 1980). To the north were Zaire and Uganda, to the west Angola, and to the east Mozambique. All were embroiled in civil wars in the mid-70s.
It’s almost 40 years ago now and some of my memories and timelines are fuzzy. But others are as clear as if they had happened yesterday. Here are a few recollections and observances of an 8 year old:
• We lived in the Ridgeway hotel for a few weeks before moving into a pretty little house on the outskirts of downtown. When we arrived the walls had blood all over them. We were told it was chicken blood, meant to rid the house of spirits. The house was fenced in for security (which, as we would find out, was always a problem), the fence behind the house separating it from a large, abandoned field of 6 foot high grass. It was dry, beige-coloured grass, home to all kinds of animals and snakes (some of which would introduce themselves to us within our 2 years there). We also had 2 servants working for us, Simon who took care of the gardens and Paul who did the cooking and cleaning.
• It was summertime in Zambia when we arrived so school was out. One of the first things my parents did was to get me an English tutor. He was an older Welsh gentleman named Tommy Thomas – 5 times a week he would pick me up in his old Renault and bring me to his house, a ranch-style house shaded by a huge tree. He was a kind older man who put up with my moods; full and complete immersion into English was the hardest part of the move for me and I sometimes got frustrated. We would break up the lessons by playing badminton in the backyard or sometimes, on a special occasion, at the school where he had a key to the gym. I wish I could have met him again later in life and thanked him for having been such a nice, patient teacher.
• A necessity in Zambia was getting dogs for security. My father picked out a couple of Mastiffs within a few weeks of moving into the house. It didn’t go well. On the first day one of the dogs spotted a neighbor walking a small dog in the street. He clawed his way under the fence and tore the small dog apart like a ragdoll. I never met the Mastiffs – by the time I came home from tutoring the dogs were back at the pound.
• A few weeks later we adopted 2 other dogs; a female German Sheppard named Snoopy and a male Dashhound named Fritz. Snoopy was an atypical German Sheppard, a quiet and affectionate dog. Fritz was more excitable but that was usually limited to when he would try to mount Snoopy. They were just about the worst guard dogs possible.
•I adapted to not having friends or tv (something that I very quickly forgot about and never missed). We listened to a lot of radio (mostly international news) and records. I remember a lot of Beatles music being played.
• I spent a lot of time in the backyard making bows and arrows out of wire and branches, and wandering into the high-grassed fields behind the property for exploration (learning that dry African grass is sharp and cuts the skin). I remember finding a turtle and building a mud house for it. I also remember the day he ran away and how my dad had found it a few blocks away on his way to work (tip: if you’re a turtle and want to run away, don’t do it along the side of the road). I eventually met some black neighborhood kids and remember entire days spent playing soccer in the yard with them.
• It was warm, but never felt hot in Zambia because it was a dry heat. In the summertime everything became lush and green and I remember the huge trees that lined the major avenues. The things I’ll always remember about Zambia are the red earth, the smells (flowers, the earth after a rainfall, the cooking fires), and the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.
• I learned early what it’s like being robbed. Twice in 2 years we came home to an open door and our belongings strewn all over the floor. Even as a boy I felt the violation that comes with that. Being robbed was something that every expat in Lusaka went through at least once.
• I remember when we were told to keep the dogs indoors. This was the day when pickup trucks would go through the city, shooting and killing stray dogs (rabies control). Rabies was a major problem in Zambia and I remember being scared by the stories of rabid, crazed dogs and jackals frothing at the mouth.
• When the summer was over I started at Lusaka Boy’s School, a private Catholic school run by white administrators. 95% of the students were black, the remaining 5% the children of expats from a variety of countries. My most vivid memories are of the white teachers who looked for almost any excuse to either whack you with a ruler or bend you over a knee for a slap on the butt. I remember math class where the teacher would go down the line, asking addition/subtraction questions. Anyone getting the wrong response would have to put their hand, palm down, on the desk. The teacher would then give the back of the hand a strong whack with the 3-foot long wood ruler he wielded.
• We added a 3rd dog, a baby Zimbabwean Ridgeback that I named Simba (“Lion” in Swahili). Fritz didn’t like another male dog in the house and pretty soon we had almost daily dogfights, most initiated by Fritz. Tip on breaking up a dog fight: keep a bucket of water or a hose handy – nothing snaps a dog out of a fight than suddenly being drenched in cold water. Simba grew quickly and the fights stopped when Fritz came to the realization that he kept coming out of the fights a loser.
• We were always checking the dogs for blood-sucking ticks. It sounds gross today, but I remember it was fun pulling them off and squishing them.
• One day a large Cobra came up to the house and tried to get into the kitchen. I remember Paul, the cook, killing it with a machete. One has to watch out for snakes in Zambia, many of which are poisonous. They even have Spitting Cobras which can spit venom into your eye from over a meter away.
• Flying ants! For a few days after the rains started in November, the skies would be filled with flying ants. Totally harmless, but it was like a perpetual cloud of flying bugs. The Zambians loved it – they would collect the ants and cook them, either boiling them in a stew or flying them.
