D – 6 months
Since March 2021, I decided to take THE break, from September 2021 to February 2022. Six months of cumulated holidays, that I planned to spend at once, long before retirement! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to spend it volunteering in Vietnam, my mother’s country.
D – 15 days
But CoVid decided otherwise as the whole country is still under stringent lockdown even with my visa exemption. Meanwhile, a friend settled down in Zambia early August, and through a WhatsApp discussion where I shared my despair, I was told « And what about Zambia? I have a big house and a room waiting for you, and I’m sure there is plenty of volunteering to do here, UNHCR is nearby the house too ». I owe her all this Zambian adventure.
D – 9 days
Whilst still hoping for Vietnam till last minute, the idea of Zambia and Lusaka became reality when I booked the flight tickets on a rainy evening in Paris, less than 10 days before departure.
It is only then, that I looked into what I needed to process before the departure: visa, vaccines…
D – 8 days
The visa requirement… It seemed obvious to go to the Zambian Embassy, located 20 minutes from home. So I went to the 18 Avenue de Tourville by subway, line 8, from Opera to Ecole Militaire, in the beginning of the afternoon. I couldn’t see anyone inside, but I knocked the door, confirming I was in the middle of the opening hours, and someone arrived at last. However, he told me that I just missed the person in charge, who just left, and I should come back tomorrow. I should also try the visa online he said. Back home, I completed all the requirements for the online visa on their website but at the end of the very fastidious process where I had to provide certified documents, pay slip, working permit paper from my friend, the website required a payment 5 times above the visa. Not feeling down, I went to the embassy the morning after, and there, the hostess was indeed present. However, I am told that the Parisian embassy was not allowed to deliver visas due to CoVid circumstances, and that I should try online, but for the amount of 50 USD. If the website was not working, the hostess recommended me also the visa at arrival. As I never did a visa at arrival, I didn’t feel comfortable, so I thought I would try these agencies that propose to process the visa for you, for a small fee. 30€ for what I expected to be 3 more hours at the arrival airport was a no brainer. I completed again plenty of forms on Rapide Visa, which website proposed the visa in 5 days, and decided to deliver my passport in person at their offices located 20 minutes away by foot, rue de la Boétie. Alas, I was going to be disappointed once more: one of the agent told me they cannot deliver the visa because the embassy in Paris was not issuing visa…
D – 7 days
Vaccines: there is actually no mandatory vaccines to go to Zambia, but as I was expecting a long stay in Africa, I still decided to complete my vaccinations with the typhoid and rabbies shot. I didn’t know the rabbies shot was now only 2 shots, in 1 week interval. So I was just on time as I did the typhoid and rabbies 1st shot exactly 7 days before my flight, and the 2nd shot the morning of my departure!
D – 1 day
And finally, I had to do a PCR test for CoVid, required by Zambia less than 72 hours before entry. I thought I could easily book at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, as I knew they could deliver the result within an hour. But the slots are actually scarce, and they were already full the day of my departure… It was already in the middle of the afternoon when I started to realize I had to do the test in Paris this day before going to the airport. Luckily, I went to a nearby center under a heavy rain, and after 7 floors by foot, I got my test in less than 10 minutes!
D – day!
I used to take planes like buses for more than a decade, but I realized my last flight was 18 months ago! My sister came to enjoy our last bubble tea together at my place, but I had to pack and prepare my luggage till last minute, and my efficiency was far away to see. Once in the taxi, we thought we could take our time at the airport. Until the taxi driver reminded us that only passengers with fly tickets could enter the airport due to CoVid… so it was more a hurried goodbye as she had to hop off the taxi. The one hour trip to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport rolled out very nicely, as the taxi (Bolt) driver had an interesting conversation. He told me that he was ending his driver job this same week, to try a new life in Switzerland, from the French border. He just finished a training paid with his national training account (CPF) to work in luggage transportation business. He made it sound like the new Eldorado, high payrate, full employment, nice environment… he ended recommending me to flee Paris.
