10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Zambia

So as I have mentioned before on my About page I have been to Africa twice on mission trips. I am excited to announce that I am now going to the Dominican Republic in March! I am super pumped! I have not gone on a trip like this is two years now and I feel like this is the right time to go.

I am not sure if any of you have been to a third world country before, but my first time going I was not prepared whatsoever. If you have been you know what I am talking about. There are problems in other countries that are hard to think about. There are also a few random little do-dads that I wish someone would have notified me about before going. So here are 10 little facts I wish someone would have told me before I went to Zambia:

1.       Really Sweet Handshakes: We use handshakes all the time in the US and in other countries as a polite was to say hello or as an introduction. In Zambia (and some other countries as well) the people don’t just shake hands, they do this cool up-down handshake as an introduction and as a way to carry a conversation. One of the guys on my team, for example, kept the handshake going through the whole conversation he had with another guy and it lasted an hour! When one of them had to go they simply stopped the handshake and said goodbye. It is more of a male to male custom rather than female, but ladies still are given this awesome handshake by some.

2.       The Smells: Sort of a good and bad thing about Zambia was the smell. I cannot fully describe it; the air just smelled different. But, hey, I kinda liked it so yay for different smelling air! Another smell I must warn you all about is how it smells in very poor areas. It is not the people’s fault that they cannot afford deodorant or only have one, maybe two pairs of clothes to wear. They just don’t have the resources or finances to afford that kind of stuff so you end up getting whiffs of B.O. often.  Honestly, though, you get used to it. Plus the people there are great so the smells shouldn’t take away from you meeting people and having a good time.

3.       Warm Milk: This is a concept I had never considered till going to Africa (which is pretty naïve of me). Plain and simple, we don’t understand the concept of warm milk and they don’t understand the concept of cold milk. The first time I took a bite out of my cereal I almost started to gag because to my surprise, the milk was room temperature. But hey, if you want hot chocolate in already 90 degree heat, you’re halfway there!

4.       Cockroaches: Just because you are staying at a hotel or motel does not mean you have escaped the cockroaches or spiders. There are few to no health regulations in many parts of Zambia, so don’t be surprised if you find a critter crawling on your floor or in your shower.


5.       Holding Hands is the Norm: I have found that when you are really good friends with someone or you mean a lot to a person it is normal to hold their hand. We kind of have this custom in the U.S. as well, but not to this extent. This custom is primarily for girls only. So if you are a girl and you become friends with another girl don’t be surprised or offended when they randomly grab your hand to hold. They are just expressing their friendship to you.

 6.       Tomatoes at Subway: Yes! There are American food chains in third world countries including Subway! Now the thing is, the food quality, types of meat that is used, etc. varies. This includes tomatoes. So when I ordered tomatoes on my sandwich I receive some nicely sliced green tomatoes. I just looked at them and said, “oh well,” and ate them anyway. If you are a picky eater though, beware of the non ripened, but truly fresh veggies!

7.       The Trash: Not as much in nicer areas, but most definitely in poorer areas trashcans are nonexistent. Trash is EVERYWHERE! I remember the first time I hoped off the bus I landed on uneven ground. After glancing down and doing a double take I realized I was standing on hundreds of empty, smashed water bottles. They were being used to fill in the giant holes in the ground. When people are done with plastic or a peel, it is simple tossed onto the ground and left.

198161_177545462297718_3749694_n8.       Speed bumps and Potholes: When you hear of people getting their vehicles stuck in a crater in the road in Africa they are not joking. There are ginormous potholes in every dirt road I have ever been on in Africa. The worse is when it is muddy. Hopefully you have an experienced driver and if not hopefully there are a bunch of strong men to push your vehicle out of the mud. The speed bumps are just the opposite. I swear we climbed to Mt. Everest every time we went over one of those things! Not really, but you get the idea.


9.       The Stars: This was one of my favorite aspects of Zambia. There is next to no light pollution so the stars look magnificent! We sat outside for hours looking at the stars and the different constellations. The Milky Way was clearly visible. The first time I looked up at the sky the sight of billions and billions of stars took my breath away. Whatever you do, do not miss out on the opportunity to see this amazing wonder.

10.   Protect Your Camera! Finally, these people love to take pictures. If you are posing with one or two people, it is inevitable; a swarm of children is soon to appear beside you. These kids love the fact that a button is clicked and magically an image on them appears on this square device. And every single one of these kids then wants to see this image. There have been numerous times where I have had a death grip on my camera afraid it would disappear on me. Thankfully, this has never happened and most likely never will.


So there you have it. 10 facts I wish I would have known before going to Zambia. After finding all these out, it didn’t stop me from going again. I hope they don’t stop you from going anywhere either.

What about you? Did you have any surprises when you went to a third world country? Leave any questions or comment below!


One response to “10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Zambia

  1. Pingback: I’m Going to the Dominican Republic! | The Traveling Smile·

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