• A staple food in Zambia is Nshima, a dumpling-like concoction made out of maize (corn) flour known as mealie-meal. It goes with everything, the equivalent to rice in Asia or potatoes in North America. Zambians would eat by hand, squishing Nshima into their hand and dunking it into a stew or mixing with protein dishes (supposedly delicious with flying ants). I remember loving nshima, finding them similar to my mom’s German dumplings.
• The President, Kenneth Kaunda, was liked and respected by Zambians. Driving around the city, you would see many posters of his beaming face.
• There are a lot of roundabouts in Lusaka, something you rarely ever see in North America.
• I remember the women wearing colourful wraps (called a Chitenge). Whether rich or poor, Zambian women would always dress very colourfully.
• The Ridgeway Hotel was where expats went on weekends for drinking and socializing around the pool. On weekends we would sometimes have fancy suppers there and they would show a movie in the dining room (I remember seeing ‘Airport 75’ there – that was the one where the 747 got hit by a small plane, killing the pilots. Charlton Heston had to rappel into the plane from an army jet and maneuver the plane down. Great movie). It was after one of these suppers that we came home to find that we had been robbed.
• We had trips during our stay, visiting Victoria Falls in the south, going on a safari in Kenya, taking a beach holiday in Mauritius. We also drove to Malawi and camped, pitching a tent on a quiet spot on Lake Malawi.
Things got increasingly dicey in Zambia during our 2nd year as the civil war in Southern Rhodesia heated up. Rebels would cross the border and fighting started to erupt in Zambia itself. The excursions started to increase in frequency and proximity. With security becoming more of an issue and the economy drying up (the price of copper had tumbled) expats started leaving the country. I remember the day we suddenly had to say good bye to the dogs and leave for the airport. It seemed that we had left as suddenly as when we had arrived.
Related: Memories of Childhood Trips
After coming back from Zambia, we moved to Vancouver where I shuttled back and forth to a private school on Vancouver Island. A year later, then 11, we hitch-hiked across Canada, camping in National Parks or in apple orchards on our way to Ottawa. During my time in Ottawa we moved 5 times. With each experience the moves became easier, the adjustment less. When I was 19 I came to Montreal for university.
I actually went back to Zambia in 1987 to spend Christmas with my mom (she had gone back to Africa). I was 21 and it was just over 10 years after we had left. It was funny to see many of the same places I had seen as a child and it struck me how perceptions change. The house and property for example were nowhere as large as I had remembered. Lusaka’s security problems had gotten worse; walking around the city at night was unsafe and I remember the house my mom lived in had gates within the house; a gate separating the bedrooms from the living room and kitchen. Zambia had gotten poorer over 10 years. Funny enough it was Zimbabwe, right across the border, that was the new rising star in Africa (its fortunes would change quickly as well over the next few years…)
I’ve had a ‘normal’, stable life since graduating from university. But it has never changed me below the surface. I’ve always fought the urge to pick up and leave everything. My wanderlust was usually kept in check by the annual or semi-annual trips I would take but at times even that wasn’t enough. I’ve always found stability boring.
I didn’t like being uprooted as a kid. I don’t think any kid wants to be. I think you only appreciate such an experience as you get older. Moving to a different culture, learning a new language, and being totally out of your element differentiates you from 99% of people you know or will ever meet. I’m happy today that my life was opened up in this way and that I’ve had these experiences. But in another way I sometimes wonder if that’s a good thing. I look at people around me, some of those my childhood friends, and realize that we don’t have many of the same interests, priorities, or outlook on life. Most of them have stable lives, have invested in large homes, have 2 cars, 3 kids, and the same partner they’ve always had. They’ve done the same thing professionally since they left college or university. They enjoy yearly golf trips to Florida or more ‘exotic’ trips to all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic or Mexico. Most of my childhood friends still get together and have family get-togethers, their kids becoming friends. Are they content? I don’t know. It’s not me, but I’ve often wished in the past that this was my reality and that I wasn’t different. On the other hand, I also think of all the things I’ve just listed and, in all honesty, I can’t see myself living that life. And then I think of my friends and what they must think of me. Maybe pity?
I’m very interested to hear what you have to say to this post. Have any of you been raised in a foreign country? Has it changed you? Do you think we travellers are a selfish, restless bunch unhappy in our own skins? Finally, have you been to Zambia recently? I’d like to go back again one day with Lissette.
Related: How both our mothers inspired us to travel
Related: Does the Romance of Travel still exist?
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This moved me so much. I had very blonde and curly hair and the Zambian’s loved to touch it.
I moved to Ndola in 1969 for a few years as my father worked in the Copper Belt. I can feel the heat, smell that smell after the rain. I have lots of memories even though I was only nearly 4 when we arrived. I went to a creche and my brother went to school. We lived in 2 places the first of which had a river at the end of the road and a narrow bridge over it. Deep storm ditches and driveways over them. Lots of greenery and being told off for walking over the compost heap without shoes on…
We often saw crocs creeping over the bridge at the end of the road with a tail and head still in the water. I remember the name Campbell being in the road name for one address but I can’t find it on the map as I think the road names have been changed. I’d love to get hold of a map with the road names of late 60s and 70s so if anyone has one or knows how please message.
