As I hugged you one last time before putting you on the taxi to the airport, I could hardly believe how fast these last 2 ½ weeks flew by! It seems like just yesterday I met you at our guest house in Livingstone . . . you had decided to walk around a completely foreign city on your own while waiting for me on my delayed bus, and had so many stories to tell of your first afternoon in Zambia.
I guess I take after your sense of adventure and exploration. I remember as a child sitting down for before-bed geography lessons, where you would have me choose a state or country and write up a page-long report consisting entirely of knowledge acquired from the World Book Encyclopedia (oh those pre-internet days). You had a keen world interest for as long as I can remember . . . boosting my school magazine sales by renewing your yearly subscription to The Economist magazine. You kept tabs on world events even as a busy husband and father of five children.
You never traveled much yourself, except on family vacations of course where you and Mom showed us Mesa Verde, Rushmore, Yellowstone and the great American West. In over 40 years of work, you never took more than two weeks off—mainly due to the fact that you largely financed numerous kids’ toys and clothing changes, piano lessons, sports teams, two high-school vehicles, no less than 15 bicycles, five sets of braces, four college educations, and two weddings. So, when your children decided to act upon the curiosity about the world you so instilled in us, you lived vicariously through our letters, e-mails and pictures as we studied abroad, learned new languages and took internships and jobs in far away lands.
Then the moment of opportunity struck. Approximately twelve months after your walking her down the aisle, your normally level-headed first-born daughter with a good career and house on a tree-lined street told you she was joining the Peace Corps. Twelve months after that, she and her husband were off to Zambia to live in a mud hut in a remote village with no electricity or running water. Naturally, your pent-up curiosity got the best of you and you decided to come see for yourself exactly how people live on the other side of the world.
So . . . you asked for more time off work than you ever had in your life, found yourself a travel backpack, and started off for an epic adventure. Over the past 2 ½ weeks, you:
- Witnessed the mighty Victoria Falls
- Flew on a flying trapeze over the Zambezi River Gorge
- Walked through rows and rows of market stalls, marveling at the goods sold by street vendors at the informal markets
- Enjoyed high tea at the Royal Livingstone hotel
- Slept in a tent under the stars to the roar of distant wild animals at Chobe National Park
- Saw a lion get into a brawl with a cape buffalo
- Ate sticky nshima with your fingers, paying special attention to wipe off the gooey substance whenever possible
- Endured four bus rides blaring Zambian pop music
- Tried street food including fried sweet potatoes and Zambian bologna
- Participated in a Peace Corps training exercise where you watched your son-in-law teach a group of new recruits the art of perma-gardening
- Witnessed a upper-class Zambian wedding celebration
- Learned how widows and single mothers in Lusaka can make a living selling homemade handbags
- Took countless photos and copious notes for the “Zambia” section of the family photo album
- Saw how people made their own tools, food, and toys for lack of manufactured goods
- Helped carry a live chicken to the village chief
- Tried your turn at cycling over a rickety village bridge
- Smiled and greeted numerous villagers in Lunda, proudly explaining (in English) that you have a wife and five children
- Danced and sang at a village church function
- Managed to get tangled up in a mosquito net more than once
- Ate more biscuits and drank more bottled soft drinks than I could stomach in several months
- Watched the full moon rise and glow above the village like a soft streetlight while the people came to life with their evening activities
- Politely answered villagers’ questions about life in America with a smile
- Appreciated Zambia with the awe and curiosity of travel that you instilled in me so many years before
After so many years of hearing second-hand about my world adventures, it made me truly happy to share this small corner of the world in person with you. Over the years, you gave me the drive, curiosity, and encouragement to pursue a path less traveled. I’m proud to have taught you just a fraction of the amount of things you have taught me over my lifetime. Nasakilili mwani (Lunda for “thank you”). Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for coming to Africa. Thank you for being my dad. See you back in America!