After 25 hours of airplanes and airports, we finally arrived in Livingstone, Zambia from the comfortable suburbs of Tampa, Florida, USA. Gone were the palm trees, shopping malls, and manicured lawns. South of the equator, Zambia was heading into winter – even if it was only May. The tall grasses had withered, the dirt roads had become dusty earth, and trees bravely attempted to hang onto green leaves.
I was travel weary – let that be my excuse for the feelings of shock that overwhelmed me as I stepped out of the Livingstone airport. A young man with Overland Missions met us for transport to the Base Camp, 14 rapids downstream from the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. I wished he would bow low and say, “Madame, your carriage awaits.” That carriage turned out to be a giant yellow, diesel-engine truck nick-named “Maverick”. It held about 20 people on the upper level with our duffle bags and camping gear stowed below. I grabbed the rungs of the ladder and hoisted my old bones up and into a seat. Little did I know the Busch Gardens amusement park ride with a sign that read “DO NOT RIDE if you have back problems or are pregnant” was about to begin.
Pulling away from the paved “tar” road, Maverick began the 45 minute zigzag “bounce every ounce of your flesh” ride on rutted dirt roads. My shock turned into jaw-dropping awe at my first sighting of a typical rural village. If N’Songway Village is considered a suburb outside Livingstone, then I must have entered a Hollywood re-make of “The Wizard of OZ”, African style! Both round and square, stick and mud huts with conical thatched roofs dotted the landscape. Cows and donkeys grazed on what grass they could find. Chickens and guinea fowl strayed across the road, squawking as they fluttered out of Maverick’s way. Goats scampered after each other. Women gathered at the hand-pump well were filling water cans for that night’s cooking and cleaning. Ragged children ran bare-footed alongside the truck, waving to us. It must have looked like the circus had come to town from their perspective. I said to myself, “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore!”