Livingstone Wrap-up (for Now) – Random Notes

Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
Trip End Dec 19, 2012

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Where I stayed
Green Tree Lodge Livingstone
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Zambia  ,
Saturday, November 3, 2012

Livingstone has only existed for just over 100 years, and at one point was considered (by Europeans) to be one of the most civilized places in southern Africa.

There's a decent little history of Livingstone, "An Historical Guide to Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town," by Kristin Ese. The first half is the history, including old photos, the second half, a walking tour of the oldest buildings. One of my favourite pieces of information from the booklet explains why the roads are so wide here. The original roads were sand, and the only animals hardy enough to pull the wagons through it were mules and oxen – lots and lots of them, 8-20 pairs per wagon. The roads are as wide as they are so the teams and wagons could turn around. (It’s an interesting read. I found a copy of it in a gift shop, but not in any of the bookstores.)

The museum is quite good for a small city in a poor country. It has the largest collection of David Livingstone’s possessions and letters anywhere in the world. The collection of local natural history dioramas is decent, if worn, and there’s some attempt at linking it to conservation. I only heard “conservation” mentioned by people running safaris and other activities.

Zambia exports both electricity and water, but there are power or water outages in Livingstone on most days. Most outages are brief, some aren’t; some are by design, some aren’t.

You iron clothes to kill the fly eggs laid when your clothes are drying on the line. That’s the theory, anyway. I’m trying very hard to forget this, because I’m not big on ironing.

The majority of women wear wigs, weaves, or braid extensions made of Indian or (better) Peruvian hair, which is, of course, straight. I happened to meet a hairdresser at an event, and she estimated that about 75% of the women there had someone else’s hair on their head. (A while back I saw a film called “Good Hair” that talks about this in African American hairstyles, but I’d never have guessed it was also true in one of the poorest countries in the world.)

Other things I was surprised to see here: Bata shoe stores, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, the complete line of Dove beauty products (shampoo, deodorant, hand creams, etc.), American daily soap operas. I was surprised to hear Counting Crows on the radio.

Church services, which you can hear everywhere on Sundays, seem to all be of the fire-and-brimstone type, whether Catholic or Evangelical or Baptist or Seven Day Adventist or whatever else they want to call them. I got a lot of invitations to church services. The one devotion I was present for (all events have a devotion at the beginning) was very demanding – you MUST love God with all your soul, with all your mind, you MUST appreciate your (husband/father/mother/neighbour). I haven’t felt so damned-to-hell for simply existing for a long time.

There are “Chinese stores” here – stores where you can get cheap versions of everything, mostly imported from China. These kinds of stores used to be the domain of the Indians, and older books refer to “Indian stores.” Opposite to every other Indian and Chinese store I’ve ever heard of, here, prices are fixed in the Indian stores, and negotiable in the Chinese stores.

“White” rhino is a bastardization of “wide-lipped” rhino.

Any man stupid enough to believe that rhino horn will keep them erect longer is useless to the survival of the human species and should just go die of shame. Looking at you, China.

Caterpillars don’t taste bad – fried, they taste kind of like hamster food pellets, but chewy and more segmenty. It’s hard to get past the heads. (Yes, I’ve tried hamster food pellets. I had a hamster, and I was curious.)

Hand-rolled cigarettes are rolled with raw dried tobacco in old newspapers. When I mentioned that smoking newspaper ink was a bad idea, people just shrugged, and said no one thinks about that, they just want to smoke. I guess at least the raw leaves are healthier than processed cigarettes.

Speaking of breathing toxic stuff, garbage accumulates for a week or two, and is then burned. Everything – food scraps, tin cans, plastic bottles that contained toxic liquids, broken electronics, etc.

The average age in Zambia is 37. If you make it to 45, you’re considered old. Highest known causes of death are said to be HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and alcoholism, but I’ve heard there isn’t much interest in how someone died. If you ask, the answer is “they just died.”

Drinking is a favourite pastime, at least in Livingstone.

There’s up to 80% unemployment in Zambia. The government makes it very expensive to hire people, through taxes and the national pension scheme.

Nearly 70% of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day. Livingstone, as a leaps-and-bounds growing tourist center, is also a growing magnet for young people from across the country. There aren’t jobs here, though – city-wide employment is at best 50%.

A lot of those young people coming here end up selling trinkets from their pockets. Their story is invariably that they brought the trinkets from their village, where (they/their family) make these things, and he was chosen to come to sell them, everyone is poor, etc. The part about being poor is undoubtedly true, but the items are bought wholesale from dealers in Livingstone and are marked up considerably to match foreign incomes.

Begging is discouraged. It’s also hard to spot, although it is there. I never had kids asking me for coins, candy, or pens, though. In fact, the only time a kid asked for anything was an empty water bottle, which he was collecting to sell back to the people who sell water. (A reason to check the seals on bottled water you buy.)

It’s easy to not see the problems. The systems getting tourists to and from the many activities are excellent, whisking them between private lodges and their half- or full-day safaris or the park around Victoria Falls or whatever. I don’t know what the backpackers see. There’s very little in between – you’re either a shoestring backpacker or a rich tourist. I’ve gotten lumped in with the rich tourists (although it isn’t true).

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I’ll be coming back to Livingstone after the rainy season, part of why I haven’t done all the activities I intended to. Well, that, and the fact that all the activities are quite expensive, so I need to spread them out.

I really like being in Zambia. I admit, though, I’m ok with eating something other than nshima for a while.
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