African Freedom Day essentially means no school, relax by the pool after sleeping in, and enjoying a Zambian festival here in Livingstone at a local park. I ended up waking up at 11:30 (I have been a bit sleep deprived) and headed straight for the pool for I enjoyed an afternoon of relaxation—laying out and swimming a bit before getting ready and heading towards town center and the festival around 4. The festival was interesting, packed with a local band, lots of children and young teenagers everywhere as there was clearly no school. There were a lot of younger kids at the park (12-17) and I was walking around by myself and suddenly I heard my name—it was a young girl named Naomi who went to Libala in grade 9. She had remembered me from Monday when I visited the classrooms and came over to talk to me, so I thought that was pretty cool. After the festival, I headed back to the hostel and talked to Paul (who I had met when I first arrived). Paul is an interesting character, one with many, many stories. He studied law at Oxford, has a strong background in music as he played for churches around the world, but gave it all up after he developed cancer about ten years ago. Since, he has found his love for traveling and has traveled to more than 110 countries worldwide but claims Zambia as being basically his home. He is an incredibly intelligent guy and has definitely has a lot to share. So, when I got back to the hostel, Paul asked me if I wanted to tag along to the village in which he was working. Not really having any set plans for the night, I agreed and we left heading towards Mukuni village. Mukuni village was about a 20 minute drive from Livingstone right near Victoria Falls on the boarder of Zambia and Zimbabwe. About 8,000 people live in the village and it is the largest in Zambia. He told me a lot about the village as we were driving there and the project that he was working on. Essentially, these villages around Africa don’t have the resources to have any lighting so he has been working on bringing lights to the villages, this particular village being his first major project. About a year ago, he started with rechargeable batteries that would power a light bulb. Now, he has invested in 200 solar powered LED lights, small, about the size of a flashlight to distribute and rent to people around the village. These solar powered lights cost $18 each which would be an ungodly amount of money for anyone in the village to pay for at one time. Thus, he believes the best and only solution to bringing light to villages in Africa is via renting them to people. It is unfortunate because electricity runs through the village, but there is a hookup fee of about $350 and a monthly fee of about $20, which practically no one in the village can afford. So the people in the village are left with candles (which are even considered expensive) to see what little they can at night. I was mind-blown when we arrived at Mukuni village. He mentioned that there were practically no lights, but I could never have imagined a place so dark. 8,000 people lived here and without our headlights (one of the three cars in the entire village), you could see no one. The place was pitch black except for the “Mukuni Lighting” store that belonged to Paul. It was unreal. The stars were absolutely amazing at night—so bright and so many filled the sky, many of which are impossible to see in America. He showed me around the village with one of his friends and the help of one of the new lights so we could halfway see where we were going. We saw his friends compound where his entire family (along with the orphans that they adopted) lived. So, about 10+ people living in huts of 3 in this tiny, tiny compound where the only source of light was from the small fire in the middle. We entered a hut and Paul was literally standing two feet max. from me and I couldn’t even see an outline of him—that is how dark the entire village was. Paul told me that the average worker in the village was lucky to make 50 cents a day and a good job was considered a dollar a day—wow. These people literally had nothing. Because they had nothing to do, Paul explained that drinking was a huge problem. The people in the village often went to one of the two bars (about the only places in the entire village with electricity) to drink. They drink this cheap, nasty beer made of corn that costs about 10 cents for a cup and essentially get drunk because of there is literally nothing else to do. This often leads to sex and thus the spreading of HIV/AIDS that has taken over almost the entire village and become a huge problem in all of Africa. It was unfortunate to see people living like this but even more unreal to see it firsthand along with the problems that stem from it. After he gave me a tour of the rest of the village, we headed less than 5 miles away to the Royal Livingstone, a five-star hotel that costs upwards 500 dollars per night. It was ridiculously nice and we talked for awhile by the Zambezi River before we ate a quick dinner and called it a night. It was really neat seeing Livingstone from Paul’s perspective and seeing the villages firsthand. Most people don’t get the opportunity to see the real poverty that exists here in Africa as the “tourist” spots are far from the reality of the problems. Even though the Royal Livingstone was less than 5 miles from the poorest place I have yet to be, the worlds were completely opposite—at one a piano player and colonial architecture welcomed you yet at another, only a few miles away, darkness was about all that welcomed you. Although the people in the village were very welcoming and friendly, it was hard to stomach the actuality of the situation and realize what little these people actually had. I am thankful that Paul showed me the “real” side of Zambia and how a lot of people live as it is definitely eye-opening and makes you realize a lot. Paul is an incredible guy with a lot to shard, doing a lot of good for the world, and I am lucky to have had the chance to see a bit more of the true side of Zambia and the situation in which many people live.
Overall, it was a good, eye-opening day but back to school tomorrow!