We had a chap called David who did the garden and lived in a house in the garden called a kiya (sic?) – he was treated as one of the family and was great fun.
I remember going swimming at the weekends to a country club a short drive away with whitewashed walls and two pools. And CBC’s downtown for shopping, a trip to Victoria Falls and the thunderous sound way before you saw it.
We lived opposite a cricket pitch in the second place which was an apartment block of 4 with armed guards who were lovely.
I get the clothes – my mum made a few outfits for me out there and knitted a few jumpers – it could be cold in the early morning after the rain that stopped abruptly at 7 am!
I’d love to go back and plan on taking my husband and kids.
Very nice story Barbara, I guess we all have these memories of Africa! Such a different time, makes me nostalgic sometimes. I recently read another blogger’s post on visiting Zambia and would love to go back (like you).
Thank you for sharing!
Frank, what a wonderful post. Such memories! I was born(1961) and raised in Luanshya, along w my 3 brothers, to Irish parents who came out in the 1950’s. They worked on Copper Mines. We went to primary school in Luanshya until we headed to boarding school in South Africa from 1972-77. During this time we returned home for every school holiday. Growing up in Zambia was the most wonderful, rich, blessed experience. The Zambian people gracious and friendly. I too recall increasing crime and decline.
All those things you mentioned evoked so many memories. Similar holidays you spoke of, including very early on Lorenzo Marques, return boat trips to UK, S Africa etc. I sometimes play a mental game w myself trying to visualise the layout of the streets, key land marks etc. I have not been back since +- 1986. My parents emigrated to Australia mid 80s, and one by one, my brothers and I have followed. I have married an Australian and have 3 boys. May I end by saying – whilst I loved Zambia and South Africa – I now consider living in Australia an awesome place to live and am very thankful to be here. Great post and replies to each contributor!
Thank you so much for the comment Barbara. Such a rich experience you had. Growing up I always thought my family was the weird, oddball family that was different to everyone else. In fact a lot of people have had unconventional lives and I love receiving these kinds of comments from people. Very interesting.
All the Best!
I grew up in Zambia too – 1968 – 1976 – we left when I was about ten. Lived in Lusaka just off Independence Avenue. So much nostalgia reading your post 🙂
Funny the power of the internet and the foreigners who lived in Zambia at around the same time. I imagine your experience is something that’s always stuck with you? Such a unique experience and I often have flashbacks to that time.
I landed on your blog while looking for pictures to put in a cultural collage for a class I am taking for my masters. I too lived two years in Zambia from 77-79 and I’m half dutch 1/2 American so we all looked and dressed just like you in your pictures. It’s crazy how after all these years those two years still have a lasting impact. I remember being very fond of Kaunda as well and also had a stamp collection of those same stamps. We went to the international school though. I have not been back since and I’m afraid that there would be nothing for me to recognize if I did. Thanks for sharing this—it brought me back.
Thank you very much Jan. It’s so funny having written this and then hearing from people who’ve had almost identical experiences at around the same time. Makes you realize how small the world is 🙂
Hi again, I meant the previous post to you as a personal message didn’t realize that it was going on the bulleting board. I have to add that I consider myself to have had the best childhood ever and in these 40 years since leaving Zambia have always held Zambia dear in my heart and frequent in my mind. By the way also share the Mauritius (Tamarin Bay), Malawi (Lake Malawi), Victoria Falls, Kenya experiences with you. Other memorable places for me were Luangwa Valley, Kafue, Lake Kariba and Livingstone. In Lusaka besides the Ridgeway Pool (where I learned to swim) the Lusaka Club and riding stables were always a lot of fun. Best Sami
So nice to hear from you Sami!
Funny the parallels in our lives. I would love to have some photos (I’ve deleted your email from these comments by the way). So you were just a few years younger than me..and did you also have to learn English while there? It sounds like you were there longer than we were.
Ah, Ridgeway hotel…will always remember our time there 🙂
Please tell me which mail to use and I will send you photos asap. 🙂
Thank you Sami: [email protected]
Loved reading about your childhood. I was born 1969 in Finland and moved to Lusaka in 1975. Went to Lusaka Boys for a few years and after that to the Intl. School of Lusaka. Also lived in Ridgeway for some months upon arrival and before finding a house in Handsworth Park. Reading about your childhood was like reading about my own :)) Remember the tree climbing, playing, snakes, and the way how Mrs Lisimba at Lusaka Boys used to pound my hands with a ruler for not knowing the words to “Stand and sing of Zambia…”. It was an effective method, I must say, still remember the words:)) I visited Lusaka and Livingstone a few months ago after 40 years. If you want I would be happy to send you photos of Lusaka Boys, Ridgeway (both almost exactly the way they used to be) and other things.
