I travelled 6000 miles to surprise my girlfriend volunteering in Zambia to be told to f*ck off by VSO ICS
Lucy, my girlfriend, left at the start of June to go on a 3 month long volunteering program based in Nyimba, Zambia. Whilst she was out there she would be specialising in educating people on sexual health primarily.
So, a few weeks in, a job opportunity I was hoping for backfired which was a huge hit to myself and rather spontaneously from the spare time I would now have I decided to book a 2 week trip to Africa. I knew Lucy was having a tough time out there and was pretty down with the program and living conditions (her host family don’t have power or running water) and I was beginning to struggle at home by this point, I found it so difficult not seeing somebody for so long. Overall I felt this would be great for both of us to cheer us all up and an excellent time to see her as I’d booked it right in the middle of the program.
The day came, I had two flights before I reached Zambia.
London Heathrow > Johannesburg > Lusaka
As we usually spoke over text in the day and I wanted this to be a complete surprise I booked the flights so i would be in the air overnight. I finally reached Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, the day after and had booked a hotel to stay in that night. It was such a great feeling chatting to Lucy that evening over text knowing I was in the same country as her and tomorrow I would be seeing her again. Because Lucy was in Nyimba, a town around 350km out of Lusaka I had to catch a 4:30am local bus the next day that would take me on the 5 hour journey. I managed to find a suitable company offering the trip, the busses were reasonably comfortable and not too cramped, I’m 6ft3 so any leg room is appreciated.
I finally rolled into the village of Nyimba around 10am and was taken to my lodge I would be staying at just up the road. I’d spoken to Lucy that morning and she was out on her placement until around 3 in the afternoon, no problem. I decided to take this opportunity to go and explore the village and oh wow it didn’t take me long, the Main Street probably runs for about a kilometre but has a few shops, a supermarket and places to eat.
As I was walking down I noticed a small group of people following me, thinking nothing of it I carried on but eventually found myself at the end of the town. After turning around it turned out the group behind me had been other UK volunteers, ones that I’d actually recognised from photos Lucy had posted. As the town is pretty remote and doesn’t have a single thing for tourists this meant that the only white people in the place were the 12 UK volunteers and this random guy walking down the road, me. So no surprise that they were interested in who I was and why on earth I was in Nyimba. I told them my story and how everything was still a surprise and they seemed to think it was an excellent idea and we walked to the main building where they are based to meet the rest of the team. I was welcomed with open arms, everybody was so friendly and seemed glad I was there, they even invited me to the BBQ they were having in a few days. People were definitely sharing my excitement too looking forward to the moment Lucy would be coming back, still with no idea I was sitting in her meeting point at the time, that afternoon. After being so welcomed I felt such a good feeling about the place and my time and knew it would just be what I’d expected.
A few hours later I’d heard that she was on her way around and my heart was racing, I set up a go pro and handed another person a camera to get this moment and it was truly one of the best experiences ever seeing her face with me standing there in the middle of Zambia. It was the reaction that I had wanted all along.
Lucy took me to see her host family out here, they were very welcoming and the dad of the family proceeded to say he wanted to me to come around for breakfast and dinner the next day and to be with him for 8am, not wanting to be rude I accepted.
I arrived at 8 and had a form of porridge with crushed peanuts inside, that really hit the spot and was definitely appreciated. As Lucy was at her placement all day he said he would take me out and show me things, I had a tour guide, perfect! We ended up driving around the village and he took me to his piece of land where he was growing things, it was a good day. For dinner we had chicken and nshima which is a sort of cornflour based food, it looks a lot like mash potato and to eat the entire meal with your hands.
The next day came and I had received a message from Lucy’s host dad telling me that I wasn’t under any circumstance to stay at my hotel that day, that i’d paid for, as the group of volunteers were having a day of talks there. This is when everything started to take a turn but I brushed it off and went to go meet her dad as requested. He took me out in his car and made me pay for his fuel for the day which was rather outrageous seeing as I didn’t even want to be there. He dropped me off for some lunch at some restaurant and just kept saying over and over how I mustn’t visit the hotel at all at any cost.
After a few hours of waiting around Lucy had finished and I got a chance to go and see her. She looked worried, she’d been speaking to the UK leader of the team out in Nyimba for VSO ICS and had been told that I needed to leave and wasn’t welcome any longer. If I didn’t go, Lucy’s place on the team would be compromised too and she would have to leave. It’s crazy to think a big organisation like this would blackmail somebody into doing something like this. The only reason being apparently it was against the code of conduct which it isn’t, we checked. I was heartbroken, I couldn’t comprehend how somebody could be so heartless, rude and downright nasty. I could understand if I was interrupting her time but at this point I’d seen her for about 3 hours over the space of a few days and to be quite honest the time when they are ‘working’ out here they are truly doing nothing at all, but that’s another story.
I knew Lucy got weekends off and it was even the Zambian bank holiday on the Monday and Tuesday so I was looking forward to that. We hadn’t given an answer or my leaving as of yet and as it was the weekend but then the time we thought we might get together just deteriorated, I was told I wasn’t allowed at the BBQ or the socials and her time got conveniently occupied, the only day we got together was the Sunday and that day was truly perfect. We ended up going off the the stream just out of town, it’s super quiet and just a nice place to get away from things.
Over those few other days the leader just kept nagging about my departure and turned my whole trip into just a bad experience of the place and VSO. I’d spoken to the other leaders who are Zambian and the UK and Zambian volunteers and they all had no problems with me being in the town. It’s now a week later and I’m sat in my hotel room about to go and book my bus out of here. I don’t want to ruin Lucy’s experience of this incredible time away. I just can’t understand what could be wrong about making somebody the happiest they’ve been in a long time.