As the thought of moving to Zambia (Zambia!) becomes ever more a reality in my mind, I am making an effort to learn more about the country and what I might expect once I arrive. While this research and learning may be well-intentioned, there are a few caveats that I struggle to keep in mind. No matter what I learn, I’m still moving to freakin’ Africa. Sadly, the internet does not have a smell, taste, or touch synthesizer (c’mon technology, get with it) for me to really experience everything that is Africa prior to going there. So, as other volunteers have said, “Read all you want. You will still be woefully unprepared for Zambia.” They are probably right, but I’m setting the ambitious goal of being just-slightly-less woefully unprepared than I am now. We’re dreamin’ big here.
In the spirit of avoiding being a complete bumbling idiot when I board the plane to Zambia, I’ll be research and writing posts in a “getting to know you” style as my (and your!) introduction to my soon-to-be-home. Today’s edition: where the heck is Zambia?
Zambia, officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked nation in southern Africa. Zambia’s neighboring countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west (raise your hand if you had forgotten Angola was a country *raise*). Zambia has nine provinces, each of which are then divided into districts (72 total). Peace Corps volunteers serve in six of the nine provinces in sites that may be just a few kilometers from other communities, or many kilometers from the next settlement.
Zambia has a long and rich history, but more recently was known as Northern Rhodesia when it became a British protectorate at the end of the nineteenth century. The country regained independence in October of 1964, and today is an independent republic. The country’s climate is largely tropical, but at elevation, making for more tolerable temperatures everywhere but the two river valleys that cut across the country. Zambia, though one of the most highly urbanized countries in sub-Saharan Africa (44% of the population is concentrated in just a few areas; Lusaka, the capital city, hosts about 1.5 million residents), still has about 70% tree cover – very high compared to other African nations where the tree cover hovers around 3%.
The population is made up of 72 ethnic groups (speaking 73 languages), though most speak Nyanja or Bemba. The official language of Zambia is actually English, though it is primarily used for instruction in schools and to conduct official business. Most Zambians speak a local language, and many speak no English at all. Approximately 70% of the country practices Protestant Christianity, while another 21% are Catholic and the rest falling into other forms of Christianity and a small few (just 2.5%) practicing a non-Christian religion or no religion at all.
I realize reading through statistics can just add to the shapelessness of a culture or country in the uninitiated mind, and I hate to bore you, dear reader. But, I like to think of stats like this: when I walk around Zambia, only 1 out of 10 people I meet may not have a belief system that focuses on Jesus and salvation. English might be expected at school, but probably not at home. People may not have an appreciation of the dangers of deforestation because there are still lots of trees to be seen. Stats, when translated into real life, can help us learn about a place and try to understand what we are likely to encounter. Next post, I’ll talk more about the economy, health, and culture of Zambia.