All the best and thank you
Reading your story was like watching a nice movie. I was so stuck in it! I only realised at then end that i was actually seated on my computer! I really enjoyed I was born and partially raised in Luanshya, a mining town on the copperbelt province, north of Zambia. Your narration about those leafy avenues in Lusaka reminds me of the Jacarandas and Flamboyant trees in most avenues in beautiful Luanshya Town. What a period! Do you remember visiting the Copperbelt during your stay?
Thank you for your wonderful comment. Unfortunately we never visited the Copperbelt. But I remember exactly what you are referring to. I wonder what Lusaka is like today? Would love to go back to Zambia again one day…
I cam across your post as I’ve been contemplating moving to Lusaka for atleats two years so my children can get acquainted with my culture. I an originally from Zambia but have lived in US for almost 15 years. My children who are now 14, 10 and have never lived anywhere but here in Massachusetts so l’m a little worried. Also thank you for saying wonferful things about my country. Have a great day
Thank you for your comment. It was a very long time ago that I was in Lusaka and have no idea what it would be like today. But a move like to changes you as a person for the better I belive. It might be a big culture gap for teenagers (I was 9) and they might not be happy about it at first. But I look back and consider myself lucky to have had that experience and I dream of going back one day and showing Lissette where I spent a few years of my childhood.
Good luck. I’d be interested in hearing back from you one day and seeing how it all worked out.
hi, I have just stumbled upon your blog, and I too grew up in Lusaka, arriving in 1971, and leaving in 1977. I went to Lusaka girls school in Longacres, and we lived to the north near the parliaments. reading your blog has brought back many memories, of Malawi, Ndola, Kafue, Rhodesia, and the beautiful beautiful country that was.
Thank you for your comment Tina. So we overlapped and were there at the same time! Small world isn’t it.
I have many memories as well and consider myself lucky today to have these experiences. And you are right, it was a beautiful country. I wonder what it is like now and I’d be curious to go back one day.
Loved reading this, it brought back so many memories. While you were a boy of 8 living in Lusaka, Zambia, I was a girl of 8 living in Luanshya, Zambia. So many of the memories you describe are also my memories, the dry heat, the smells – I remember the corn maize – we called it mealie meal. The beautiful Jacaranda trees with the vivid lilac flowers. Brilliant – thanks for sharing.
Yes, the Jacaranda trees. I remember that as well. Unique experience. I’m glad you have good memories as well.
I lived in Zambia from 1973 to 1976…as a young bride in Livingstone. I met my husband, who was born in Livingstone of Indian parents, at the University in Alberta. I was there as an immigrant and intended to make the country my home. I was also twice over in a minority 1. as a white person within a black country and 2. as a white girl within the Indian community…so lots of adjusting. Those were the most magical years of my adult life and pivotal to who I became. Living in Livingstone meant that Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders (better known as Victoria Falls) within a 20 minute drive from our house. We returned to Canada in 1976 when President Kaunda made some drastic changes to the constitution…both politically and economically. Sadly my husband died in 1991 and in 1996 I returned with my young daughters and we spread his ashes into his beloved Victoria Falls.
As an aside, my parents also came from Germany to Canada – in the 1950’s. My daughter mirrored my early womanhood by living in Rwanda for 2 years, with her partner.
Hello Heidi. What a great story, thanks for sharing it. Loved that you went back with your daughters and spread your husband’s ashes. What a place to have your ashes spread, your husband was a lucky man in that way. It must have been quite an adjustment for you, I can’t imagine. I guess we both have a lot of memories of Zambia.
Thanks very much for having taken the time to comment.
I have really enjoyed reading your story.
I was really able to relate to your story because 2 years ago my wife and I have been offered a job posts in Zambia, and as you can imagine our 8 year old daughter was not so keen on the whole idea.
However, as time went on, she has become to see Lusaka as her home. She has managed to find friends and even got used to constant power cuts (Load Shedding is the official name) and water shortages.
At first, life here was really difficult even though I have lived in number of African countries for many years prior to our arrival to Zambia, but that was always as a single person.
Lusaka has not changed much since you have left. Home robberies are still a massive issue, traffic have increased to the level where it takes over an hour to travel 6 miles, food and living expenses are on pair with those in the UK (except beef which is really cheap).
To sum up, life here can be very frustrating (is it not everywhere?) but also enjoyable. Nature, really friendly people, weather to mention just a few or having Vic Fall on your door step.
I really hope that when my daughter becomes an adult, she will appreciate this wonderful opportunity just as you did. The first signs are already there. She has learned to appreciate less materialistic way of life, and the exposure to some many races and cultures can only have an eye opening and educational effect on a kid. Just like it has happened to you, I do hope that she becomes “different person” and always retain that spirit of adventure in her heart.
