Ugandans often told me their country was the greenest in all of Africa but since arriving in Lusaka, I must disagree.
It’s rainy season here in Zambia. It’s bright, it’s humid and it’s very green.
The heat is engulfing. It hits your face the moment you exit the plane and wraps around you like the warmest of blankets.
The breeze sends my hair spiralling and I attempt to tuck it into the waist of my full length skirt I must wear to visit the villages. As not so well demonstrated below.
I carry my hand luggage down the metal staircase and onto the runway. Packed with school resources, games and literature, it requires the attention of two hands.
It bumps against my hip with every step I take.
It is not until we enter the airport that it dawns on me we are in East Africa and I begin to understand the sizableness of what lies ahead.
Only fifteen hours ago we were sipping cappuccinos from paper cups and riding escalators under giant shards of glass.
Now we are tugging at our jumpers and wiping our brows as we push through the crowds of a single storey airport.
Months of training, fundraising, vaccinations and paperwork have lead us here and I cannot wait to get stuck in.
We have a good 12 days of team leader training before our volunteers arrive – half from the UK and half from Zambia.
Then it will be on to meet our host families and move to our homestay accommodation.
With my neck stretched forward and my eyes bouncing off every corner of the beige arrivals hall, I begin scanning the room for a Restless Development representative. How will they spot us?
The sun hits my forehead as we exit the building and there is our assistant programme coordinator, smiling and looking relaxed.
She leads us to a four-by-four marked with the charity’s logo on the side. The driver stacks our belongings into the back of the vehicle and we begin the journey’s final leg on the road.
Norah is excited to show us a typical Zambian street market on the outskirts of the capital and introduce us to traditional foods. She asks us the expected questions: How are we? How was our flight? What are our first impressions?
All the while, my belly is doing somersaults and battling with my eyelids to stay open.
I don’t want to miss the sights rushing past beyond the window and I don’t want to appear rude.
The main road from the airport is new. I know this because it is flat and pothole free, dressed with billboards and freshly mowed grass. This is not what I was expecting.
The jeep pulls into a dusty courtyard lined with concrete, cubic shacks on the right hand side, each one painted a different colour. This is what I was expecting.
We eat barbecue fish grilled on chicken wire and open flames. In accompaniment, small side dishes; fried okra with chillies, shredded rape leaves with tomato and rice.
The flies are impossible to ignore, buzzing around our food in their dozens.
We are encouraged to wash our hands and then shown how to eat nshima, Zambia’s staple food made from ground cornmeal and water.
A white plastic tap pokes out of a lilac plastic bucket. A green plastic basin sits underneath to catch the water – a sink.
I take a steaming hot white lump, it weighs heavy in my hand. I kneed it into a ball rolling my fingers towards my palm and then make an indentation with my thumb.
With this now spoon shaped nshima, I scoop up some rape and relish (which in this case was a tomato and onion based sauce served on the side).
Despite trying to keep an open mind, I can’t say I enjoy my first meal. The flies make me feel uncomfortable and eating with my hands makes me feel queasy but I’ll have to get used to it and fast.
The remainder of the journey goes quickly since my fellow team leaders and I fall in and out of sleep on the back seats on the jeep.
Having taken the middle sit, I rest my head on Dina’s shoulder while George is pressed up against the window.
When we finally arrive at Pilgrim’s Lodge we are met with smiles by our Zambian counterparts, Chola, Hildah and Moses.
They are all smartly dressed, in well-pressed shirts and leather shoes.
I’m eager to wash after such a long journey and join them in a more formal attire.
The evening is shared with a group meal and a game of cards before we all take a much needed early night in preparation for our first day of team leader training as a six.
Ten days later, our volunteers arrived and we headed out into the field to meet our host families.