NOTE: This time last year I was preparing to go to Zambia. At the time we were in the middle of European elections and I voted before I went. But while I was in Africa I wrote this blog. It was never published because of a difficult internet connection. Instead I put it to one side and forgot all about it until tonight when I re-read it and decided it was appropriate to publish it.
Written in May 2014.
It’s a hot sunny afternoon in Zambia. We’re about a third of the way through a journey that will take most of the day. Lusaka, the capital, seems a long way behind and the city soon gave way to the grassy vistas, trees and farmsteads that make up the views I’ve come to associate with Africa.
The UK seems a long way away geographically and you would have forgiven me – perhaps – for wondering whether it’s a long way away culturally too. I hoped it would be different, because otherwise what’s the point of travelling to new places if they’re just the same as the ones I’ve left behind? The people, on the other hand, well… they’re not really that different.
Yesterday I was talking to the driver who’s very quickly become a friend. I’ve discovered he has a passion. For Liverpool Football Club. His dream is to see his team play – perhaps against Manchester United at Anfield. Or even better to see them play here in Zambia at the incredible Chinese-built stadium near Lusaka.
As we talked we shared our experiences of our own countries, finding more and more in common. The Zambian and the Briton. Only over the weather were we divided – I love the sunshine, he prefers to hide in the shade. But then, as he pointed out, Zambia has a lot of it whereas England has rain. And cold. And then more rain.
Then I noticed a few scattered holes in the road and remarked that in England they were called potholes. He laughed: “They’re called potholes here too,” he said. “And ours don’t get repaired either.”
We carried on comparing notes – he was fascinated to discover that the British education system is free and that only those who go on university have to find the money to study there. Here it’s free for primary school age children but older children have to pay to go to secondary school and it’s only the children of the wealthy who can afford to go on to university.
At one stage he said: “Zambia is a lovely country, but we are poor.”
I thought about that for a moment: “You might be poor in some ways,” I remarked, “But you are rich in the things that matter.”
He looked unconvinced.
“If you came to England and waved at total strangers out of your car,” I explained,
“People would – in the main – look at you as if you were a bit strange and turn away.
“I’m smiling and waving at people here and they wave back. And everyone greets you as if they’ve known you a long time.”
I love the friendliness that means my attempts to write emails and even this blog are constantly interrupted by my new friends asking how I am.
Those of you who read this blog regularly will know I’ve made some friends amongst the commuting fraternity – but that’s the exception, not the norm.
I’ve often felt we were a suspicious lot in the UK, regarding outsiders as “Not from round here,” and treating them accordingly. In Wiltshire, and in many other places across the UK, there are quite a few places called Coldharbour, which I’m told, were where people were put when they first arrived at a village to make sure they were disease free. I wonder whether this shared memory is where the suspicion of outsiders comes from.
I’m currently travelling to see some work around tackling gender-based violence which is being led by the Anglican church in Zambia. My understanding is that much of the work is being done across whole families to bring about an realisation that all are valuable and all have worth. There is no such thing as an inferior human being.
Back in the UK, people are voting. Democracy is and always has been something worth fighting for. I’ve always thought that just because someone else’s viewpoint isn’t the same as my own doesn’t mean it’s not any less valid and I stand by that.
However, in an election which has seen people’s fears exploited by the closet and openly racist, it is worth reminding all that there is no such thing as an inferior or worthless human being.
And if you’ll forgive the slight misquote of the apostle Paul: “There is no Greek, no Jew, no slave, no free, no Briton, no Zambian, no politician, no political pundit, no voter, nor candidate, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”