Check out her blog on reainzambia.wordpress.com
Thank you so much for the comment, really enjoy seeing someone else living the same experience 40 years later. And I think it’s so great that your daughter has a blog, what a wonderful thing to do so early in life. She’ll have so many great memories. Fantastic, I just left a couple of comments and will make sure to check in regularly, I can see she’s got a lot of potential 🙂
Traffic is one thing I don’t remember from 40 years ago. Unfortunately that’s the trend everywhere huh? And maybe you explain why housing is so expensive in a place like Zambia. Food I can understand because much is I guess imported, but why would housing be so expensive? It’s like when i hear certain cities in real armpits of the world, like Luanda and N’Djamena, are on par with Bern and Geneva. I don’t get it, especially since labor and materials would I think be cheap…
I think your daughter will very much appreciate this opportunity as she gets older, it’s a great education to the world.
Thanks so much for commenting, it made my day 🙂
I think that narrative is rather biased…. I grew up in Lusaka during that time and the experiences were certainly a very peaceful and naive country – very welcoming too. This story certainly is a very myopic view of one individual. Many of us have such nostalgic and fond memories.
I have very nostagic and fond memories Doris and I’m not quite sure what you have issues with. I’m actually hoping to visit Lusaka in early 2017. Biased in which way? I’m retelling the story from memories as a 10 year old while also framing it with what was going on a the time in the region.
I don’t know how old you were at the time or what your recollections were so feel free to be more specific.
Hi Doris, I was also in Lusaka from 73-76 and had a friend called Doris? We had a mutual friend called Joanna and another called Lesley. Could this be you? My maiden name was Ward. I have a picture of us all together somewhere in the storage boxes, but loved my time in Zambia. I lived near the Ridgeway Hotel
I just stumbled across this. So glad I did. Really enjoyed your story. I grew up on the same block my whole life in California so totally different from me.
Thank you Daphne! Appreciate it. My wife said I should write about it because of my unique childhood. I didn’t think much of it but I’m glad I did, people seem to enjoy this post.
Deanna (Dee's Butterfly Garden)
Thank you for sharing your photos and childhood experiences with us! You were the most adorable child, love that blonde hair! I got a kick out of the 70’s fashions! Your life has been so interesting! I’m curious, you mentioned taking English lessons from the neighbor, what was your first language? Did you speak German learned from your parents or did you speak French in Quebec?
I never had the money to travel, I was a divorced mother raising 2 children on my own without the court ordered child support their Dad was supposed to pay, it was a hard life. Now my youngest is 22 and making her first trip to Mexico to scuba dive. I told her to go, travel and see the world. I’m hoping to travel too, in the near future. There is so much to see and experience abroad and in the states. Your page has opened up a whole new world to me.
Hi Dee. I’m told that my parents spoke to me in German for about 6 months but then switched to French, just easier I guess. So I consider French my ‘first’ language even though I lost it when I went to Africa…then relearned it when I came back. Never got the accent back though. No good enough for most French Canadians. But that’s another story.
I can’t say we ever really had good money but I think my parents were just adventurous and in the 70’s and 80’s there were job opportunities where you could work overseas. Not as easy anymore. My mom was a single mom too for most of my childhood but luckily only had to deal with me. But she was always determined and travel was what she always wanted. So I think I got a lot of that from her.
Good for you Dee. My son the same age and although sad to see them get old it also gives you more freedom. I hope you get to travel. And Mexico great, won’t kill the budget either 🙂
Thanks for the comment, you’re one of our favorite fans Dee!
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
It’s always interesting to learn about a person’s upbringing and how it influences their future. To me, your journey sounds fascinating. It is so drastically different from mine and I’m left to wonder where my wanderlust developed. I lived in one house until I went to college (and my mom still lives there now). At college, I shared a room with my best friend from grade school (who is still my best friend today) for all four years. I never even left the United States until I was 21. But now, here I am, traveling full time with no intention of slowing down or settling anywhere anytime soon!
That’s interesting Sarah. But when did i click – did someone take you somewhere for your first trip and you realized that this is what you wanted to do? Or did you just wake up one day and want to travel the world?
I knew I was different yet somehow thought it was normal as a kid. And wanderlust really didn’t kick in until I was 17 and went on my first ‘alone’ trip to Europe (where I would meet up with a friend).
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
I don’t have a ‘click’ moment. I think I sort of eased into the idea. I liked my comfort zone and thought I would never leave it. Something about small town life intrigues me. But I also had this nagging feeling that there was something more for me. As much as the idea of settling in my hometown was appealing, something else was telling me to run as fast as I could. When a childhood friend offered me a job and a place to live across the country, I packed up my car and left. For the first few months I was absolutely miserable with homesickness. but I’m not one to wallow in self pity, so I made the best of it. I eventually moved again, found a job and dove into my career. It started to consume my whole life. That nagging feeling came back and I knew that if I didn’t make a change, I would regret it. Kris and I concocted our plan over a few pitchers of beer ~ and I’ve never looked back or doubted our decision once. Needless to say, that nagging feeling hasn’t bothered me much lately 😉
Ohh.. You were such a cutie!!!! Isn’t it amazing the memories that stick with us over the years. I was cracking up some at the similarities between the two countries, and especially school. Who can forget the ruler coming down on your knuckles..and not the flat side either :-(, playing football with my brother and his team (I was the goalie) whenever they couldn’t find another boy, and l would be dragged from my high up place on the slide under the mango tree. This is a great post. Such wonderful memories. Yeah..politics in Africa…yikes! Better not to get into it . Lederhosen in Canada 🙂
Thanks Kemkem 🙂
I somehow managed to find myself reading this blog. It was a nice read and again it pains me at how the Govt then led our country downhill. Things are much better and would do nothing but invite you to come and see the new Zambia.
