Dustin here, back for my assignment of a final quartet of ‘guest blogs’ to sum up the last part of my time in Zambia with Julianna. This first post couldn’t come on a more appropriate day, given that today is our 6th wedding anniversary, as you may have just noted from Julianna’s post! Before continuing on with the narrative, a quick editorial break :).
Now that I’ve been home for a few days and had a short time to reflect on my experience, one aspect has really stood out as differentiating this trip from previous trips. While there was opportunity for great tourist excursions on safari, and (soon to be described) at Victoria Falls, the most enjoyable and memorable portion of this trip for me was the opportunity to join Julianna in her interviews and research process. The chance to hear from local people, spending their lives trying to improve the health and opportunities of their communities, will be a treasured memory for me for years to come. It helped me gain a deeper perspective on government, development, and life in Africa – that I will continue to digest for a long time. Even more so, I was so proud to watch Julianna go about her process of developing relationships, building understanding, and forming an intricate thesis around how malaria policy is succeeding and failing in Zambia. She has a wonderful gift for quickly bonding with people, which allows her to develop deep and interesting conversations where people are comfortable in sharing their honest thoughts, ideas, questions, and weaknesses. Over the course of the few short weeks that I was with her, it was a joy to observe over and over again as she made friends with a new person, proceeded to have an insightful conversation, and all the while lifted the person up and left them clearly feeling they had made a new friend (and they had!). She has certainly gathered a large body of interesting facts, insights, and premises that will build an interesting dissertation – but even more so I love how she has been able to bring her energy, creativity, and thoughtfulness to so many people. Zambia will certainly benefit from her on both fronts! On today our anniversary, this (and more) make it completely clear to me why I fell in love with her.
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…
The reason why this post is appropriate for our anniversary is that we had decided that because we would be apart on our anniversary (as I write this I’m laying in bed in San Francisco, cuddled up with Jersey, who just returned home, delivered by Tom and Phyllis) that we should celebrate our anniversary early in Zambia. The initial vacation plans didn’t include me going to Victoria Falls, because it was far from anywhere we needed to go for the research plans – but Julianna thought I really shouldn’t miss it. So, we decided to make a quick trip from Lusaka to Livingstone for a one night, 30 hour, express ‘6th wedding anniversary trip’ to Victoria Falls. So Wednesday morning in Lusaka we left Ben and Anna’s place and grabbed a taxi to the airport to catch a quick flight down to Livingstone. When Julianna had stayed at the backpackers in Livingstone earlier in the trip she had seen a poster for a special discount rate at a luxury lodge – so we thought that sounded like a fun thing to do since we only had a one night stay. We got picked up at the airport by the hostel and brought back to finalize the booking. We had thought it was going to be $150 (from the price that was on the flier), which seemed pretty pricey – but OK for an anniversary splurge. When we got out the cash to pay, it turned out that the price was per person! We had already committed, so just decided we’d go all in (and it turns out that the normal price is actually $1000 per night)!
After settling the reservation we got back in the shuttle to be dropped at this lodge, called Stanley Lodge. From town we headed towards the falls, then turned off on a dirt road and drove another 15 minutes into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere (and in a direction away from the falls). At this point, we were kind of wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. But, upon arrival it became clear that the stay would be fabulous. We pulled up and were directly greeted by the friendly Dutch manager with a smile and a champagne glass filled with a fresh (corn-based!) local drink. We entered the main building of the lodge, as he explained that the design philosophy of the place was focussed around openness – which was clear as the entire back wall of the lodge was non-existent. Instead of a wall, we instead looked out over a reflecting pool and into the Zambezi river valley below, complete with the mist of Victoria Falls bellowing up in the distance. At that point it became clear that the long drive out the dirt road was to arrive at this picturesque plot of land with vistas over the whole valley. We were then taken to our room, which was oriented similarly to the main lodge and likewise had only three walls. The same fantastic panoramic view of the valley was available here from the room as well – it could be taken in from the chairs on the back patio, chilling on the bed, or while relaxing in the raised tub (Julianna’s favorite). Quite satisfied with the tour of the beautiful room, we pressed on to the next portion of the adventure – there were only 24 hours left in Livingstone!