The airport was rather empty, so everything went very smoothly, from registering my two times 23kg luggage at Air France counter to setting down at K lounge in 2E terminal, 2 hours before the take off. I expected to find all the usual French magazines, including the Elle my friend asked for, but again, due to CoVid, only electronic versions were available… so, before boarding, I stopped by the Relay shop to buy this famous magazine. I felt a bit lost at first as I saw only the home and decoration version, until I spotted at last the Elle with Sophie Marceau cover, which seemed to be the good one. (Well, I was told after that it was actually not the regular magazine, but the ‘Icone’ one…)
At last, boarding was done on time at K43 gate, and the flight AF990 took off at 9:45pm, with 45 minutes delay. I got very lucky as I got 3 empty seats for myself in the 2004 designed Boeing 777-300ER. I had a good night sleep indeed and the 10h40 passed in a flash.
The 3h transit at Johannesburg reminded me this amazing horse safari “Wait a Little”, done 3 years ago south Kruger park, so many good memories. The highlight this time was… an automatic pancake machine. Seriously, I didn’t know this existed.
I crossed the terminal B again to reach my gate and boarded my last flight, the South African Airlink 4Z162 at 11:20am in a small Embraer EMB190. I got to discuss a little with a South African sweet blonde girl, in her high school uniform like half of the passengers of the plane. She was rather excited to spend the holidays at her Zambian friend’s place, who studied in the same school in Durban.
I was preparing myself mentally to spend 3 hours to process my visa at arrival. However, I was outside the airport in less than 30 minutes after our landing! The security officer directed me to the same counter than the other passengers when I asked him where the visa at arrival should be processed. There, I took out my whole file with all the letters, return ticket, slip pay, forms etc. when the female immigration officer looked at me and said: “I don’t need any of this. Just give me the 50USD payment for the holidays visa. It will last 30 days and for any extension, just go to the nearest immigration office, it will be for free”. Yes, I was impressed. And I would be further impressed by this brand-new Lusaka airport.
I waited outside for the driver, as Caroline arranged it as she was still working. The temperature must have been around 30°C, but with a dry atmosphere and a nice little wind, the weather seemed to me very welcoming. Fortune, the name of the driver, arrived few minutes later. I continued being impressed by the infrastructures, roads seemed nice, traffic was rather efficient, with people driving carefully with no aggressivity, and almost no klaxon. I got very peaceful on the way to my friend’s place, as I marveled myself in front of the Blue Jakaranda trees with their purple flowers, also called “Flamboyant Bleu”. I was more used to see the orange jacaranda trees in the other African countries I’ve been. Forty minutes later, I arrived at my friend’s place in Kabulonga without a single hitch.
D+2 – Saturday 18th September 2021
We went for a lunch at Thai Chang restaurant, 15 minutes away from my friend’s place. On the way back, we stopped by Chikumbuso, following Google Maps, and only the last hundred meters resumed as a red earthy path, where I wouldn’t expect the cars to pass through very often. The sunny Chikumbuso logo was visible at the entrance, and we parked the car in front. The tired black gate was not closed, so we entered without announcing ourselves, as there was nothing to do so. A young lady went to look for the person in charge of Chikumbuso here. A very welcoming face arrived few minutes after, presenting herself as Gertrude, nicknamed Trudy. She presented very quickly the Chikumbuso project including both their handcrafted products and the school, telling me that any help would be very welcomed, and I felt the kindness exuding from this woman. We agreed to a start on Monday at 8am, where I will be given a tour of the classes and see what I can help with, as teaching the kids was my main objective.
On the way back to Caroline’s house, I was feeling rather lucky to have found a potential place to work at. At diner’s time though, I felt less lucky when I realized that I forgot my handbag in the clean toilets of the airport arrival. A small leather golden bag that I was offered by my engineering school friends at my 30 years old birthday, that I would carry in all my travels since then. There was no money or passport in there, just a fan, notebook, hands gel, pen, tissues and wireless ear pods.
D+3 – Sunday 19th September 2021
I got up early for my first jogging in Zambia. I did my usual 5-6km, but I couldn’t say I was comfortable all the way, and following Caroline was not as easy as I would have thought. But she told me that maybe it was because we were at more than a thousand-meter altitude and I might need a bit of time to acclimatize. Indeed, Lusaka is 1279m plateau. My watch is telling me 1380m, but I don’t know if the calibration is correct.