Thank you so much Dalitso. We definitely want to come back one day, I’d love to show Spanky where I spent several years of my childhood and also see for myself what has changed. I also want to see Victoria Falls – still the most amazing geographical site I’ve seen anywhere.
I’m really not very familiar with Zambia today. Feel free to describe what its like now, readers may be very interested as Zambia a place we don’t hear much about.
Again, thank you for your comment.
At present there is a large and growing expat community thanks in part to the privatization of mines and liberalization of the economy. Lusaka has experienced tremendous growth, it has been like a construction site the last few years with new housing developments, new hotels, new malls. Investments in infrastructure is on-going country wide. The economy is booming in general. North Western province is a hive of new mining activities with Canadian owned First Quantum Minerals and Barrick Gold Corp. having their operations there. A lot still has to be done in reducing poverty, it remains a challenge, but there is also a growing middle class. The Vic Falls is a wonder. The world famous walking safaris can be experienced in the South Luangwa National Park. The Lusaka National Park was recently launched, it’s just 15km outside the City. It’s great, the tourism board would say ‘Let’s Explore’.
Thanks so much Dalitso. Lusaka National Park? I’ll have to look that up. I find all this very interesting and I just can’t imagine sleepy Lusaka (as I remember it) having tremendous growth. I’ll have to go back and see it for myself 🙂
My father was the Ridgeways manager and we lived opposite…I wonder if our paths crossed
Imagine the world without internet? That is amazing. It was the place to be and I remember my favorite meal being some kind of chicken flambe in that dining room. And that’s going back almost 40 years now…
Thanks for leaving a comment, wonders never cease…
Wonderfully evocative — brought back fond memories of my own time in Zambia. Great pics!
Like you, I was also an expat boy, and our family moved up to take up jobs in Lusaka (Mom and Dad were teachers). We came over from South Africa, in 1969, when I was 10. I also went to Lusaka Boys School, then to Prince Philip High School (later renamed Kamwala Secondary) and finally to University of Zambia, where I completed a degree in engineering.
We were there for nearly 10 years, and had a really happy time, seeing both the good and the bad (when the economy started deteriorating and the expats started leaving). You seem to have had a rough time on the crime front, something we never experienced. We never once had a burglary, despite living in three different houses in three different suburbs (the last one just behind the Cathedral, around the corner from the Ridgeway Hotel). We never even closed our front gate, our dog was there more as a pet than a security device, and we felt really safe. None of our family friends ever had a burglary or theft either. That said, we were aware of the reality of burglaries, yet they always seemed to happen to other people. How strange. The only exception was when my father’s car was broken into in a hotel carpark, and the radio-cassette player was ripped out — that really made him see red!
The fondest memories I have of Zambia are around my education. School was fun, academically rigorous and it was cool to be clever! All my teachers were qualified expats from countries like England, Canada, the USA, Norway, Sweden and India. It was a veritable United Nations. I remember my physics teacher at high school was a Ph.D. from Norway.
I played basketball a lot, and one of our coaches was a Canadian priest called Father Norris. I left school fluent in French (never having heard it prior to my arrival), and after graduating in engineering, went on to France to do post-grad studies there. I worked there too. Virtually all of my expat friends from school and university ended up overseas once the expat brain-drain really got going in 1980, and are all living and working in the USA and England.
Wow – what a great privilege it was to have lived there! Pity the place went downhill afterwards, mainly because of what we expats saw as economic mismanagement and the move towards an authoritarian one-party state (the tensions in neighbouring countries notwithstanding). Yet everyone I know would do it again tomorrow if they could; it was such an adventure for all of us. Family and friends often talk about Zambia when they get together. In the USA, all the ex-graduates from University of Zambia organise annual reunions to talk about the good old days.
Once again, thanks for a great report and for bringing back fond memories.
Thank you for taking the time to write Robert. What an experience you had. It makes us appreciate it as we get older. As you say, we get the chance to meet expats from around the world – I remember I had a couple of kids next door from Sweden and once we tried camping in our back yard. But we got scared by the night noises and that lasted about 10 minutes 😉 It must have been quite the experience having grown up and gone to university in Lusaka. Pretty amazing that you became fluent in French while in Lusaka – while I came fluent in French and came out of it speaking English…
Have you ever thought of going back and seeing what it’s like? When was the last time you were there? Its nice that you have other people to share the memories with. I’d like to go back one day with my wife and show her where I spent those years. I’d be curious how everything looks today. I also want to see Victoria Falls again.
Thank you so much for your comment. You realize we missed each other by a couple of years at Lusaka Boy’s School? What a small world.
Hello again, Frank (my middle name, by the way!)
Thanks for your reply. Yeah, seems we missed each other by a couple of years. Sounds as if your teacher was quite tyrannical! We had an easy-going Scotsman, Mr Eadie, who was in the habit of sending a random schoolboy to nearby Longacres stores for a Mars Bar, his favourite snack. Of such mundane observations are memories made! There were a lot more expats when I was there. I recall that black kids were actually in the minority in our class; there were quite a few Indians, but the majority of the children were from England. When I got to high school, it was the other way around — black students in the majority, whites in the minority. It was a wonderful cultural experience, especially after South Africa!
Yes, the language hurdle was quite interesting for us — you having to learn English and me French. I nearly failed French at Lusaka Boys, where I could never understand why Eadie kept on saying “Bon!” all the time. What on earth did it mean? I take it you were allowed to drop French, given that you were already fluent in it?
I grew to love French in high school, thanks to a great Teach Yourself textbook I found, which allowed me to progress at my own pace. I have an identical twin brother, by the way, and he also found himself a similar textbook, and together we developed this friendly form of sibling rivalry to see who could learn the most! Within three years of high school, we had already covered the entire high-school coursework, were tutoring the final-year students and were taking advanced lessons in our time at the local Alliance Française! We had French friends, went to see French movies, listened to French records and tuned in every evening to French radio stations. So it came as no surprise when we ended up in France doing post-grad studies (courtesy of a scholarship from the French government), and working there. I had a French girlfriend for nearly 15 years. My brother stayed, and is now a French citizen, married with kids and all. Isn’t life amazing? Who knows how things turn out when you’re still at school…
How was your transition to English in Lusaka? After two short years there, you must have reached a very high level and impressed the hell out of your fellow Québecois when you got back. Do you feel your short time in Zambia gave you a kickstart on the language front, and had a decisive impact in your life?
I went back to Zambia for a weekend visit in 2004, the first time since I’d left in 1980. It was a bittersweet experience — a lovely time reconnecting with people and places, and reliving fond memories; and a sad time seeing how the place had gone to seed. With minimal economic growth over that period, it was as if time had stood still. All the wonderful places we’d known (shops, schools, homes, etc) hadn’t seen a lick of paint in decades, and a lot of infrastructure had crumbled. I visited Lusaka Boys too, but it was a shadow of its former self. I’ve been back again, to show my wife around. Despite everything, my childhood in Zambia still remains my fondest memory, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Your French experience is pretty awesome and I would never have thought that Lusaka had those kinds of resources. When I came over I basically spoke only French and it was a crash course in English. Took at least the first year to get comfortable. But somewhere along the line we stopped speaking French at home – by the time I got back to Quebec 2 years later I was really rusty…then we went out West for a couple more years. By the time I came back East I had lost all my French. I ended up moving to Montreal when I was 19 for university and I had to relearn it all over again.
Incredible how quick the mind is when we are young but also how quickly we can lose a language.
That’s really interesting about your trip back. I kind of felt the same way when I came back 10 years after the fact. But even that 2nd time around I was 19…now 48, I’m wondering if it would be a big disappointment and if any of the things I remember would still be there. Or, like you say, just a shadow of its former self. I remember the Ridgeway as the expat meeting place where people would drink around the pool in the afternoon or have fancy dinners in the restaurant. Maybe today I would just see it as a scruffy 3rd world hotel? Maybe it’s best to let memories be memories??
But I definitely want to see Victoria Falls again. Again, maybe through young eyes, but still the most incredible geographical highlight I’ve seen anywhere.
I love that you wrote me and shared your experience, it’s really quite incredible and I think we’re both very lucky to have lived it at that special time. Please keep in touch Robert.
You mentioned the US? Where about are you located? And your twin brother is in France? Interesting.
On a side note: I have an ex-boss: born in South Africa, went to UK after university, emigrated to Canada where he started a company. I ended up being the financial controller of the company. He now shares his time between Montreal and the south of France. In other words, despite his roots, a francophile through and through. I always find stories like his, and yours, fascinating.
Some final clarifications to this fascinating exchange of experiences: the French “resources” were partly the result of good fortune — we knew a French engineer who was dating a family friend of ours, so thanks to him we had access to other Frenchies, as well as his extensive record collection! Add to that the annual French film festival (at the Intercontinental Hotel), regular visits to the library of the French consulate, our teachers at the Alliance Française and our powerful shortwave radios, and you had a pretty solid French environment down there!
As for the Ridgeway, try it on your next visit and you’ll be surprised. It’s now owned by a big South African hotel chain, and is quite something. Google “Ridgeway Hotel Lusaka” and check it out.
Re where I now live, I must have misled you. I don’t live in the USA, but in South Africa. I came back in the late 1980s after nearly 20 years in Zambia, France and England (and a couple of months in the USA). I love my home country after all that time away. Please look me up next time you visit; we’ll probably talk our way through many bottles of beer!
I wish you and Lissette many more exiting journeys around the world. By the way, may I ask the name of the South African ex-boss? I might just know him…
We just may someday Robert, South Africa on our list of places to go.
Ex-boss: Tony Plowman, from George. He actually contributed a large section to the blog on South Africa: https://bbqboy.net/south-africa-guide-and-travel-tips/
Has been nice chatting with you Robert 😉
I enjoyed your reading about your childhood memories of Africa (it’s the picture of the little house tjat led me to your blog)and the effects of being uprooted often at a young age. I can very much relate and it’s true about how that plants the seed of eternal wunderlast..I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve moved several times as a child iUganda and finally to to California, up and dowm the coast. I’m currently settled into a routine because of the job security but I’m always itching to go somewhere or as the Germans say, I’ve got “fernweh”.
Thanks for the comment Kevina, sounds like we have much in common! Uganda, that must have been different. Back in the 1970’s that was another place going through a lot of turmoil.
Ha, I like that word, sounds like “fever’ which is exactly what it is. I’ve always thought that routine is the biggest killer.
Hope you get chances to get away for vacation?!
Hmm, picture of the little house? I’m really curious to how you came across the site…
I loved reading this post and taking a glimpse into your childhood. I think your roots were seeded in wanderlust. Are you grateful for that? I’m curious as to why your mother returned and is she still there? I can’t imagine living with security fences inside my house. In March of 2014 we sold our B&B to a couple from Zimbabwe, he was raised in Zambia. The few stories they told of life in Zimbabwe were not good stories. They were both in their 50’s and although they loved their country, they knew they had to leave in order to have a future.
Hi Patti! My mother returned for a job working as financial controller for an NGO in the area. It was kind of strange that she ended up where she had lived 10 years previous..but it was starting to get more precarious (again) in Zambia so they moved the regional offices to Zimbabwe where she worked another year (1988) before leaving Africa.
Of course the thing is that today things are better in Zambia than they are in Zimbabwe. Your couple from Zimbabwe most likely typical; many Zambians left for Zimbabwe in the late 80s/early 90’s. That’s been reversed in the last 10 years because Mugabe sent his thugs in to take away the land of white farmers. Many moved back to Zambia leaving everything behind. Many really bad stories.
Politics in Africa are nuts. Its the one constant in the region.
Great post Frank! Thanks for sharing that story. Wow your childhood was quite the adventure! I can imagine how being pulled away from your friends must have been devastating at that age. We all travel for fun, but being dragged somewhere against your will is a different story. It’s good that you appreciate the experiences now looking back. BTW, that white furry vest you wore as a kid is awesome! 😉
Hehe, that’s funny about the vest. Thanks 🙂
Moving to and living in Zambia sounds like quite the experience. It would have been an incredible culture shock for anyone, let alone a child.
That looks like a fantastic episode in your childhood! Btw just followed you on Twitter as well – looking forward to connect! Torsten
Thanks Torsten for following! Will make sure to check out your blog.
A really great description of unique and wonderful experiences that most can only imagine – or dream about – and wish they had experienced too ! Those so special smells, sounds and ‘feelings’ of Africa cannot nor will ever leave you, Reading about your ‘bitter sweet’ memories , one can well appreciate your wanderlust and itchy feet. You’re very fortunate to have ‘caught the Bug’ so young…. I believe a great many if not most people have similar sentiments and wishes but either cannot, will not or are ‘fearful’ to chase and live the adventure, differences, and emotions of this beautiful and exciting world. “Stability” is so much more comforting perhaps – or necessary . But maybe they are the real “oddballs” while you are living the real, normal lifestyle??? The travel bug is a tough addiction , never satisfied … Always hungry – so Keep on travelling, Living and enjoying ,
Bonnes Voyages – for a long time to come !
Wow, what a story! Loved the photos – and I have the feeling I was in a trip there, with you 🙂
Thank you Lori. I usually shy away from these personal posts but Lissette thought it was a story that I should write about. Really appreciate the feedback!
Jessica J. Hill
I would have to answer no to all your questions in bold, but I find it fascinating when people have such amazing childhood experiences. I think it helps ground you and open your eyes to what the rest of the world is like, rather than growing up sheltered. Eight years old is a great age, for you were able to remember so much of your time there, and I’m sure it shaped you into the traveler you are today!
Yes, really shapes you at that age. I wish I was half the traveler that I was back then, in hindsight my parents were incredibly adventurous and I was just along for the ride. Thank you for your comment!
I’m not sure how to respond – I was sad and happy reading this and also feel that we all are what we are now, because of our experiences. I think ‘not fitting a stereotypical pattern is better then being so predictable that you park in the same spot every time you go shopping or sit at the same desk for 30 years of your working life. Viva la difference Frank. You are a good person ‘because’ of your experiences.
Thank you so much for your comment Paula!
I think many who stay put are restless, they just don’t admit it – thus they have 1000 hobbies. I am not saying all are and I could be wrong, it could only be a few. I love to travel. Go, see, do, touch, smell, taste and see if the grass is greener… for myself.
This is a great post, full of candor and bitter-sweet memories – things many of us wish we had for ourselves and to offer others. Kudos!